10 Upfront Conversations to Have Before Getting Married
Conversations 1 through 5
Posted Aug 12, 2019
This is the first post in a series. The second covers conversations 6 through 10.
Doing “slow love”—choosing multiple premarital partners, having friends with benefits, or living with a partner for a while—is what young couples often do before they choose to marry. This is a good thing.
When you do find “the one,” it's the time to be upfront with each other—to have the kind of serious conversations that will set the stage for the equitable, sustainable, and satisfying marriage you want.
Here are 10 conversations that you should have so that your marriage has a better chance of living up to your expectations.
1. Why Do You Want to Get Married?
This may seem like an unnecessary conversation to have, but there can be a disconnect between how people think about marriage and how they act once they are in it. This is particularly true these days because you have so much latitude about the kind of marriage you can have. In fact, the book The New “I Do” discusses the many kinds of marital arrangements you can have, such as a starter marriage, a companionship marriage, a parenting marriage, a safety marriage, etc. 
Take the time with your intended to explore your reasons and motives for marrying. Here are the top reasons why people say they want to get married, according to a recent Pew Research Center report:
- For love (88 percent)
- To make a lifelong commitment (81 percent)
- Companionship (76 percent)
- Children (49 percent)
- To have a relationship recognized in a religious ceremony (30 percent)
- Financial stability (28 percent)
- Legal rights and benefits (23 percent)
As the authors of The New “I Do” admonish, “It isn’t okay to just assume that getting married is another thing on life’s trajectory.”
2. What Do You as an Individual Want 1, 5, and 10 Years from Now?
Take some time to think about what is important to you to flourish in life. Here are some starter ideas for your conversation.
- How important is a career to you?
- How about children?
- Do you have an ideal future in mind?
- What other things are important to you—hobbies, friends, sports, etc.?
What you want in life is important and stands on its own. However, it cannot be a demand for fulfillment. In the context of marriage, it is what you negotiate—another essential pre-marital conversation.
3. How Will You Remain Strong as a Couple and Flourish as Individuals?
Being a couple means that what you do has an impact on your partner. Being true to yourself means you can identify what is important to you in order to flourish. Maintaining the balance between each of you seeking what is important individually while considering the impact on your partner is achieved by negotiating collaboratively around your individual goals and marital obligations.
Here are several things negotiating collaboratively means—talk about them with each other:
- Am I willing to negotiate the important issues that arise in our marriage?
- Do I understand that neither one of us is more “equal” than the other?
- Am I willing and able to explain openly and directly my wishes and wants, i.e., “to put them on the table”?
- Am I willing to not “privilege” my position in negotiations because of my status, e.g., gender or superior earnings?
- Am I willing to take actions based on the decisions we reach through negotiation?
From my perspective, being willing and able to negotiate issues collaboratively has the status of a marital vow.
4. Being Accountable to Each Other Means Being Self-Reflective
Being self-reflective is the fundamental skill you will need to address conflict in your marriage. It is this quality that allows you to be accountable for your part in conflicts. In my work with couples with troubled marriages for over 30 years, the ability and willingness to be self-reflecting was either absent from the beginning or it had become extinct. When couples enter therapy, they always see the other person as the problem.
- How good am I at stepping-back and looking at my part in how things go wrong between us?
- Do I react too quickly when I think something is not going my way?
- Do I sometimes or often take things personally?
- Am I quick to label my partner’s actions that I don’t like negatively?
Jennifer Porter has a good description of what it means to be self-reflective: “The most useful reflection involves conscious consideration and analysis of beliefs and actions for the purpose of learning. Reflection gives the brain an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, untangle and sort through observations and experiences, consider multiple possible interpretations, and create meaning. This meaning becomes learning, which can then inform future mindsets and actions.” 
5. Be Proactive in Negotiating Your Sexual Relationship
You will want to be proactive in creating a satisfying sexual relationship. Remember, you are hoping to be together for a long time. A discussion about sex requires considerable self-reflection.
Here are some ideas about important topics to cover in this pre-wedding discussion. Be sure to add thoughts of your own.
- How did you learn about sex?
- How is sex important to you?
- Has either of you had a traumatic sexual experience?
- What fears do you have about your body?
- How often would you like to have sex?
- What kind of sexual acts do you like?
- How shall you initiate sex with each other?
- Do either or both of you watch pornography? How do you feel about that?
This discussion about sex will set the stage for ongoing discussions about sex throughout your marriage—start the discussion habit now.
You will have a much better chance of maintaining the kind of marital relationship you want if you begin by having frank, upfront discussions and continue them throughout your marriage as it evolves over the long haul.
1. Fisher, Helen. (2016) Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray. W. W. Norton & Company.
2. Gadoua, S.P. and V. Larson. (2014) The New ‘I Do.’ Berkeley, California; Seal Press.
3. Porter, Jennifer. “Why You Should Make Time for Self-Reflection (Even If You Hate Doing It).” Harvard Business Review, March 21, 2017.