Actually, these questions should be asked before you even say “I might.” Once the invitations have been sent out and a deposit has been made on the reception hall, it becomes more difficult to get honest discourse about expectations after marriage. By the time the flowers have been ordered and the gifts start arriving, the blissful couple focuses all attention on THE BIG DAY and the “happily-ever-after” is left to fend for itself. The earlier in the relationship that realistic expectations are discussed, the more likely that bad matches will be weeded out – leaving the parties to find someone whose marital philosophy is closer to their own. These 4 questions should be asked before wedding plans are discussed.
- Do you want children? I can hear you rolling your eyes and thinking it’s a no-brainer to ask a prospective mate that question. If it is, there must be a lot of people out there with no brains. I’m amazed at the number of people who either don’t ask or gloss over this question prior to marriage. He assumes marrying means a dog and 2.5 kids. She assumes because they met in college it is a given that their priority is developing their careers. Don’t assume. (I’ll skip the tired saying about people who assume – but that doesn’t mean it’s not true!) And speaking of assuming, don’t assume that “I don’t want kids” means “I can be talked into it after we’ve been married a year.” I believe it was Maya Angelo that said “When people tell you who they are, believe them.” Good advice, Maya.
- Cash or credit? Divorce courts are full of people whose financial incompatibility led to irreconcilable differences. Few of us can buy a house outright, so some financing is probably not unexpected. What causes the rifts is not having an understanding of the other’s financial philosophy. Do we have credit cards? If so, what can they be used for? Do we charge the expenses of a vacation or Christmas gifts, or do we save up until we can afford to make the purchases? Somebody who has a strong pay-as-you go ethic may be seduced into the spontaneity that credit card purchases allow. But will the glow of the last vacation sun be enough to diminish resentment that grows when bills start mounting?
- Yours, mine, or ours? Do we have separate funds and split the bills, a joint fund where all income gets tossed in, or some combination thereof? If the bills are split and circumstances change – job loss, illness, unexpected pregnancy – how is that handled? Think about this prior to a crisis and discuss options. Realize that if the agreement is that he is responsible for the electric bill and fails to pay, she is sitting in the dark, too. If she is responsible for the mortgage and doesn’t pay, he is just as homeless.
- Where will we spend the holidays? If both extended families are local and one traditionally celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve and the other on Christmas Day and no other holidays are observed, you may be among the very few that have stress-free holidays. However, if your folks are in Georgia and your spouse’s are in Indiana, you need to chat – before the holiday season relevant to your families. There’s no need to bring family in on the discussion and make announcements regarding division of time for the next 5 years, but expectations about how things will go should be discussed with options explored. If your future spouse only entertains one option – the major holiday always spent with his or her family because (fill in the blank here: it’s always been that way, my mother would be crushed if we didn’t, it’s my favorite holiday and that’s how I want to spend it . . .) you need to understand that this attitude will not be limited to where holidays are spent. Do you want to marry someone who is not ready to move from ‘me’ to ‘we’?
The best time to tackle these topics is in the getting-to-know-you dating period when learning about jumbo philosophical life-style differences aren’t traumatic. Differences are what make relationships interesting – most people aren’t looking for an opposite-gender clone. But some differences can be so divisive that, if not approached with realistic expectations, can turn an “I do” into a “Wish I didn’t.”