How many do you know the answer to?
Have you ever heard a couple fighting over something major? You know, the kind of fight that leaves you wondering how they possibly could have not addressed that topic—when to have kids, how to deal with in-laws, etc.—before they got married? No one wants to be that couple, but it can be difficult to anticipate the arguments you might have with a partner over the next three months, let alone the next 30-plus years.
Houston-based relationship therapist Emily deAyala tries to help her clients to ask each other incredibly specific questions before they walk down the aisle. “As much as I can, I’ll throw some curve balls at them. What we want to do in premarital counseling is create a little of that anxiety, like, ‘Whoa, wait. I haven’t thought of that,’” she says, “so then we can help them work through that.” The following questions go one step further than kids, work, and money, digging right into the nitty-gritty of building a life together. Take a look at the list—and try answering them sooner rather than later.
What Would We Do If a Family Member Needed To Borrow Money?
Family and finances are tough enough on their own—together, they can get even stickier. Try playing out the scenarios before they come up, deAyala suggests. “Say your uncle Max calls and says he needs to borrow $500 to get his car repaired. How do you anticipate that you would handle that? And then really walk through it.” A situation like that one demonstrates your attitude toward money—do you have it to spare? Could you survive without $500 for an indefinite amount of time? Would you feel resentful?—as well as how you’d work through money issues together.
How Would We Punish Our Kids?
Maybe you grew up in a house where everyone screamed when they were angry, or maybe your in-laws ruled with icy silence to relay their disapproval. Those parenting techniques have an impact on the people we are now and often the type of parents we hope to become. “In the kids category, we like to talk about parenting styles, like how they envision they will reward a kid for good behavior and punish them for bad behavior,” deAyala says. Will your styles mesh? If you plan to have children, speak now (before they arrive) so you can have a united front later when you’re grappling with a surly tween.
Does One of Your Careers Take Priority?
Your two professional schedules, demands, and salaries will change over time, as well as your personal interest and investment in your jobs. But as a partnership, there will be times when you may need to focus on one person’s career more for the good of your family. “The way I handle this question is that I have each person fill out their answer independently, answering what they feel and how they think their partner feels. Then we compare answers and talk about it,” deAyala says. “We’re not just looking at the content of their answers, but how they arrived at those conclusions.”
How Important Is Sex?
“There are a lot of premarital counseling programs that ignore sex, or only just brush the surface,” deAyala says. She prefers to talk about all elements, provided the couple is comfortable. “We talk about frequency, openness to trying different things, things you might feel closed off to. We get into their histories, their cultures, where are their similarities, where are their differences?” Before marriage (and kids, and illness, and everything life brings), your sex life might be easily passionate—but how important is sex to you in the long run? “There are couples who just don’t place as high of a value on sex; they value the emotional or intellectual connection of it,” but don’t see it as an ultimate priority, deAyala says. “Others may think that having very active sex life is vital to the success of the relationship. One isn't right or wrong, but I remind couples that they will run into trouble if they have different values about that in the long run.”
What Are Your Expectations of Physical Appearance?
Another decidedly unsexy thing to consider is how both of your bodies will change as you age: weight gain, hair loss, wrinkling. “One thing people never think to talk about is maintaining physical appearance, and staying in shape,” deAyala notes. “How much value do you place on physical appearance? Couples run into trouble when they haven’t talked about it.” Yes, it’s easy to gloss over the importance—you’ll always be beautiful to me!—and tougher to acknowledge the impact it could have on your sex drive and health.
How Would We Handle a Divorce?
Pretty much no one getting married wants to think about ever getting divorced. But, statistically speaking, it can happen—and as Nora Ephron is widely quoted, "Never marry a man you wouldn't want to be divorced from." A prenuptial agreement is an increasingly common step in the pre-wedding marriage process, but it’s about more than money. How would approach custody of your children, would you stay kind to each other? And you might acknowledge the breaking point itself: “What would you do if one of the partners was unfaithful?” deAyala says. “Often times you just don’t know how you’d handle it until you handle it… a lot of this discussion is setting reasonable expectations.”
What Are The Things We Won’t Compromise On?
“People are getting married a little bit later, which is good in some ways and bad in others,” deAyala says. “I think for the most part it’s a good thing because people have had more time on an individual level to formulate their ideas and create their value systems—but that also means they think their way is the right way. It can make compromise a little difficult.” Do you know what your hard lines are? DeAyala mentions living far away from your aging parents or moving for a job: would you be willing to do it for your partner? Figure out what your hard lines are, so you don’t find yourself facing off with your spouse about them later down the road.