Wednesday, June 20, 2012

3 Talks Couples Should Have Before Marriage

"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."
-George Bernard Shaw

Marriage is often painted through the lens of romance. It is romantic, to be sure, when two people join themselves together for life, but there is also a practical side to the equation. Married couples have to run a household and raise children together, plan for the future, and ultimately agree upon several fundamental factors. It's not wise or even fair to wait and tackle this practical side once the knot is tied because certain truths, when revealed, could drastically affect the decision to get married in the first place. From my own experience, here are three talks that it's crucial for couples to have thoroughly and frequently before deciding to be married.

The Money Talk
It may come as no surprise that money is the number one cause of fights in a marriage. Before you get married, it's important to find out your partner's money facts: debt, credit score, income, and savings. You probably should also get a handle on his or her spending habits, priorities, goals, and general attitude about money.

Before we got married, my husband and I each had relatively free spending habits, poor saving habits, and a lot of collective debt between us. Once we were married, bought a house, and started a family, however, we realized just how pinched for cash we were. We've had to make a drastic lifestyle and attitude adjustment to start paying that debt down, including many sacrifices that require support and dedication from each spouse. Without taking the time to communicate about our finances and get on the same page, our marriage would be crushing under the weight of our debt and straining in a tug-of-war between our competing spending priorities.

The Family Talk
It really is true that when you marry a person, you marry his or her family. This can be a difficult adjustment for all parties involved, so it's important to talk about how to manage expectations with each side of the family, navigate the existing relationships and develop the new ones, and incorporate each family's traditions into the marriage. Moreover, it's crucial to discuss your own family: how many kids you want to have (if any) and the way you want to manage family planning. If couples don't discuss this topic before they get married, they may be faced with irreconcilable differences that cause deep marital suffering.

One night while my husband and I were dating, he dropped two bombshells off his chest and onto my heart. He admitted he only wanted two kids because he thought that's all he'd ever be able to reasonably afford, and he wanted to use condoms as birth control. I, on the other hand, wanted a larger family, and my personal convictions prevented me from using anything but Natural Family Planning to space children. We actually broke up (with great reluctance) when we discovered these incompatibilities because we realized a married couple can't practice two different forms of birth control or have a different number of kids together! Fortunately, after a lot of conversations, we were able to come to an agreement, and our relationship became stronger as a result.

The Faith Talk
How each partner views faith can impact many aspects of a marriage. It's important to know one another's belief systems, determine how you'll raise children, and agree on how faith will be incorporated into your daily lives. You might also want to take careful inventory of how crucial it is that your partner shares your belief system. You might be underestimating the impact that fundamental differences will play in the future, or you might be placing too much emphasis on relatively minor differences.

When my husband met me, I was working as a Catholic campus missionary and devoting a large amount of my life to prayer and service. Although he was Catholic, we didn't see eye-to-eye on some tenets of faith or the priority that religion should be given. Ongoing discussion about how to incorporate prayer and religion into our family has helped us to strike a balance that makes us both happy, and being able to have open conversations about our faith has helped us to grow spiritually and in our relationship.

André Maurois once said, "A happy marriage is a long conversation which always seems too short." Starting the conversation early and including these important issues can build a foundation for your marriage that won't be shaken.

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