7 Questions You Have to Ask Each Other Before You Commit
4. Do you know each other's triggers and traumas?
Posted Nov 21, 2016
How do you know you’re marrying the right person? Any evaluation can be hard to do well when there are so many experiences within a relationship. How do you know which issues matter when predicting relationship success?
Earlier this year, Eleanor Stanford of The New York Times compiled a list of 13 questions to ask before walking down the aisle. It covers essential domains including debt, sex, conflict, and family through central questions that any couple will benefit from exploring before they commit; Stanford consulted divorce lawyers, sex and marriage therapists, and researchers to build her list, which is helpful, but not exhaustive.
These seven questions should also be considered in anyone's decision-making process.
- Who’s going to do the laundry?
People can have surprisingly strong views on which chores they're willing to do. Maybe you hate mowing the lawn, but don’t mind washing windows; you love making dinner, but can’t stand laundry. Are you assuming that your partner will do certain chores? Have you stated these expectations? Chore division and its perceived equity (especially by wives in heterosexual marriages) is a predictor of divorce in dual-income couples (Frisco & Williams, 2003), so it's best to be clear and on the same page.
- How obsessed are we with our jobs?
Different occupations demand different levels of time commitment. Your workload might be manageable for a single person with no children, but how will it work when you're part of a couple with kids? Knowing your partner’s preferred balance between work and home life is critical to predicting your life together. Relationship quality is inversely related to work-family conflict: Couples tend to have more satisfying marriages when their work life is not perceived to interfere with time at home (Fellows, Chiu, Hill, & Hawkins, 2015). And keep in mind that the balance that works well for one couple is not necessarily right for others.
- If I start jogging, skipping dessert, and eating quinoa, what will you do?
For some couples, changes in health-related behaviors that lead to weight loss can introduce new tensions (Kluever Romo & Dailey, 2014). When one person adopts a new eating and exercise lifestyle, while the other remains content with the status quo, the issue of weight and health can become a source of frustration, annoyance, and conflict. Consider your health habits and goals, and those of your partner. If there’s a disconnect, talk about how you’ll navigate these challenges.
- Do you know about my triggers and traumas?
Adult relationship quality is not an isolated experience—it is tied to individuals’ personality and histories, including their previous traumas. Past abuse, when triggered, can lead to emotional flooding and hurt relationship quality (Walker, Holman, & Busby, 2009). If partners know each other’s sensitivity to certain triggers, they may be better able to manage otherwise damaging interactions.
- How much of a financial safety net do you need to feel comfortable?
In her article, Stanford identifies debt and spending habits as important points of discussion, but saving habits should also be discussed. What kind of money do you need stashed away to feel safe? Being on the same page—or at least aware of each other’s attitudes toward saving, and being able to come to a mutually satisfying agreement about it—will reduce financial disagreements, which are one of the strongest predictors of divorce (Dew, Britt, & Huston, 2012).
- Can either of us be the breadwinner?
In an analysis of divorce risk, Killewald (2016) suggested that the rise of gender equality in the U.S. has not removed the social expectation (in heterosexual couples) of men being the breadwinner. Further, research on the dangerous game of income comparison shows that men and women can both suffer when their arrangement is different from the strong gendered norm of men earning more than women (Pierce, Dahl, & Nielson, 2013). These findings are based on group data, which need not be the prescription for any one specific couple. Indeed, for some couples, the woman being the breadwinner is not an issue. For others, having a conversation about identity, masculinity, and their relationship to earning money may be helpful.
- What are you expecting will change when we're married?
Often, what people say they want is what they really want. If they say they don't ever want to leave Chicago, they probably mean it. If they say they do not want children, this is unlikely to change after you're married, either. Thinking that getting married will change attitudes, desires, or habits is a risky bet.
Dew, J., Britt, S., & Huston, S. (2012). Examining the relationship between financial issues and divorce. Family Relations, 61, 615-628.
Fellows, K. J., Chiu, H. Y., Hill, E. J., & Hawkins, A. J. (2015). Work–f conflict and couple relationship quality: A meta-analytic study. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 1-10.
Frisco, M. L., & Williams, K. (2003). Perceived housework equity, marital happiness, and divorce in dual-earner households. Journal of Family Issues, 24, 51-73.
Killewald, A. (2016). Money, work, and marital stability: Assessing change in the gendered determinants of divorce. American Sociological Review, 81, 696-719.
Kluever Romo, L., & Dailey, R. M. (2014). Weighty dynamics: Exploring couples’ perceptions of post-weight-loss interaction. Health Communication, 29, 193-204.
Pierce, L., Dahl, M. S., & Nielsen, J. (2013). In sickness and in wealth psychological and sexual costs of income comparison in marriage. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39, 359-374.
Walker, E. C., Holman, T. B., & Busby, D. M. (2009). Childhood sexual abuse, other childhood factors, and pathways to survivors’ adult relationship quality. Journal of Family Violence, 24, 397-406.