Ask Team Practical: Questions To Ask Before Marriage

It’s Friday, and normally that means it’s Ask Team Practical with Alyssa. But this week, I was gripped by a question that I personally wanted to ask all of you, so today you get me (our resident sassy Texan will be back next week).

A few months ago, we ran a brilliant post from Sarah about being pre-engaged, where she said this:

Please encourage me to talk to my boyfriend about our future and delete the word “pressure” from your conversations about that. Call me new-fashioned, but I believe that as an educated woman in my late twenties with my own assets, ideas, experience and opinions, I shouldn’t be waiting on my partner to make one of the biggest decisions of our lives on his own. What if I have expectations about marriage based on my religion, values or traditions?  Shouldn’t he know that before he proposes? What if I want to be the one to propose? What if I don’t want to get married? What if I have some debt that I want to pay off before we make it legal? What if he does? I fully believe that if this is someone that I legitimately want to spend the rest of my life with, I should be able to talk to him about anything. Talking about marriage is not “pressuring for a ring.” It is creating a sustainable relationship. I am not a coy, blushing girl waiting for my over-the-top surprise proposal. I’m ballsy and strong and independent. He loves me because I’m opinionated, so why would I hide my opinions about our future?

As I re-read this post this week, I kept thinking about what an amazing message this was, and how little this message is heard. In fact, I sort of want to get a bullhorn and yell it from the rooftops. You know, as a public service announcement.

And I got to wondering; If the APW community were going to put together a list of questions to discuss with your partner before marriage, what would those questions be?

Here are some things David and I discussed before marriage, to kick off the discussion:

  • Faith: What did we each believe on a personal level? How did we view spirituality? Did we pray? What belief structure did we want in our household? What would that look like on a theoretical level? What would that look like on a nitty-gritty level? What holidays would we celebrate and why?
  • Money: How did we feel about debt? How did we feel about savings? What were our financial goals? What sort of life did we want to build?
  • Goals: What sort of careers did we want? How did we see family fitting in to those careers? What sort of totally non-career goals did we have (see: going to Italy)?
  • Divorce: What the what? How did we feel about that?
  • Family: Did we want kids? How many? What if one of us changed our mind?

But really, I want your feedback. What sort of questions did you ask your partner before you got married and/or engaged? What were the serious questions, and what were the “no one will tell you to ask this, but you should seriously ask this” questions? What questions did you wish you’d asked? Did you ask any questions that you regret? Dish.

(And of course, we’ll totally pull together a Team Practical approved list of questions when all is said and done.)

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  • amy

    In addition to what Meg said, we also have had many a conversation about these:

    LOCATION: what types of places can we see ourselves living in? what if one of us got a great job across the country? would we be willing to move away from (one of) our families? which of our families will we choose to be closer to? What places do we want to experiment with living in before we “settle” in one?

    CAREERS: what kind of lifestyle would we like to have (big town, small town, big house, small house, one kid, 4 kids, etc). what sort of careers could we create for ourselves that will foster this lifestyle? what are the steps we need to take next in order to do this?

    we also made a list of goals we’d like to accomplish (together and separately) over the next 2 years, and then 5 years, etc. we were excited to see we had listed many of the same goals. and there were definitely some that one person listed and the other exclaimed – that’s great! i want to add that to MY list. in cases where one person had their own personal goals, we discussed how we could as a team take those into account and make them happen.

    This was also really useful (from NYTimes: Questions Couples Should Ask (Or Wish They Had) Before Marrying ):

    • Rachel

      100% agree with these points. I think location and lifestyle are two HUGE topics that a lot of people overlook, or assume they can adapt to. Some people can – some people can be totally happy in any location, as long as they have their partner (home is where the heart is and all that) – which is great! If you’re one of those people who would genuinely be happy no matter where you lived, that makes this question easier – but I think a lot of people ignore this issue at their own peril, when it really does matter to them. I’m a country girl, and I always will be. I tried living in the city, I tried for almost 7 years, and I was miserable. I felt overwhelmed and exhausted and sick constantly. But I’m glad I had that experience before I met my partner, because by the time he came along, I knew that a future that involved living in the city was not feasible for me. I knew this with non-negotiable confidence. We had the ‘location talk’ early on, and thankfully discovered that we both had a similar image of what our future home would look like – a little house with a big porch on a few rambling acres in the country, big vegetable gardens, apple trees, a few laying hens and a couple of goats. That’s an important priority for both of us for the future, and I think it would have been a constant source of conflict if we hadn’t discussed it early.

    • TNM

      I totally agree. Location and Career (and the overlap) may seem too prosaic to matter, but as a partner in a marriage that arose from a two-year long distance relationship, I can vouch for how key these issues are.

      Also, perhaps because they are so prosaic, it seems that women are often shortchanged in these areas. I still see a lot of the phenomena of wife moving for husband’s job, but not vice versa, even if both work. And it can be more subtle: its interesting how often even if the women “keeps” her job, because this is not proritized when location is chosen, she gets the lousy commute.

    • I’m going to echo the lifestyle comments and specify that I really wish we’d talked about our financial lifestyle. We started dating when we were 20 and students and spent most of our dating relationship working really, really hard for very little money. And it was fine, because we were young and in love. Because of this shared experience, we never talked about how we envisioned our financial future. This is not to say we didn’t talk about money, because we did: debt, bills, savings, goals, etc. But we didn’t talk about how comfortable we wanted our life to be, because I assumed that we were on the same page: we’d be happy with anything. Now, we’re newly married and I’m making a lot of money at a job I don’t want forever and I realize I don’t know how he feels about downsizing our apartment and neighborhood and giving up the ability to (finally) buy the things we want. This post made me realize this talk needs to happen stat (and should’ve happened before we got married).

    • I too am all for talking about location. Urban/rural can make just as much difference as different countries. It’d be quite a shock to learn that your partner wants to return halfway around the world to where they grew up when you planned on raising a family close to your own family.

      Of course, it can all change at a moment’s notice, but at least you know what each other’s expectations are.

    • Can I just say, I love how that NY times article is filed under “fashion”. WTF?! I mean, if the questions were of the “what is your approach to colour coordination” or “how do you feel about harem pants” variety then fair enough (and don’t get me wrong, those are big issues in any relationship), but come on…

  • How do you feel about pet euthanasia, and if you support it, under what terms is that the decision to make?

    Recently, we had a huge talk about having pets and whether or not we would put an animal down if they were not going to get any better. This conversation was started because his family put his dog down when I still was sure he had some fight in him, and we realized that this was a huge issue for me/us (but really especially for me, and turns out the more we talked about it, I realized it was more of a deal breaker than I had previously thought).

    We were also about to get cats and I realized that it was really important to talk about this issue well before we got them, because if we had different opinions about how much an animal is “worth” (i.e. how much money we would be willing to spend on them if they got sick, needed surgery, etc), that could cause huge struggles down the road. Luckily, we found some healthy talking points, some of which resulted in us talking about assisted suicide and the meaning of life, and then found common ground. We pushed each other to talk about what we really cared about, what life meant to us, etc.

    So maybe this is just a question before getting pets, or before having kids or something, but for us, it was something I needed to know before we committed to marrying each other.

    • Carbon Girl

      We had this convo when our cat needed surgery (she’s healthy now) and are worth numbers were waaaaay off, like he said 1500 and I said 9000 for what I would pay to treat one of our pets. We then talked about why and how we would pay that much and set aside a pet savings account for future emergencies.

      • Amy

        Oh man, this is so the reason why I would not let my ex have the cat when we broke up. She had some major health issues in her first year of life and I knew that if anything happened again he simply would not be able to afford the kind of care I could.
        And having to fight with your family about spending $3k to save a kitten is not fun (and I was paying!) I can only imagine the stress if you and your husband aren’t on the same page.

      • this makes so much sense! My son took my cat when I could not haver her where I lived and when she got sick with renal failure I had wished we would have talked about it right at the beginning.

        I could not break his heart and say no more treatment as it was way way too much money…..But she was only 8, maybe if she was older I would have stopped the treatment earlier

        These are important things to discuss and I am so very glad that young women today (I’m not your average bridal board poster!!!!!)

        are so savvy and don’t have their head in the clouds about marriage, this from the woman who forgot to get married.

        How you handle conflict is so important and REALLY talking about things is so great!

    • Vmed

      We just talked about the pet euthanasia issue last night, a hard conversation because neither of us have ever had to put a pet down, and now we have two beautiful dogs in our baby family. We know that we’ll probably get 10 more years with them if we’re all very lucky.

      Another (happier) pet question is about timing and type- before we got dog 2, we discussed which breeds were good with kids, and how much time we needed between a new puppy and a new baby (probably 2.5 years at least for this breed) which was a good way to lead into other parenting and career timeline types of discussions. We also talked extensively about training, and our expectations for good behavior and how to appropriately enforce the rules.

      Because a destructive animal can cost you a lot of money, and your sanity.

      • agreed- puppies are great for opening up parenting discussions. i call ours “the practice kid” sometimes. only she’s a bit easier in that we can lock her in a cage and leave her home alone… ;)

      • JEM

        Good points. I have been dying to get a dog but whenever I bring it up, I can sense hesitation in my fiance’s responses. I know he LOVES dogs but is worried about not being around enough for them and providing them with the level of care he wants to (ie they will be treated like our children). He has never had pets of his own before and I have always had at least 3 or 4 critters my entire life. We decided that having cats is a better solution for the time being (and he also really, really loves kitties).

        That being said, I cannot wait for our cats! :)

  • Lily

    Robert and I talked a lot about what we were willing to give up and change for one another. Since we are both in graduate school and will be starting careers together as newlyweds, we had to decide who will take the lead in the career search, and who will follow, and if we are alright with that. Since his job search will be much more limited (linguistics faculty) and mine is very broad (student affairs), I will be taking a backseat, and its been exciting to discover that I am alright with that.

    I also think its really important to travel together before you get engaged, and to talk about the experience. Robert and I spent some time in Guatemala (he collects data for his research down there) and we drove cross country when I moved to grad school, and while both were difficult (because traveling is hard-part of why I like it), they were really illuminating about what is important to us. How often and when do we rest? What is it like when we are tired and hungry and dirty and there isn’t a place to sit an eat for fifty miles? I don’t see it as a test, necessarily, but it will be pretty indicative of what things could look like when they get hard.

    And just to throw it out there, my mom always said that sex, money, and kids were the non-negotiables, and that you can compromise on everything else.

    • Travelling must be wonderful, and I’m pea-green with envy, but it’s also hugely expensive which is why many people don’t do it.

      I think your points are good ones, but the suggestion is problematic for many couples who don’t have the resources to travel in the first place.

      • But I still think this is important, even if it means driving to somewhere nearby, being away from your established environment together for a bit. Traveling doesn’t have to be epic international adventure, nor does it have to cost millions (or even hundreds) of dollars; seeing how you work with your partner in a different situation is so worth it, and can be done in really creative and cheap ways.

        • Amy

          I agree – I think simply taking a road trip together can be hugely instructive in seeing how the couple handles stressors like getting lost, navigating in a different town/city, how people react when tired/hungry/stressed/in a new environment. My husband and I travel together better than we used to but man did we have some blow-up fights the first few times we went to Europe.

          • shorty j

            this is EXACTLY what I was thinking. Travel is a huge stressor for me, and something that I very much prefer to do alone, so making sure that my partner and I could successfully function together and perhaps even like each other when we’re cranky, tired, and lost was a hugely important thing for me.

            In fact, I am pretty sure the instant I realized I wanted to marry him was our first vacation together–we were lost, and I was about 5 seconds away from a toddler-style temper tantrum, and even though he’s super introverted and never, ever talks (seriously), he totally stepped up and got everything figured out. (and in German, to boot!) And it let me see that he had this confident, capable side to him that totally blew me away.

        • Amy

          I think knowing how you travel together can be important, if traveling is important to you. Some people may not have the resources, or the desire, to take road trips or plan adventures or even get away for the weekend. I think it’s more important that both people involved feel the same way about traveling in general.

          • Lily

            You all are totally right, I am really privileged to have been able to travel extensively, and that’s a luxury not all can have. And you’re all also right that not everyone has the inclination to travel.

            I do believe, though, just like what Kinzie Kangaroo said, is that the heart of it is getting out of your normal situation and seeing how you both react to things. For me, getting lost is hard! Its good to know now that getting lost is not a big deal for my partner, and that we work well together finding our way, despite our opposite inclinations.

          • meg

            Well, I think the point about getting out of your normal environment together is well taken, even if traveling isn’t something you really want to do as a couple. Parenting is, after all, a radical departure from your normal environment, as is a parent dying. If you can’t go away for a weekend with someone, get lost and still love each other, chances are you’re not going to survive life’s hurdles super well.

            That said, I had a horrible boyfriend who I couldn’t live with, but I sure could travel with. So. You never know.

          • anon

            I think it’s all about experiencing something outside of the comfort zone that a couple lives in on a daily basis. Knowing how your partner reacts to obscure and “uncomfortable” situations is very telling for how they will react to obstacles that will be faced in the future. For some people travelling might be the catalyst for such situations, for others who are comfortable with travelling it may be another experience.
            I’ve known a few friends who married quickly, at a young age who ended up divorced. From my perspective, their end came because something in their situation changed which transformed one of them into a different person unseen before by the other.
            Asking questions before marriage is absolutely obligatory. The questions try to get at how one would react in a certain situation, but really experiencing the reactions and emotions during at least one difficult situation firsthand is, in my opinion, the most informative.

        • Leona

          Camping is good stuff for relationship building and it’s incredibly cheap. It can involve travel but most people have camping areas within 100 miles (at least in my state) and it can make you feel transported.

          My husband and I went through some rough times during our engagement and for his birthday one year, I decided I should take him camping. Our relationship grew by leaps and bounds that weekend because he’d never camped and I was the one with all the experience so for once, he had to fully rely on me to know what to do. At the time it was really hard for him to share control (and for me too, of course) but the first time my tarp and drainage system kept us dry during a rainstorm, I think he fell in love with me all over again.

          That said, camping would be an extremely negative experience if neither one of you has a firm grasp on what you’re doing.

          • although… negative experiences can also help you grow as a couple. i’m guessing there will be times in our lives where neither my husband or i have a good grasp of what we’re doing.

            and i just really like camping, hence this comment. :)

    • Sarabeth

      Also, as a thing to discuss: how important is travel to your future life? What kinds of vacations do you want to take? And if these are different for the two of you, can you handle separate vacations?

      My husband and I actually travel kind of terribly together, at least on vacations, because we often want different things out of our experiences, He’d be happy if every vacation involved a good surfing beach or a mountain to climb. I travel in part to experience unfamiliar cultures and ways of life, and get a kick out of navigating public transit systems in foreign countries, which just stresses him out. So we’ve had to agree to let each other take separate vacations a good percentage of the time. That was actually kind of rough for me – I had to give up an idealized dream of our relationship. But frankly, it’s worth it for the 50 weeks of the year when we are living at home together.

      • RachelLyn

        For my fiance and I, travel was a very big conversation. We are moving to South Africa together about four months after we get married because I have a scholarship to study there. His decision to come with was very important to our relationship (and our decision to get married in the first place).

        We are both fanatics about travel and both want to take a year (or more!) to travel the world. Learning that we shared this desires (and the desire to be expats for at least a while) was important and learning that we travel well together doubly so. Our interest in traveling plays a large role in our careers and our family plans and is something we both prioritize and will plan around. My fiance is also my travel partner and my fellow adventurer.

    • Marina

      Traveling together was definitely a crucial step in my relationship with my husband. Partially because my family lives 1000 miles away and his family lives 3000 miles away, so we knew going in that if we were going to make a baby family together travel was going to have to happen. But travel doesn’t have to be Travel to bring out the things you should know about your partner. For instance, I get really super stressed when I am traveling and don’t know when I am next going to get to eat. That’s not just if I’m in Africa for 6 months or doing 10 European countries in 7 days. That’s if I’m taking a Greyhound bus overnight too, or driving to the coast, or bicycling along that great 20 mile urban trail.

      Also, I mean, there’s lots of ways to travel that are actually cheaper than staying in one place and paying rent. But that’s a whole different comment.

      • ANDREA

        Off topic, just wanted to happily “exactly” the “there’s lots of ways to travel that are actually cheaper than paying rent” bit. Or even when you are paying rent, there are ways to travel cheap and well. Discussions for another time though :)

  • Yes!

    There are so many lists out there with questions like “Do you have any siblings?” that make me think ‘huh? Did you only just meet this person?’

    • I know! Not to knock team practical book suggestions, but I got a few of the “questions to ask before you get married” books out last week and they were full of “are you a vegetarian?” “what are your hobbies?” and other things that you’d generally think that you already knew before, I don’t know, the third date…

      Of course, some were decent noggin-scratchers, but I’m more eager to see what this list produces!

      • For me, some of those “are you a vegetarian” questions were all about how we took them: and we took them and RAN with them. From the vegetarian question we discussed how our relationship to food had evolved, what pitfalls there were for each of us, that I had previously been a vegetarian, that he grew up half that way, and how we would deal with it if one of us decided to embrace that in the future. We also talked about how we want to construct our diet/cooking style as a couple, our relationship to the animal planet, etc.

        I think it’s all about how you take those.

    • Some folks gave us those “questions” books as engagement gifts, and my husband and I sat down one day to read one of them….there were the SILLIEST questions, just like you described. We’ve been together for 5 years, we know whether or not one of us would prefer camping vs cruise, or whether or not we’re close to our parents! *Honestly!* :P

  • Rachael

    What a great topic! When my spouse and I were in premarital counseling, we were asked some questions that have really stuck with me. Our counselor asked us what we learned about marriage/love/family/relationships from our parents/families of origin, and how that shapes how we relate to one another. As two children of divorce, we had a lot of “this is what I don’t want to do” come out of that session, but it really helped us think through our ingrained assumptions about how families work, and to be intentional about building our own family. For example, once I understood that spouse wanted separate bank accounts because my in-laws did not allow each other any financial independence, I started to understand him more, because he had learned that money is what drives marriages apart, and he wanted to avoid that. I wanted to think that I had not brought any of my parents’ bad habits into my adult life, but that just isn’t the case. Being aware of it (and the good things they taught us!) has really helped us.

    • Completely agree, and actually one thing that we did during pre-marital counselling was to draw a diagram of each of our families. My diagram was me, my parents, brother. Done. His involved three parents, four siblings, two step-siblings and three continents. The simple act of putting these two pictures on paper was striking and really drove home how different our experiences of family and marriage have been, and led to a more meaningful discussion of how that might influence our approach to our own relationship. (I should add that his dad and stepmum have an incredibly strong and loving marriage while my parents’ has been fraught to say the least (!) so the way things look on paper can be misleading – but it certainly made its point pretty effectively.)

    • Emily

      Along these lines, our pre-marriage counselors encouraged us to describe and discuss how our parents fought when we were growing up. This helped us to identify how our communication techniques in a more separated way than asking, how do YOU fight? It also made us realize how we are likely to echo our families’ successes and failures, thinking hard about how we want to handle those things as they arise. I was also then prompted to call my mom and ask why they had used the tactics they did, how they felt about them… It was a great challenge.

      I second the remark above that couples should discuss things you are willing to compromise on….whose career will be more flexible? Whose family needs to be closer? What are you both willing to give up in order to have children?

  • C

    My fiance and I did a marriage preparation program with our Church, which encouraged us to tackle all sorts of challenging topics. This included the kind of things you named Meg, as well as lots of others, including a table of things called ‘skeletons in the closet’. It was about as scary as it sounded – past relationships, childhood traumas, histories of physical and mental illness, addictions etc in our families… Actually we had talked about most of this some other time in the last 3 years, but going through it all at once in one conversation was a bit overwhelming!
    Thankfully the course asked us to do this after it had given us some specific tools for managing difficult conversations. I’m grateful that my fiance – who isn’t as much as a liberal sharer as I am! – was up for it, and together we figured, well, it’s going to come out one day, it affects who we are now and who we will be in the future, so we might as well get it out of the way…

    I’m very glad we did! It makes me feel like we have a much sounder foundation, and even though it is a bit scary, its also kind of amazing that we still want to marry each other. :)

    • Amy

      I think the part of our marriage prep with the Church which was most interesting was when they asked us to discuss our biggest fears about the other partner. I’ve got some health issues which are chronic, but well-managed. So it was kind of a shock to me to see that my health was the #1 worry of my husband to be. Definitely opened up some topics of communication there.

    • meg

      Skeletons in te closet. I like it.

  • family: how close do we want to live to family? are we okay with either of our parental groups being next door/down the street/in the same state? how will we work out which holidays are spent with which side of the family?

    sex: how often? what will we do if life gets away from us? how will we prioritize it? (for people who haven’t been living together… we were long distance, so this was an important day-to-day subject)

    careers: whose career will we maximize? if applicable, who will stay home with sick children or miss work when their needs must come first? how will we handle long work hours? what if we need to move for one or the other’s career?

    and, six months into marriage, i’d say one of the most important discussions that nobody really mentioned to me is about household responsibilities. it’s this daily stuff that can get really frustrating if you have different expectations. it seems kind of silly, but dishes, laundry, car maintenance/repairs, taking out the trash, vacuuming, making the bed… it’s all got to get done. so talk about it.

    TALK, TALK, TALK. i’d recommend talking about anything and everything you can think of before marriage. and during marriage, for that matter.

    • Amy

      I think the sex questions are super important that a lot of people either forget about, or just brush under the rug. Life can get hard, and busy, but sex is important (to me anyway). I think having the sex conversation and understanding what your and your partners needs are is important.

      • I did the whole virgin until I was married thing, and while I had DISCUSSED sex with my ex-husband, we never actually had any until we were married. Boy was I surprised to find out that he was a sadist. Seriously, abusive sadism, that he was into and I was NOT ok with, and he didn’t see him forcing it on me as abuse or rape because that’s what he was into and he was my husband. I would advise even if you’re waiting for marriage to have sex, that you discuss it EXTENSIVELY and make completely sure you understand your partner’s wants/needs. That really turned out to be what ended our marriage. He wasn’t honest before hand, and then expected me to be “ok” with being a sexual masochist, or with having him have sex with other women so he could “do his thing.” Sex is a crucial topic for discussion.

        Also I think a lot of the things that have been mentioned– like how to handle money, who is “expected” by each partner to be in charge of certain aspects of the relationship, etc. Our preacher has talked with us at length about how we usually just assume that it’ll be like it was in our houses growing up without realizing that everyone’s house growing up wasn’t like ours.

    • katie

      Great point on the household chores topic – we lived together for over 1.5 years before getting hitched, so you’d think we’d be set, but we weren’t. Now, 5 months in, I have moments of significant frustration about how he doesn’t clean. Maybe it’s because on some level I’m realizing this is it and if we don’t change, it’s how things will be forever. And when the little things go off, bigger issues are sure to follow.

      • Katelyn

        We’ve been battling over chores for the past year or so since he moved in. I think we finally reached a bit of revelation on both sides, but it took a really long time to work out. If we were actually engaged, I can see it being something easy to miss, but really crucial.

        • Kayakgirl73

          We should have talked about chores more, especially since we hadn’t lived together. We have different standards. One of the best decisions we made was a cleaning lady every other week, it does help with some of the chore arguments.

    • Ditto to everything, but wanted to comment on the household chores. I remember getting our worksheets from our officiant and being surprised that an entire worksheet was devoted to household chores, division of labor with future children, etc. While I hadn’t thought about how important it would be, it is really important to talk each other’s expectations in the day to day life as well as the big issues.

    • LBD

      Yes, definitely the sex question. Things may be great now, but life will get busy, you or your partner will get depressed, maybe you’ll have a kid, things will happen. How will you address it? What does each partner require / need? Have you been completely honest with each other about your desires and fantasies? Anyone who’s listened to or read a lot of Dan Savage’s advice column / podcast can tell you this ends up being a BIG issue for A LOT of couples. And that’s what inspired US to do a lot of talking about it.

      I also third (or whatever-rd) the household responsibilities question. I’d say this is also necessarily an on-going topic. Especially once you buy a house, and there are a bunch of other things to do! I’d also say part of this is how you’ll get things done. Both my partner and I suffer from a motivation problem when it comes to cleaning, so we find if we do it together, it’s less painful than if we just have our chores and then do them in our own separate time.

    • The family topic is important. This is one I definitely brought up with my husband in our pre-marital counseling. Both of his parents are not financially stable. I made sure to discuss how our future financial success could be impacted by his familial expectations. Would his parents expect financial support from us? How far would we be willing to go to support either of our families? My parents are in a different situation and are prepared for retirement and have planned for future illness and long-term care. Having talked about this, I felt more comfortable knowing that we had discussed how we would take care of our baby-family and what we needed to do to take care of our parents.

      • sara

        yes! this is our situation too. It is really important to think about the “what ifs” that could come along if your partner’s parents are in need of care and can’t support themselves. Also, I would add that thinking about what kind of care we both would want (heaven forbid) if something horrible happened was really important. Understanding each other’s thoughts on end-of-life situations is really eye-opening and can also bring about a lot of great conversations about living well and living together too.

    • Agreed — we didn’t talk about sex before marriage because we didn’t feel that we needed to. And then, after marriage, with different work schedules, I was all, “whoa, whoa, whoa. WHAT is happening here.” Worthwhile conversation.

      • HA. That was me, last night, all of a sudden. Good to know I’m not alone in that!

      • seriously! add a dog to the mix and you can really run into trouble.

  • Amy

    Health issues was a big topic for us, and while my own pre-existing chronic health issues played into that I think its an important one for people to address. This was hammered home after my best friend watched her long-term boyfriend and domestic partner die after a relatively short illness that turned particularly virulent.
    We discussed (in no particular order) – What are we doing (both independently and as a couple) to lead healthier lives? How do we need to reallocate money/time/resources to ensure that we can pay for things some might consider frivolous (like private strength training/pt/etc)? We also discussed how my health would play into future decisions around timing births of children, and trying to have them sooner rather than later in our marriage.
    We also talked about what we would want to happen if one of us got really sick – hospice care? Home care? Would you want life-support, and if so, to what extent? How do you want to die – at home, in a hospital? Do you want to be buried/cremated? With what type of burial? Religious or non-religious?
    We also talked about expectations of parent support when ill. As we both make a good deal more money than his siblings, and his parents have not saved much, we realize it may fall to us to shelter/care for his parents if they fall ill later on in life. And while that sounds very “far off” to a newly married couple, it is increasingly common for couples in their 30’s and 40’s to be raising kids and helping to take care of ill parents. We wanted to be on the same page regarding those things – would we be ok with having his or my parents live with us? For how long? What level of support would we expect from family?

    • Amy*

      I agree abou talking about health and death. It’s not the fun stuff, but it’s so important. My husband and I have also talked about how we would handle it if we had a child with a serious illness. (His brother has Cystic Fibrosis, which is genetic, so it’s possible we could have a child with CF.) It’s important to know where you both stand on these issues before you “take the plunge.”*

      • Also good to know: at what point would your partner want you to pull the plug in the event that s/he is comatose? Is that a decision that your partner wants you to make or their parents? Do you want to be buried? My partner wanted us both to be buried together, but I want to be cremated. How do you reconcile things like that?

        For this stuff, I’d also say you should make a living will so there is legal record that, yes your partner wants you to pull the plug, and yes, your partner wants you making that decision.

      • ann

        also: under what circumstances, if any, would you want to terminate a pregnancy?

    • Lethe

      The last point here is really key so I want to echo it – even for younger couples, but especially for couples where one partner has older parents, discuss what sort of family responsibilities you expect to have in terms of caring for aging parents. In some families parents are expected to provide for their own healthcare and life care in retirement; in others, it’s beyond question that the children bear this duty.

    • Leona

      I was going to bring this question up too but also in terms of fitness and weight. My husband and I have opposite problems when it comes to our diets and sometimes it can be hard to come up with a meal plan that works for both of us– and when I say sometimes, I mean pretty much every dinner is a struggle. I have a genetic tendency toward anemia so it’s important for me to get lots of iron and protein and sometimes I have to keep my weight up by eating things heavier in carbs to stay healthy and energetic. I can’t always handle more than an hour of exercise and really intense work-outs can make me feel like passing out. Hubs, on the other hand, struggles with keeping his weight down and needs to stay on an extremely strict diet consisting of very few carbs and lots of very lean protein. He also needs a ton of exercise to stay fit and it’s easiest for him to take on more intense routines rather than spending hours at the gym.

      We have to work really hard to maintain a routine that’s healthy for both of us and it can be exhausting. I think your health and fitness needs are important to discuss because it will effect how and where you spend your quality time.

      • Leona

        Also, some other good questions related to fitness/health area: What will our plan be if one of us becomes physically or even mentally unhealthy (and I think I mean this in a way that excludes physical diseases)? How far will we go to help each other and how far does my partner expect me to go? How will we react to feelings of the other person letting himself/herself go?

  • Meg, I love all these questions and don’t have much to add, but I did want to suggest maybe changing the topic “Family” to “Kids”, because, as you’ve said before, you DID want a family and you have one! Kids don’t make the family, we make the family, regardless of whether we have kids.

    The only other thing we spent a lot of time on was our home. What did we want our home to look like: rural, urban, really, really clean, modern, etc. This wasn’t so hard since we’d seen how each other lived before getting married – and lived together before getting married – but it is a really important part of our lives so we did spend a lot of time talking about it.

    Also, under family: we talked about what we would do if a parent wanted to move in with us; would that be okay? When would that be okay?

    Thanks for awesomeness, as usual :)

    • LBD

      I agree, discussions about aging parents is also important. Our parents are all approaching retirement age, and we’ve both gone through grandparents needing increasing amounts of care from the family and eventually, their deaths. It’s made us talk about our own parents, and also, made us talk to our parents about what their plans are as well.

  • I am eagerly watching this thread for important questions that need to be discussed with my boyfriend. As we’re in the pre-engaged stage, we have been having more future discussions, which I love. But I know there are some very important questions that need to be ask, and goodness knows the ones I have found on the internet weren’t as intense as I had hoped.

    A recently married friend was telling me about her experience with pre-marital counseling. When it came down to discussing these types of questions, each individual was given a piece of paper with all the questions on them and everyone in the group went off on their own to answer them personally. Questions like, “if you were pregnant and found out your child had Down’s syndrome, what would you do?” After a set amount of time, each couple got back together and they had to discuss their answers. I really liked this idea, especially since it eliminates any outside influences when you are writing your answers. Plus, I’m one of those people that takes a while to properly verbalize my opinions, so being able to consider my answers and write them down first before discussing is appealing to me.

  • Carbon Girl

    Two things (very unrelated):

    1. How much “me” time do you need? What do you want this time to look like and how would you spend this time? (This is especially important for partners that are not cohabitating until marriage.)

    2. End of life issues. I know this topic is a total downer but accidents and other awful things happen. Maybe it is on my mind because we have family members who have gotten terminal diagnoses in the past year. How would you want to be cared for if you are really sick? How long would you want to be on life support? How would you want your remains to be taken care of?

    • EXACTLY.

    • Cass

      I work in the “End of Life” field, as does my fiance’s mother. I think this is almost a non-issue with us because he’s surrounded by people who know how to deal with (at least the tangible parts of) sickness, death and dying.
      I do feel embarrassed bringing up issues about getting life insurance and the difference between starting a retirement funding before or after marriage. It’s stuff that NEEDS to be said though!
      I have seen the creation of a will cause a divorce. It’s really hard to see a relationship realize its end, when they think about “The End.”

    • As an ICU nurse, i’d say #2 is one of THE MOST IMPORTANT things you can discuss with your partner. Now. Today. As hard as it might be.

      also, great #1.

      • Jamie

        Right after we got engaged, we watched my grandmother waste away in the ICU. I sat with my grandpa as he went through the checklist of what the staff would do and what he didn’t want them to do. We had that discussion right as we left hospital and a few times after.

        Then, right after Thanksgiving, his uncle was placed in hospice (he had a inoperable brain tumor that hadn’t shrunk in the 18 months of chemo/radiation/experimental treatments). This was a whole different “end of life” so we discussed then too, what would happen if either of us faced possibly dying young.

        But I think it needs to be discussed AND put in writing. As my fiance said “We need to put this in writing. I know what you want, but I don’t want my heart to get the better of my brain and I start going against your wishes out of being selfish and wanting you around forever.”

    • Sarah

      I’m going to add something to the End of Life issues discussion … organ/tissue donation.

      I’ve been in the donor bank since I was old enough to make the choice. I really, can’t see it any other way. So, I was SHOCKED when my now-husband (we had this discussion shortly after getting engaged) told me of his extreme discomfort with it. He has an irrational (his word, not mine) fear that if we are ever in position that it would matter, and my license shows I’m a donor, less will be done to save my life. It’s something he can’t shake.

      This was a tough one, for us. It was something we both felt extremely strongly about. And, in the end, we compromised. I took my records out of the donor bank. And gave him my medical POA … with the promise that in the event it is possible, he will make sure I am a donor.

      Though, I imagine it’s not always as easy to settle as it was for us. So, this is a big one.

      • CAMinSD

        I’ve also been an organ donor since I learned how to drive. I was also totally shocked that my boyfriend – who is a stem cell researcher and whose mother is a nurse – very deliberately chose not to be an organ donor. Honestly, my first (tacit)reaction was tooooootally judgemental. Like, “Who *is* this guy?” Turns out, his opinion is that organ donation may prolong living, but often with a very low quality of life — and often while putting significant pressure on the health care system.

        I had never, ever thought of it like that.

        I’m still an organ donor, but as I age and my individual parts are less viable in that way, I will very likely chooose the path he’s already on– body donation for education or research.

        So I went from “Who *is* this guy?” to “Duh. I should have totally seen a well-reasoned and value-based answer coming.”

    • I believe that discussing me time is so much more important that most people think. My husband needs practically none, I need at least a few hours a week. How social you want to be is also important. This is something that keeps coming up with my husband and I. He wants roommates, I don’t. Trying to find a balance that gives me the privacy and alone time I need, and also gives him the contact with people he needs can be a bit tricky.

  • We talked about many of the things you and others have mentioned already. Two other big ones for me were:

    1. If either of our families is origin has an issue with us as a couple (not in general, but like a specific situation…why can’t you come out of town with us? Why didn’t you send me a thank you note for that gift? Etc.) then who will deal with them? Usually it will be us as a couple, but the one whose family it is will take the lead. That has been a problem for some friends. Their spouse expects them to confront the in-laws alone if there is an issue and that made me really uncomfortable. We also talked about how we will have to come first to each other, even if it means not siding with our parents.

    2. Who will take care of our kids? Right now I’m set to make more money than him when I finish school, so if I stayed home and didn’t have a paycheck, he would have to go back to a higher paying job, even though he’s happier now at his lower paying job. Luckily, he’s open to the ideas of either doing that or being the parent who stays home. I was secretly feeling a lot of pressure about this and talking it out made me confident that we’ll find a way to make it work when the time comes.
    I highly recommend the 1001 questions book. We skipped a lot of things but some were very enlightening. We wouldn’t have thought to talk about the above or other difficult things (ex. What if I get pregnant and our baby has serious disabilities?) otherwise.

    • Exactly. Especially to #1, that’s what we do to a T.

  • Bino

    VALUES: Theoretically, what are our shared and separate values AKA what is important to us? In reality, how do we live out those values? How do we support each other in becoming better versions of ourselves? What did we like about the values we each learned from our parents and what didn’t we like?

    LOCATION/TIMELINE/LIFESTYLE: My husband and I got married young-ish (23) but neither of us had plans to “settle down” anytime soon (there’s nothing wrong with this, it’s just not the lifestyle we want for ourselves right now). So we asked each other, where could you see yourself living at some point? Where do you absolutely want to live at some point before you die? Where are some places that you are willing to compromise on? What are we looking for in a place to live – size, weather, quality of public education, etc.? Where would we absolutely not live? How will we make sure to balance out each other’s personal/career goals in terms of moving around? When and where would we like to settle down and potentially buy a house?

    CHILDREN: Do we both want them (resounding yes, for us)? Is it important to us for our children to be raised with an American identity (this question came from us having always wanted to live abroad – and currently living that out)? Is it important to us for our children to be raised with a [insert heritage or religion or lackthereof here] identity? How many kids do we want? What would we do if I couldn’t get pregnant? How do we pass along our values to our children? Is it important for both of us to work? Would one of us be willing/want to work from home or take some time off when the kids are young?

    MONEY: Did we want to have joint money? What kind of life did we want to live and how much money did we need to make to create that life? Which purchases would we need to discuss together and which purchases could we make without consulting each other?

    IDENTITY: Sparked by our last name conversations. How will getting married change our self-identities as individuals and as a couple? How will getting married change how other people view us?

    These questions are certainly things that we had talked about before we were engaged, but once we were engaged, I was fascinated to find that it felt different talking through them.

  • Kids: Yes or no? Would it be a deal-breaker / marriage-wrecker if one of us decided we definitely did or did not want to have kids? What about if we encounter infertility – is IVF an option? Adoption?

    Work-Life Balance: What does that mean to each of you? What is absolutely necessary to maintain balance and sanity?

    Vacation: What kinds of vacations do each of you like? International trips or visits to family? Would you rather spend your vacation hiking or lazing about on a beach?

    In-laws / Family: At what point would familial visits become too frequent? And who will set those boundaries with parents?

    Infidelity: What do we absolutely need in the relationship to be happy in it? What could provoke infidelity? What would your reaction to an unfaithful spouse be?

    Money: Who will pay the bills?

    Sex: How often is not often enough? (Well, various other sex-related questions. Sex is something couples don’t talk about enough. Ever.)

    • Jamie

      Yes to your number one. My friend and her husband knew they wanted kids, they never discussed what would happen if they couldn’t. They started all the IVF stuff, and after 2 unsuccessful tried, they stopped. My friend told me it was really tearing them apart, that she’d wished they’d talked about it before.

    • Yes! There needs to be more sex talk! Not just frequency but also what is and isn’t okay, what’s okay to share with other people, how to understand consent. ESPECIALLY when you’re married. Yes still means yes, but what else means yes (or no)? :)

  • Heather

    My parents are both deceased, but my both of my husband’s parents are older and in poor health. They are also extremely in-the-hole financially. We’ve had many discussions, both before and after our wedding, about how to handle this situation when the shit inevitably hits the fan. The overall strategy of caring for his parents, both financially and medically, will vary radically if we end up taking care of (1) both of them, (2) his mother should his father die first, or (3) his father should his mother die first. It’s definitely not a pleasant topic, but I feel that it’s vital that we be in agreement. And even once we reach said agreement, circumstances obviously change, so this is something we’ve addressed multiple times.

    And as others have noted – it boggles my mind what some of the “Questions to be asked before you get married” are suggested in some of these books/articles. Really?! You’ve never discussed whether you want to have children?! Or what role religion will play in your lives?! Or what your financial status is in regards to credit card debt, etc?! And these aren’t even any of the truly amazing ones (see: are you a vegetarian). If you’ve agreed to marry someone, I cannot fathom having not already discussed these issues.

    • I agree that some questions are silly, but sometimes when you’re actually facing marriage, things come up a little more differently than they did way back on that third date. It’s all a bit more real. So while you may have discussed religion before, the role you want it to play in your lives forever is an important piece that may have been skipped over or assumed. And re-discussion/clarification can never hurt. A personal example: we’re both vegetarian. He’s solidly set in that as far as he can see. I’ve been toying with the idea of locally raised family farmed meat, but hadn’t mentioned it until it came up in a big discussion a while ago. I think it’s just good to check in every so often– before marriage, after marriage, every other Tuesday, whatever.

      • Amy

        There were a few articles in the news recently about couples breaking off engagements when one person found out the other person’s level of debt. It was just shocking to me – I understand not wanting to lead off with “So, I’ve got $90k in student loans, how about you?” on a first date, but really, that wasn’t brought up until you got engaged?

      • Caitlin, we’re both veg, too!

        As far as “obvious” questions, I think that especially if you’ve been with your partner for a long time, as I have, you accumulate knowledge about them through their actions and conversations with other people – but maybe it’s been years since either of you had a point-blank conversation about it. I had been loath to bring up some topics that we disagreed about in 2006 but later found that at some point he had come around (or I had come around, etc.) We’re both holdouts on other (more minor) issues, but it works.

        I’ve always wanted to be a foster parent but avoided bringing it up because I assumed he wasn’t interested, mostly due to absurd leaps of logic involving him having not wanted to adopt a terminally ill 13 year old bassett hound. One day I blurted it out and he said he had always wanted to foster as well. Aces!

        • Yay for the veggies! And the Ohioans ;)

          “you accumulate knowledge about them through their actions and conversations with other people”. Exactly. Thanks for articulating this a bit more clearly than I was able to.

      • Marina

        I totally agree with this. Re: religion, for example, my husband and I had discussed our religions, our ethical philosophies, our parents’ religions, our grandparents’ religions, etc, quite in depth. But it wasn’t until we got engaged that I realized I never, ever wanted Christmas decorations in my house, and I had no idea whether he wanted his kids to have the (secular) Christmas experience he had growing up. Turns out he doesn’t care, which makes things easy. But boy oh boy am I glad we discussed that one before getting married.

    • Kris

      This is big and so often overlooked. I work at an advocacy org that deals with elder issues like long-term care and aging in place. I don’t think most couples think that far ahead about being possible caregivers for a spouse’s parent. Or, in my case…possibly a caregiver for my partner’s younger sister who’s developmentally challenged. Now that she’s older, his fam had to just go thru a bunch of court stuff to assign legal custodianship. He’s the back up in case anything happens to his parents, which means down the line she may have to live with us. It’s a huge commitment but I realized it’s part of the package of building a life my partner and I’m fully ready to accept it (plus, his sister is awesome).

    • Heather G

      YES. I had this very comment in mind–that its probably very important to discuss how you will take care of elderly family members. Who will be the primary caregiver? Where will they be cared for? How to divide responsibility? Etc.

      Interestingly, this has come up in my (pre-engaged) relationship while caring for the very elderly family dog. He is blind, deaf, arthritic, and cantankerous. The care is theoretically divided among my guy and his two brothers while the parents are away for 3 months. It’s been an interesting negotiation and has really made us think about this process for when his/our parents are older and may need long-term care.

      Not surprisingly, the topic of pet euthanasia has also come up since caring for the family dog.

      Come to think of it, we’ve had some amazing conversations while caring for the family dog, who we’ve now deemed, “Uncle Tug.” So I suppose I should thank him…

  • Laura

    Do you want to have kids? How many? When? What kind of a parent do you want to be? What kind of childcare will we use (will both of us be working when we have kids?) and how will we pay for it? Do you think we should pay for all/some/let the children finance on their own their first car/college/weddings, etc?

    I’m marrying someone who has two kids, so these questions came up earlier, but I think this stuff is really important and complicated and important to get out there waaaaay before kids are actually a part of the equation.

  • Alicia

    Infertility – how we will deal with it, what options do we want to pursue, how can we start to develop tools to think about it and feel safe with each other. We know from the outset that this is a really big issue for us and I think it was important, however scary, to try to start talking some of the options through before we got married.

    • Zan

      “I think it was important, however scary, to try to start talking” I think this is just it, Alicia, you hit the nail squarely on the head. Things that seem too scary to talk about are probably the things we definitely SHOULD be talking about before we get married.

      I’m totally with you on the infertility thing by the way. Obviously it is something we hope we never have to deal with, but better prepared than not, right?

      The only thing I’d add to the general list APW is developing here is this question, “What are your deal-breakers?” The answers can be surprising and encompass things that you want to be able to understand about your partner’s point-of-view ahead of time.

      • Amy

        Infertility is something that is fairly common among my group of work colleagues (NYC, delayed marriages, not having children until later 30’s early 40’s) and in addition to discussing how we’d deal with it, we also discussed when we’d put a financial cap on treatments. I just can’t fathom going $50k in debt for those types of treatments, but that level of expense certainly isn’t uncommon for 3-4 rounds of IVF/IUI/etc.

      • meg

        I like the deal-breakers question…. because sometimes they are weird things. Moving to the suburbs is one for me, and who would have thought, right?

        • Zan

          It’s also good because in the process talking about your weird deal-breakers with your partner you have to do a bit of self-examination.

          Oddly, I think that this can sometimes lead to your deal breakers becoming slightly more flexible. Just as an example: say you never wanted to leave the city, and when your partner asked why you said, “Because then I’ll lose, x,y, and z aspects of life here that I really love and that make my life rich and wonderful.” Fair enough, but if one day you had to move and you happened upon a small town or suburb that miraculously had x,y, and z qualities it might no longer be a deal breaker.

          For Stephen and I this conversation was really illuminating and helped us talked about some of our most deeply held values by approaching them in a slightly round-about way.

          • This is so true. Moving to the suburbs was a deal breaker for me, but that was because I thought it came prepackaged with a certain reality that I wasn’t comfortable with.

            So while there are certainly dealbreakers (and moving to a specific kind of suburb is still one for me) there is definitely a “lifestyle dealbreaker” conversation that I think is important to have too.

          • meg

            Ha-ha. You clearly don’t know the meaning of deal breaker, when it passes my lips. For serious, suburbs = divorce. Which is totally good to know up front (and David also has deal breakers).

            But most importantly, it’s good to understand that A) there are real deal breakers for people, and that’s stuff you can’t talk them out of. and B) WHY something is a deal breaker for them. I worry that we think, “oh, I’ll ask about their deal-breakers and then I’ll change their mind.” And that’s the thing with deal-breakers. When you ask what someone’s non-negotiable are, you need to realize that you can’t negotiate them (which isn’t to say they might not change over time).

          • Zan

            I didn’t mean that deal-breakers can’t be “for real”, “non-negotiable”. I just meant that sometimes in the process of explaining yourself you might find that you aren’t as stuck on something as you’d thought. At least, this was the case for me and some other folks I know.

            I definitely have deal-breakers and so does he, but the conversation was more than just “Mine are X, Y, Z. Done.” and I found that to be a good thing. But you’re right on about they “the might change over time” part. Life is crazy like that.

        • Sarabeth

          Oh yes. Small town, fine, but seriously the suburbs are out. And it’s wrapped up with so much else that I valued, that I think it would be hard to have a relationship with someone who wanted that, even if s/he was willing to stay in the city for me.

          • Ha, and for us, NOT moving to the ‘burbs was a dealbreaker! We both want to move out to the ‘burbs and raise a family…moving to a city would be a deal breaker for him, for sure, and also for me, but not nearly as much as it would be for him!

    • Kess

      Infertility is a major thing for us as well. While we’re still determining if we want kids, there is a high probability that I will not be able to have children, although I don’t know for certain as we’re certainly not trying now!

      Something that came up during that conversation is how I would feel if I was actually infertile and what that would mean to me personally. It was good to talk about because he just never even considered it would be a big deal – we’d just adopt. He didn’t realize the difficulties of adoption if you wanted a young child, and he also didn’t understand why being infertile would make me feel horrible. (I eventually likened it to having erectile dysfunction that could not be solved – biologically that’s what we’re supposed to do!)

    • Infertility is another hugely import one for sure. My mom’s second husband wanted kids so much that when they found that she was infertile, it caused the relationship to end. I wonder if they would have gotten married in the first place if they had had that discussion.

    • Marina

      Absolutely re: infertility. I have no reason to think that’s something we’ll have to deal with, but that was one of the things we talked about pre-wedding, and turns out my husband is really iffy about the idea of adopting children. I had no idea. If it ever does come up for us, I’m so glad I’ll know that going in rather than being surprised by it in the middle of a highly emotional situation.

  • Abby C.

    Adding to the end of life care debate:

    PARENTAL CARE: Chances are, both sides of a couple have a family of origin that is aging. What sort of planning do you need to do around this? Would you both be ok if one of you needed to move in order to be caretaker to an aging parent? What about financial assistance? Are you comfortable sending money to support aging parents? What about the eventual need for nursing care? Are you going to send a parent to a residential facility or will it be feasible to hire in-home care? What if parents need to move in with you?

    This one has been a big one that both FH and I have had to wrestle with. Both of us have one parent that is in ill health, and is likely to continue downhill. In some ways, it gave us a common point of reference to relate to each other, but it also means that we can’t neglect to deal with this sooner rather than later.

  • Rachel

    This is somewhat morose, but we talked about our living will and death wishes. Alzheimer’s runs in my family, and it’s been heartbreaking watching the effects of care-taking on those left behind. Add to that the probability that one of us could get injured or ill for no foreseeable reason, and I felt we really needed to discuss our living wills and death wishes.

    • Rachel

      I forgot one! What happens if beliefs change? If one of the common truths in your partnership changes (faith, family, etc.), how will you handle it?

  • Cody

    So I know it’s the minority of us, but people who are waiting to have sex until after they’re married- TALK ABOUT SEX. It was one of the most important things for us to really talk through.

    Another big big conversation we had was about Conflict. How are we going to fight for the rest of our lives? Super duper important. I think there was an APW post about fighting- everyone will fight, it’s just the question of whether your fights will be helpful and constructive or not.

    • If you’re waiting to have sex, I would suggest having a conversation during your engagement about expectations for the first time/how you will both ideally respond if things initially don’t go well/as planned. That was one of the number one conversations I wished we’d had during the first few weeks of my marriage.

      • Cody

        Oh, we’re married now, so no more waiting. But yeah, as a separate category for others who are still waiting- you’re completely right. Not only sex as an ongoing thing in your marriage, but conversations about the actual first time are so beneficial.

    • We waited. For sex. Our conversations about sex started a long time before we got engaged.

      It was actually quite funny because he proposed on a Saturday night and Tuesday afternoon we went to the jeweler to get my ring sized. On the drive over we had our first official “we’re getting married!” conversation and it was about our views on birth control. A bit surreal. A bit funny. But it started the conversation and it’s still going on even now that we’re married.

      As our wedding got closer we talked about our expectations for the wedding night as well, which helped us both know what the other was thinking before we got there.

      We read some chapters in “The Act of Marriage” by Tim and Beverly LaHaye together as well. That book was full of lots of information to consider.

      • Marina

        Ooo, birth control is a really good one to talk about. Who’s responsibility is it? How safe do you want to be? (doubling up methods?) What happens if it doesn’t work? (I’ve had male friends tell me that if their girlfriend got pregnant it was totally up to her whether she had an abortion, like I should be proud of them for being a super-feminist awesome dude. Um, that’s half your genes, there–have a freaking opinion. Refusing to take any responsibility for a potentially life-changing decision doesn’t make you an awesome boyfriend.) Are there some kinds of birth control that conflict with your ethical/religious beliefs? Are there some kinds of birth control that make sex less fun for you?

  • I just want to hell yes this conversation.

    What I would say has already been covered in the topics and comments, but this is the biggest thing to me.

    It was important to both of us that we schedule it ahead of time so we could be in the right head-space, open and willing to talk through things. If something tough came up and we needed a break, we talked about something light and then came back. It was really interesting to learn our touchy spots–holidays for him and money for me.

    Since we live near his family and friends, one of my basics was “we must always have money and desire to visit my family/friends at least 3x/year.”

  • Casey

    Love this! We made (and continue to make) a kind of master Life List for each of us, expressing things we’d like to do, learn, and be. Like, go to Argentina, learn to brew beer, be the best possible friend and partner, etc. It was pretty interesting to see how perfectly some of our points lined up, while others did not – on the same line where I wrote “live humbly”, the man friend wrote “own a personal aircraft.” But we laugh and move on, now with a better understanding of what our dreams are.

    • Stephanie

      We did this too! It’s so revealing to see what comes up on the list (there were some things I didn’t expect). Plus the practice of making it reinforced the idea that we are each other’s partners in making the things on that list happen.

  • -What’s the difference between girlfriend and wife? What’s the difference between boyfriend and husband? How do you anticipate marriage will affect us?

    • Also, how does getting married change your relationship with your family of origin?

  • Carrie

    I got married in October to a man with two preteen daughters and an ex-wife, and I just want to weigh in as a second wife/stepmom. My advice, although I hardly feel qualified to give advice since I am still figuring things out as I go, is to NEVER STOP ASKING. Every relationship is complicated, but second marriages or marriages with pre-existing kids are particularly complicated and I think it’s very important for the future wife/stepmom in this equation to feel that nothing is off-limits to ask. Nothing is “not your business.” Unfortunately, his previous marriage will have far-reaching effects on your future, so arm yourself with information and don’t unanswered questions eat at you because you’re afraid to pry – or worse, afraid of what the answer to your question might be. Have questions about the divorce decree? Ask. Have questions about issues in his previous marriage? Ask. Knowledge is power. :)

    • MNBride

      Amen, sister! I read many terrifying step-mom accounts before I married this man with 3 boys and I was determined that my life would not include the isolation, neglect and exclusion that semed so common. We talked a lot about what kind of priority our marriage would have in the scheme of things. I had to know where I rated among kids, ex-wife, ex-in-laws, etc.

    • As someone who cohabits with a partner who has an ex-husband and three kids, I totally agree! It’s so important to talk about your role with the ex and the kids. It has been really important to my integration into the family to feel like I can make decisions (no, you can’t have a playdate; yes, you can have a sleepover this weekend) without having to run everything by my partner first. On the flip side, if you DON’T want to be as involved with what is going on with the ex, it’s important to speak up about that too. Sometimes it’s draining to be party to every interaction/frustration. The point is, when going into the second wife/stepmom role, it’s super important to talk about how you are going to be involved in the family and the kids’ lives.

      Also, as someone who is divorced, I think it was important for both of us to talk about why we think our previous marriages didn’t work,and what’s different about this relationship.

      On the kid front generally, I think it’s great to talk about not only IF you want kids, but it’s also important to discuss what kind of parent you are or will be, and what you’ll do when you don’t agree on parenting decisions. Previously great marriages can falter if you have fundamental disagreements about parenting.

      • abby_wan_kenobi

        My husband and I try to have a conversation about parenting after every time we visit other parents, with or without their kids. Talking about other people’s choices has really helped us clarify the kind of parents we want to be and how we want to integrate parenting into the rest of our lives. This strategy really works for us in a lot of realms, every time we encounter someone going through something we haven’t seen yet, we talk and talk about it.

        I totally expect all those ideas to change once we actually have kids, but it will be good to already have all this dialog to build on. Plus, we’ll know when the thoughts we’re having will come as a surprise to our partner.

      • besidethepoint

        Right on! In anticipating my step-parenting role, I totally thought I’d be all hands-off, let-the-parents-handle-it. Then I moved in. And I realized, at my stepson’s age, he actually needs me to be able to make some of these decisions without consulting his dad, because that helps him feel secure in my care. And his needs will change as he grows, and we’ll continue to discuss how we do things.

        Yes, definitely, I agree: discuss parenting philosophy! For us, this means two distinct things: 1) creating strategies that allow my fiance to father his son, and enable me to provide support (and adult authority) as a non-parent in our household; and 2) considering how we would want to parent children together if we decide to have them. And you’re right, discussing what you’ll do if you don’t agree is so important. Now, with my stepson, I have input but not sovereignty; if we have our own children in the future, I’ll need to know I’ll have more say.

        I think couples with kids are in the minority in the APW community, but it’s so nice to have even a few. It makes me feel like I can be excited about my wedding, yet sane about what it means, and supported in circumstances that are different than my (real-life) peers. : )

    • LBD

      I’m not married yet, but my partner and I have been together 11 going on 12 years. I totally, 100% agree with the “never stop asking.” Seriously guys, it’s really important. People really do change their minds. And heck, that’s probably something to talk about; what if one of you changes their minds on one of your Big Ef-in Deal issues? But you know what, if you’ve been talking about things honestly, and continuing to ask the same kinds of questions that you were before you got married, very very likely such a change won’t come as a surprise if it does!

    • besidethepoint

      As a (soon-to-be) second wife/stepmom myself, this is some of the best advice I’ve heard. Seriously! So much of the actual step-parenting experience can’t be predicted–much like parenting, except we’re coming into it cold, mid-game (and stepping into a parenting strategy our spouse likely discussed before marrying the wife who came before us). It’s not easy to ask questions when what we might be questioning is the status quo everyone else has already been operating under for some time. But yes, ask anyway.

      One thing I could have asked about ahead of time that I think could have helped my transition: SPACE. What areas will be mine/ours, and how will we ensure that? Moving into a space with not only my fiance but his 8-year-old son meant I needed to carve out someplace(s) where I can retreat. If I decide to go read a book because I can’t listen to one more second of SpongeBob, but our bedroom is covered in Legos? Let’s avoid that. Going from single non-mom to stepmom is a learning curve unlike anything else I’ve experienced. I know it’s like that for all 3 of us in different ways, and will continue to be. Shared space is one of the hardest things for each of us to adjust to, and I think it’s something I could have opened the conversation about earlier.

  • tupelohoney

    Regarding MONEY and FAMILY: What to do if someone in our family (e.g., siblings, parents) asks to borrow money? Is there an amount we’re willing to loan, if any? I mention this because just before our wedding we were asked to loan money to a family member. In some families you loan/give money without question, in other families you don’t. An important topic to discuss.

    • It’s interesting that I hadn’t thought to ask this question, because aside from directions on roadtrips (shout-out to the earlier comment that couples should TRAVEL together!) loaning money to family members is probably what my parents fight about the most. My dad’s older siblings have never been good at saving money and they often ask to borrow money from their mother and in turn from my parents. It puts a lot of strain on my parents’ relationship because my mom doesn’t think it does them any good to keep giving them money when they don’t save, but my dad doesn’t want to turn them away.

      • This is a big button issue for us. Hubby’s family is constantly asking for money, significant amounts of money, and he always says yes because ‘What kind of son would I be if I didn’t help?’ This infuriates me for many reasons. They never ask his sister (who makes more money than us combined). It got to the point that they would just take money out of his account (they have power of attorney over his accounts while we live abroad) and not tell him and repay it…whenever.
        However, since we got married, hubby has started to get a bit more forceful with the in-laws and is no longer comfortable lending money. Somehow, in his mind, the paperwork making us man & wife has changed his priorities.
        We discussed all this before we got married but it doesn’t stop it being an issue.

        It should also be noted that talking about it is one thing. When it actually happens the decisions you make may be very different. But will you still decide together and back each other?

        This brings me to the travel discussion. I know travel can be a luxury and it’s not everyone’s bag, and I have been very lucky to travel quite a bit. However, that being said, Hubby and I met and fell in love on holiday. We never dated. we went from long-distance relationship to living together in abroad. For us, meeting each other on holiday and seeing how we dealt with new experiences and people and unforseeable difficulties got to the soul and core of who we were. If we can camp in Africa for three weeks together and start a life abroad together, we can do anything together. we can get through anything.
        Sometimes the fairytale comes true.

    • ellabynight

      Good point! You should probably also discuss the reverse of this question: are you willing to borrow money from family members and under what circumstances is such borrowing acceptable?

      My mother’s first marriage ended in large part because her husband’s solution to their tight money situation was to hit up his wealthy parents for cash. My mother didn’t want to be beholden to her in laws, who saw loaning money as an excuse to run their son’s life, so borrowing money from family was ultimately a deal breaker.

      • z

        I am worried about this. We are both grad students with very little money, and my parents have a lot more money than her parents. We are baby-planning, and I frequently stress about money and how we will pay for everything, especially if my wife doesn’t find one of the very few tenure track jobs in her academic field (assuming she finishes her dissertation, another source or stress…). Anyway, I asked my wife what we would do if my non-profit job and her maybe-phd aren’t enough, and she responded, immediately, “ask your parents for money!” She was sort-of joking, but I am so nervous that we will have to do this. I know my parents can afford to help but I really don’t want to ask, whereas my wife sees asking as totally okay to do.
        I feel so much pressure to be a bread-winner, even as a queer female who never planned to make that much money.
        Sorry for getting off-topic here, but the part about being on the same page re borrowing money really struck me.

  • Cass

    A lot of the comments above start to embody this question – but the hardest questions for me have been:
    What do you need to feel loved, respected and needed?
    How can I make you feel loved, respected and needed?

    Growing up with abuse, you don’t know what respect is or how to show it. And sometimes you don’t even have the power to say “I need this.” It’s a work in progress.
    But I believe we’ll have a better marriage for it.

    • whoa. this is awesome.

    • Bailey

      We went through this a year before we got married. We read “The Five Love Languages” and learned that we both expressed love in completely different ways, which was leading to a higher than usual level of arguments/discontent. We still check back in with that and make sure our “love tanks” are full, and remind ourselves to show our love in ways that are important to the other person, even if it’s not the way that means the most to us.

      • Cass

        We also read the Five Love Languages. It helped us identify where we’re different. But I think as a 2nd part to the marriage-counseling books, try the Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman. Now that we had identified our differences, that book helped us find the strategies, and the words, for bridging our differences so they didn’t become points of contention.

        • Bailey

          I’ll have to look into that. Thanks!

  • Rose in SA

    We only did this more than a year into marriage, but I would recommend writing your wills together, sooner rather than later. For us, that process (which basically involved filling in the blanks on a standard type of form) prompted lots of interesting debates on how we viewed our money, who we both trusted to take care of children in the event we both died, how we viewed each other’s families etc. Thought-provoking, but also taking care of a major life admin task.

  • This is a great post, with lots of fantastic questions! But here’s my question… what do you do when you’re having these discussions, and you realize your fiance/spouse has some drastically different viewpoints? Sometimes, I think it’s pretty humorous that my husband and I decided to marry each other, since we have such different opinions on some pretty major topics (politics and religion are the biggest). How is it possible that I can love someone so much and be absolutely certain that he’s the right one for me, and at the same time, be totally confused where he gets some of his ideas??? But then, would you really want to marry someone exactly like yourself? I don’t think so. We tried premarital counseling, which was sort of a bust, unfortunately. The counselor (a military one through Fleet and Family Services) listened to us talk for 45 minutes, handed us “The 5 Love Languages”, told us to read it and we would be fine. I mean, WTF? We’ve had lots of great and really important conversations, both before and since we’ve been married, but sometimes, the stuff that comes out of his mouth… I just don’t understand him. But yet I love him. Seriously… WTF?

    • Also, I would just like to mention that while asking the questions above and talking through various life scenarios is really important… people don’t always react they way you expect them to when sh*t actually hits the fan. They don’t always react the way they expect THEMSELVES to… I think it’s also important to be patient, and give your loved one (and yourself) both time and space to react however is needed, and to come to terms with something, even if you don’t understand what they’re thinking or why. This is where you can really grow, both as a person and as a couple… don’t be afraid of the blood and guts, and remember, it’s not always going to unfold the way you talked about before you got married. But it will still be ok.

      I haven’t even had coffee yet, I have no idea where that all came from.

    • meg

      I don’t think we had to agree on personal values, but we damn well had to agree on what we were going to do about it. IE, do we need to have the same view of God? No. Do we need to agree on what faith our home will be, and how we will religiously raise our children? F*ck yes we do. We spent four years seeing if we could iron that out. If we couldn’t, we were not going to get married.

      Same with money. We don’t need to share a money philosophy (we don’t, I’m a saver, he’s a spender) but we had to have a shared plan for what we were going to do with our money (we do).

      As for politics, well, you go into the voting booth alone, and you can fight about it in front of your kids, they’ll just end up… informed.

      • Yeah, I definitely agree with you. It’s just funny to me that I’ve decided to build a life with someone whose personal values are very different from mine, sometimes, and the ways in which that comes up still surprises me. Even though we’ve worked out the fact that we view certain issues very differently, and we’re (usually) mature enough to respect each other’s point of view, I secretly think I’m a little bit more right than he is, just a little! (Although I’m sure he’s thinking the same). I love this person, and have no regrets about marrying him, but he isn’t exactly a reflection of who I am and what I think, so it strikes me as kind of weird that I would choose him as the one to spend my life with. You know? I wonder if two people can truly grow when they hold such different opinions, or will they always be stuck in a permanent state of butting heads? Even as I write that, I know the answer is yes, of course two people can grow despite their differences. Having to confront the other side of the coin all the time is probably a good thing, for perspective’s sake. But anyway, to tie this back to the original topic of all the things to discuss before marriage… even though we covered all the important topics before we got married, and have agreed on how to handle our differences like you said, these discussions are still very much ongoing, and I still get very annoyed! I think I’m getting used to the fact (STILL, six months in) that this person who I’m going to spend THE REST OF MY LIFE WITH can really drive me crazy, I really don’t understand him sometimes, and wow, the rest of my life could be a long time to live with a Republican who doesn’t believe in God! Ha. But, sharing political or even religious views isn’t what makes me feel loved and taken care of. In all the important ways, we give each other what we need. At the end of the day, two people are going to have differences… I’ve just never had to consider dealing with them with the same person forever before.

        • Obviously still working on the whole, be patient, give your loved one their space idea. Haha.

    • N

      I don’t have specific advice but I wanted to say that pre-marital counseling was a bust for us too! We have different styles of fighting, and it seems like no matter what we try we can’t break the cycle of fighting in a way that makes one or both of us really frustrated (not at the topic at hand, just at the way its being communicated). This seemed to me like a topic for a counselor, since on our own we seemed unable to make real progress, so we made an appointment at my school health clinic. Well, the guy talked to us for 40 minutes, determined that we were fine, told my fiance to listen to my emotional needs rather than what I’m actually saying (which I would NOT appreciate, actually) and told us to read John Gottman. Thanks a bunch.

    • Marina

      I totally agree with Meg. You don’t have to agree, but you do have to respect each other. There will be times when I listen to my husband talk about politics or his family or something and just think, “… Where on earth did that even come from?” But it’s so, so important for me to feel 100% positive that however he came to that idea, it has no reflection on how smart or thoughtful or caring I think he is. He comes to different conclusions than I do, and sure, I think my conclusions are right, but if I start thinking that he’s stupid or crazy or illogical, everything goes downhill really, really fast. I have to respect his process.

  • Maureen

    As someone who studies this stuff for a living (albiet a measly, barely above poverty, grad student living), I implore you to talk about what moving in together means if you do so before you are engaged. There is a slew of empirical research stating that if a (heterosexual) couple doesn’t talk about committment and various other relationshipy stuff prior to moving in together, there are often different expectations and meanings associated with the move for each partner. This is what contributes to the ‘cohabitation effect’ that you may have heard of, which posits that people who live together before marriage have lower relationship satisfaction and are more likely to divorce (and as someone who did just that, I’m on a crusade to say living in sin is super rad and just fine for long term happiness if that’s what you want to do). Talking to each other about all of the stuff you guys have menioned is what negates this effect (among other things to lenghty and nerdy to talk about here).

    Talk, talk, talk about this stuff with your partner! Especially prior to moving in together! Do it!

    • Cass

      We moved in together on-and-off for about 2 years before we finally committed to living together for good.
      It’s not that we didn’t love eachother to bits. It was more because we were completely destitute college students trying to make ends meet.
      I’ve lived with him in his frat house (I would have otherwise been homeless for 3 months one summer). Then I went back to the college dorms. We’ve lived with roommates. Then he moved to Florida for school. When he came back, we had gotten engaged and then that was that.
      Throughout this process we talked about what living together meant to us, to our religious views. Then the Church came in and told us what it “should have meant.”
      But honestly I wouldn’t have done it any other way. How else would I know he likes to destroy my pots and pans with his “experiments”? How else would I know it’s something I could live with?

    • JEM

      Can I suggest your submit a guest post?? :)

      • meg


    • TNM

      Interesting… I think my husband and I are still trying to work our way out of some of the inefficient routines and bad habits we fell into when we were “just” living together for two years. E.g. division of housekeeping, social/family responsibilities and scheduling, making time for each other. With 20/20 hindsight, I wish I had gone into the cohabitation thing a little more deliberately and thoughfully – no point in suddenly getting “serious” about your joint life only when there’s an engagement ring. Habits are hard to break. (It’s called a rut for a reason!)

  • Some things we’ve discussed:
    Divorce: Divorce runs rampant in my family, so we have had many, very open discussions about my thoughts on it, and his thoughts, and how we could hope to overcome my family’s history (ie–learn from their mistakes).

    Children’s Names: I know this sounds dumb, but future children’s names! The FH has a family name that his firstborn son is supposed to take; luckily I love the name, but what if I didn’t? It is something to discuss, because it does involve the bigger family, as well.

    Hobbies: FH is a musician, and loves instruments; we had to discuss where that money would come from, and how I could fuel my sewing hobby, as well.

    Discipline: How will you discipline your kids? What values and morals will you instill in them about peace/war?

    These discussions are not only great to have for the obvious reasons, but they also open up a world of stories about your partner’s life that you may never have known!

    • Ooh, money for hobbies is a good one. I run, which costs, like nothing, and my husband likes fancy road bikes. Fortunately he bought one shortly before we got married, so we haven’t crossed that bridge yet.

      • haha that’s funny because my running habit actually costs more than zach’s hobbies! my friends and I like to do a lot of races (not really competitively just for fun) and those reg fees add up! but I guess compared to fancy road bikes, that’s still basically nothing.

        • Leona

          Hubs has a very expensive running hobby, too. Not only does he have about six pairs of fairly new and pricey shoes, but he also injured his ankle, didn’t pay any attention to it, and now needs surgery. Thank God the military covers his medical bills but I’m still looking at cutting him off on running-associated fees.
          It can be really uncomfortable to confront someone when their favorite hobby is getting unhealthy because it’s like, “who am I to tell him he can’t enjoy himself?” I feel a little like the bad guy but I control myself in my hobbies (especially gaming, which can be just as expensive as anything) so if I can do it, I expect him to as well.

        • Sarah

          Yep. Jon’s running is actually costing us more than we thought we were saving by me not taking my dance class. Funny how that all works out.

          Luckily, I think we’re just about done with the “gear” purchases for now (but shoes will always need to be replaced) … but oh man, the reg fees are getting up there…

    • SaraB

      The hobby discussion is a good one. We’re looking for a house right now and one of my guy’s requirements is a large basement or outbuilding so he can create a practice space for his band, and possibly build a small recording studio. We’re in the process of hashing out a family budget to help save for this kind of thing.

    • I’m so glad you mentioned hobbies. I was going to bring it up too.

      Talk about what your hobbies are. Talk about what they cost in terms of money. And definitely talk about what they cost in terms of time.

      If a hobby is going to take large chunks of time, is the other person going to be okay with that? Do you need to share hobbies? (My personal answer is not always, it keeps you interesting.)

      I’m also a runner, and good shoes are expensive. And then there’s also the time I’m gone when I’m out running. He’s running too now, but we don’t go together, we both prefer to run on our own.

      I also sew, which has managed to take over a whole room and a half in our house (I have a quilt up on frames in one room). So the space involved with a hobby is also an important thing to consider.

  • Meg

    We talked a lot about what our family would look like, both immediate and extended. We talked about this A LOT. We started talking about it less than six months into our relationship and kept talking about it for the whole FIVE AND A HALF YEARS before we got married (yup, I totally and completely agree that it is okay to talk about the future early and often). This conversation started off as a debate about adopting versus having birth children (the immediate family part) and also took a long detour to family holidays (the extended family part). This conversation not only was good for our relationship and building our future together, but it also helped us reevaluate our relationships with other loved ones in our lives.

    We also talked quite a bit about money and how we spend. This is an ongoing conversation as I’m a saver and he’s a spender but we’re finding a balance. It was so hypothetical before we got married, but much less so once we combined assets (which took a few months, which I think was good).

    Finally, we talked about goals and how and when to tackle them. For example, while we both had the ultimate goal of having a large family, I really wanted to travel and work abroad first, while he wanted to get started ASAP and do the other stuff later.

    I also want to say that while it may be tough, I think it is really important to talk about these things with someone you want to make a life with as early as you feel comfortable. Engagement is a wonderful time but it is also stressful for many of us and that can make already emotionally charged conversations even more difficult.

  • MinnaBrynn

    How to fight: When I’m hurt I’ll act something like this, when I’m angry I’m more like this — and here’s what I need you to do in response to those things; agreement to never name call or blame when we’re upset, emotional, or fighting; agreeing to try to say things like “I am hurt when your family _____” instead of blanket “I hate your family” statements.

    Kids: when, how many, what to do about serious birth defect scenarios, what we want to do before we have kids, how we want to parent, who’s family to go see at which holiday, who if either will stay at home, what you want in terms of daycare, etc. No need to plan out the whole thing, but it helps to make sure you’re on the same page about whatever you feel is a major issue.

    • Completely agree with your first point – I also think it’s so important to avoid phrases like “you always…” or “you never…” in arguments, not only because it’s unlikely to be true (no one is that consistentl) but also because it can so badly undermine your confidence. You might think you’re doing ok at this marriage malarkey, only to be told that, in fact, you have been doing something wrong the whole time… that sucks. If there really is an ongoing issue with something the other person is/isn’t doing, don’t let the resentment build up – the sooner you address it, the sooner you can solve it. My husband and I have spoken about not using those types of words and instead focusing on what is really the issue that is bothering you, and I think it does really help.

  • We talked a lot about these same issues: money, debt, goals, family.

    We’ve also talked a lot about where and how we want to live. My fiance is from NJ (we live in Boston) and I don’t ever want to live there. Thankfully, neither does he. We have had huge discussions regarding renting forever or owning a house (we both want to own ASAP).

    We’ve talked about having children a bunch which was an interesting discussion. At first I was really wanting 2 kids but then he threw in “you know what, I would be totally happy with 1” and I really got to thinking about that. Maybe I could be happy with one too. Or maybe none. And we’ve talked about not having kids. It’s not ideal because we want to raise a family but I think the ambiguity over how big or small a family is alright for now. We’ve talked about infertility and adoption too. Our parents live all over the place (NJ, NY, RI, Canada) so we’ve discussed how that would impact us raising a family with support and how to include our parents in our children’s lives.

    Funny someone brought up pets too. We’ve had LONG discussions about what we’ll do when my cat (who is 9) passes on. Fiance wants a kitten immediately (which I never thought would be his response) and so do I.

    We talk about everything in between too, not just all the heavy stuff. How often we should have dinner parties, what we can do in our community, how often we should go to the farmer’s market, our cars, our health, where we want to travel, our career paths, and all of that.

    Great topic today!!

  • Jenn

    We definitely covered the topics on Meg’s list but also discovered (or stumbled upon) a related topic that was surprisingly important to us.

    Through wedding planning (and we’re still not quite through to the other side yet) we discovered that our families can be surprisingly opinionated about our thoughts, actions and lifestyle in general. I don’t think this was anything new, but I definitely think the idea of the upcoming wedding gave certain family members the license to express their opinions on everything from our more laidback approach to planning to how we budget/handle our finances (i.e. You bought a couch when you could have spent the additional $300 on wedding favors? How dare you!).

    I think wedding planning has taught us the importance of sticking up for ourselves and for each other, as well as the need to defend our current (and future) lifestyle against their criticisms. There were countless times where it would have been easier (and cheaper) to just roll over and give in to someone’s demand for this, pressure to do it that way or insinuation that somehow what we had chosen was “wrong.” We’ve learned to fend off attacks on our baby family, and even managed to effectively communicate the idea that even though it may not be the way “they” would have planned it, sometimes it’s okay for us to make our own choices as a couple (and that choosing to do so is in no way a negative reflection on their parenting style or own beliefs).

    There’s an old country song that goes like this: Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em… That’s the best advice I could give to anyone who is pre-engaged, engaged, married, divorced, single, whatever. This is a tricky tightrope to navigate but well worth it in the end.

    • I agree with this 100%! Wedding planning is teaching us a TON about defending our baby family, sticking up for our ideals and plans, and dealing with family members who say those weird things.

      “Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em…” is perfect. It’s something the FH does so well and is rubbing off on me (I hope!).

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      This reminds me of something my husband and I are going to have to have a conversation about soon, which I never thought of before we were married. How are we going to communicate our baby family news to our extended families?

      Husband is really clever at avoiding questions he doesn’t feel like answering. Since we got married 7 months ago, his mother (and others) have taken to waiting until he’s out of earshot and interrogating me about things. This is tough because a) it’s usually about decisions we’ve made about *his* career and b) they’re often decisions his family doesn’t immediately understand or agree with. When I ask them to talk to him about it, but they usually think I’m being rude or assume that I disagree with his decision and we’re fighting.

      I wish we’d come up with a plan earlier about how to inform our families about these decisions, whether its breaking news by phone first, always telling them together or creating a secret signal to request a rescue from the Inquisition.

      • Jenn

        We had this issue early on, too. Mostly because FH would disengage from any convo that put him on the hot seat, leaving me free for questioning by my future in-laws. We’ve since decided to strike a balance. He’ll engage more, including tackling tough issues with my own family, and I’ll be more open to handling those one-on-one situations with his in-laws. It’s a good balance and one that works well for us. Each family (and couple) is so different, it’s really hard to find a one-size-fits-all solution. That’s why we found it to be so important to sort through things like this early on!

    • Morgan

      I have to laugh – we cut things like wedding favours and a sit down dinner from our wedding in part so we could go out and spend 3k on a couch after the wedding. What? It’s really really comfortable, and no one likes favours as much as I like this couch. :)

      • Jenn

        I LOVE that you went for the couch. I collect vintage furniture so my $300 turquoise mid-century sectional was SO worth it. Not to mention we had just moved to a more affordable apartment and our old sofa (purchased for a grand total of $150 on Craigslist would literally not fit through the door). To have somebody throw a genuine fit over the fact that we chose to buy a useful (and oh-so-beautiful) sofa in place of 125 matchbook or similarly useless favors blew my mind. Glad to hear others have done the same. :)

        • Morgan

          Your couch sounds amazing!

  • For premarital counseling, we worked ourselves through a book and also had a day-long intensive with our paster (my Uncle).

    Things we discussed: Money, divorce, debt, family (especially whether to adopt or to have our own children), vacations, career goals, intimacy, faith, division of labor in the home.

    Things I wish we would have discussed more: Intimacy, our romantic pasts (even down to the nitty-gritty hurt and pain and disappointment).

    We’ve since discussed both intimacy and our past hurts in relationships at length, but it would have been nice to be on the same page before our wedding, especially in terms of each person’s desired frequency of intimacy. That’s a debate that I’m finding us revisit often, especially since as a graduate student, I lead such a busy life that sometimes all I want is to sleep!

  • Kris

    My partner is first-generation and a “third culture” kid who was born in another country and grew up around the world. We’ve already started talking about how we will raise our future bi-cultural babies and the implications and challenges that come from having two families from very different backgrounds. How will they identify, will they have traditional names, what traditions in general from each culture do we want to teach them, where will home be for them, how do we raise kids who embrace all their roots, etc…?

    • tupelohoney

      We’ve had a similar conversation. We’re in an interracial relationship living in a pretty segregated state, though the city we live in is not. We’ve talked about what type of community we’re willing to raise our children in (does it matter if one of our races is only 2% of the population?), how will we encourage our children to explore their racial identity, will their names be influenced by one culture more than the other?, how we will we deal with conflict among our kids and their young cousins who are “darker” or “lighter” than them (if those conflicts arise)? It’s a lot to think about, talk about.

      • This is of HUGE importance to me, while himself doesn’t think about it nearly as much. In fact, he was surprised that I’d thought about it so much. Plenty of time to talk through, thank goodness, but yeah.

      • Elise

        Not to be a creeper, but I have to know–do you live in Asheville? Cause I’ve had some delightful meals from Tupelo Honey Cafe…

        • tupelohoney

          No, creeper (just kidding!) I don’t. I just love the Van Morrison song :-) Though Tupelo Honey Cafe sounds like an amazing place!

    • Vmed

      Oooh good one.

      Also: How important is it to embrace all family/cultural roots? And is the non- third-culture spouse willing to move between countries to give that same early global perspective to the next generation? And how do we envision our careers/childcare responsibilities with that in mind?

    • Yes, I totally agree with these questions for bi-cultural couples. Also, for bilingual couples, it is important to consider what language(s) will be spoken in the home, and if and how that might change if there are children. Will the children be raised bilingually? How will this be achieved? And also I would say that if the couple lives in the country/culture of one person and predominantly speaks one of the languages, how is the connection to the other person’s country/culture and language maintained (or not). How is the value of each culture communicated to the children, if there are children?

  • Stephanie

    Our premarital counselors asked us both to write down what a typical fight was like for us. We then read our descriptions together with them and identified some patterns- both healthy and unhealthy. Having to describe our habits to a third party (and hear how the other person described them) really helped us both to see how our ways of fighting affected the other person. For us, this was the most important part of our premarital counseling and helped us to fight more constructively!

  • We talked about a lot of the issues above – religion, family space, kids, careers, finances, sex/romance, divorce, health, independence, household chores – and I’ll add one:

    How Our Parents’ Relationship Influenced Our Expectations/Ideas of Marriage. Surprising that a good portion of our pre-marital counseling was spent talking about our parents’ marriages, but oh so important. It was clear that there was a lot of stuff my husband’s mom did that I wouldn’t be doing, and my husband wanted to know what my dad’s role in my parents’ marriage had been like. We also talked about what had made our parents’ marriages last, and what aspects we didn’t want to emulate.

  • wow everyone has already posted so many great questions I’m not sure I have anything new to contribute. I’ve actually picked up a few ideas for conversations we need to have, like NOW (pet euthanasia? how did that not occur to us?). we also need to get on the stick about writing out wills and end of life wishes – we’ve talked about it but don’t have it in writing yet.

    Definitely the kids issue, and if you want them, how you feel about infertility/adoption/abortion/genetic therapy/etc. Also new family vs. family of origin – caring for aging parents, lending/borrowing money, how often is too often to host visitors, how often do we need to go visit family, etc. I’m about to just relist what a ton of people have already said, so, I’ll stop here.

  • Miss S

    You asked for questions no one will think to ask – and I hope this isn’t pushing the comments too far.

    My partner and I are are in an alternative lifestyle. We’re kinky people. Yes… really! However, sometimes that topic does NOT come up because it can be a very scary subject to broach. People may carry sexual and emotional fetishes with them from their youth, and because of such a strong stigma against any alt-sex (thank you, LBGTQs for starting to fix that gap) many people think that they should hide that from their partner to keep peace.

    So – to tie in with conversations about sex: it’s not all vanilla! How do you want to grow sexually? What do you think about alternitive sexuality? What new things are you willing to try through your journey with your life partner?

    And another big one that’s not so much about sex, is something we call “power exchange.” This phenomenon happens in .all. relationships, not just out-and-out kinky ones. Someone is in charge of decisions at any given point in time. Sometimes it’s a flip flop. A weak but common example is, “I make the final decision about big purchases, but you make the final decision about who does what daily chores.” Sometimes one person makes the majority of the final decisions. Who ‘wears the pants?’ Ask if you expect to report to, or to be reported to on decisions. The key is to, as this post is showing us, talk about it. In the BDSM world, there is a very heavy focus on Consent. This is Important. And, this applies to You. Working through any relationship requires, in the end, Consent.

    • sal

      Thanks for posting this, Miss S … my partner and I have spent a lot of time discussing what it means to be monogamous beyond the fact that it’s more-or-less expected by society. Through some very hard conversations about what’s at stake in physical intimacy, why that feels or is or isn’t the same thing as emotional intimacy, I think that we’ve been able to open ourselves to growing, together, in our sexualities and our closeness. I don’t think a relationship need to be ‘kinky’ or ‘open’ to grow, but talking about how “sex” and “romance” go together is a big deal. It’s definitely not the same for everyone.

    • meg

      I agree with all of this. I didn’t put any of this in the post because I have a hard and fast rule that I don’t talk about sex in relationship to ME on APW. All of our families read the site, and I think boundaries are important ;) I always just assume that everyone reads Dan Savage, and he’s covering it.

      Though I know, I know. I should cover it more here too.

      • Danielle

        Maybe you can put a call out for some guest posts on sex. Or wait… maybe even a sex columnist! Squee (excitement)!

    • Luna

      YES! FH and I are into the lifestyle as well and our kink and our future get brought up into conversation a lot. An topic that keeps coming back (with good reason) is what happens to our BDSM lifestyle after kids? It is like vanilla sex after kids question on steroids. How do you make time for just you and your partner when there are greater responsibilities in your household? There has to be a balance point in all things. And this lifestyle, that is important to who we are, cannot be given up just because we start to having children.

    • I like that you brought up the power issues. Who’s in charge of different parts of your family and life? What strengths do you each have that would make you the more likely person to be in charge of that aspect of the family?

      I’ve seen couples where I look at them and automatically think “well, he/she wears the pants in that relationship.” When we talked about it we decided we wanted it to not be so obvious who was “in charge” in our relationship. We’re both strong independent people. So we each use our strengths and we’re each in charge of what works for us.

    • Marina

      “How do you want to grow sexually?”

      YES. A very good question to revisit frequently as well. :)

  • Heather

    Something I wished we had discussed was how each of us felt about infertility. We are going through treatment right now and I was shocked to discover some differences we had in comfort level with certain therapies. We DID discuss how we felt about adoption in our marriage prep classes, but I wish we had gone over such question as: How do you feel about fertility medications, injectable therapy, IUI, IVF, and the like. It might have made our struggle a TAD easier if we already knew where the other person stood.

    Of course, I hope that this is a topic none of the dear APW community has to deal with, but such is life.

    • *hug* It’s not a topic I ever thought we’d have to deal with either, yet here we are.

      • MissG

        After a year of marriage (and about to hit the magic 1 year official title of infertility), it’s not so much our feelings about different treatments that is surprising me, but our different ways of communicating how we are feeling about our situation. I am feeling negative with a small dose of “what if it doesn’t work” fatalistic thoughts, whereas he is being much more positive. So frustratingly, won’t discuss the point at which we pull the plug, and won’t talk about adoption.

        • I hate that label by the medical community. We reached it this month and since this year started I have cried washing the dishes, doing laundry, and making bread. It will hit me at the strangest of times.

          We’ve found that walking while we talk really helps us. We went over two miles one evening just making sure we got everything out that we needed to right then.

  • We talked about divorce (because my husband was married once before) and children (we don’t want them, but what if). When we got married, our views on everything else were in line but after we bought our house, I opened up about spirituality and became more involved in my relationship with God. My husband? Not so much. I don’t think this separates us. If anything, it keeps us a little more real, a little more grounded.

    I think having a baseline for ideas in marriage is important but life is a journey with or without a partner. People grow, and not always together, but appreciating, accepting, and supporting a partner’s decision is sometimes the most important thing you can do.

    We learn from each other everyday, and we talk openly about things going on in our lives so that we are aware of what the other is doing. The last thing I want is 10 years down the road to hear, “I want a divorce,” then go into counseling and realize that my husband has had something going on with him that we never talked about and that the lack of communication is what drove us apart.

    I think it’s just as important to keep asking questions AFTER we get married as it is to ask them before.

  • shorty j

    we’ve talked a lot about most other topics already, but the big one for me was very, very long-term planning. (I scrolled through and didn’t see this, but I’m a little zoned out so I apologise if I’m repeating something said earlier.)

    Like, what will we do when we retire? Because for some reason, dealing with stuff that’s 50 years down the road weighed way heavier on me than the rest of it. Right now, we live in a VERY urban environment where we’ll never own a home because quite frankly we’ll never afford it, and in my head, I had a plan to instead save money my whole life (in addition to my retirement income) and then buy a house outright somewhere in a more rural area when I’m done working (the main reason we’re in a major city is because of my job, which is not very transferrable, meaning I’ll probably be here for many years). I grew up in farm country and LOVE the idea of going back to living in a little simple house with a few belongings and some dogs and chickens and plants and making most of our own food but it’s sooo different from how we currently live our lives (except the tiny living space part, hahaha) that I was petrified he’d be totally grossed-out by the idea. So finding out he was actually totally on board was a huge relief! In fact, we actually had an awesome and really fun discussion about this stuff–it turns out his parents own an undeveloped acre or two in rural VA, so we had a fun afternoon deviously plotting what we’d build on it if we could. It also segued into a discussion of end-of-life issues, which is also a MAJOR one for me, as is elder care–how will we care for his and/or my parents if need be?

  • Kashia

    I think most of the topics we talked/are talking about as the wedding approaches are covered. What a great list so far!

    I would add “What are your non-negotiables?” This one sometimes takes time to figure out, and the answers can be surprising, but it is important to discuss because sometimes even when you think you have covered the big stuff, one of these non-negotiables comes up and can provide quite a bit of trouble. (an example, I love to dance and I really want dancing to be a part of my life. This came up in a previous long term relationship where he wouldn’t ever dance, not even in the living room, and it made me really unhappy. But it seemed like such a small thing. So when I started dating the boy I brought it up as a joke “I won’t marry a man who can’t dance.” The boy didn’t really know how, but pretty soon after that he had us enrolled in a dance class.)

    The other would be “What are your expectations of your partner’s role in your baby family?” This one came up in our pre-marital counseling. I found that my expectations of the boy were until then unspoken but quite strongly based on what I had seen modeled in my house by my father. So it did come down to gender roles and where we saw ourselves and how that relates to where we expect our partner to be (whether fairly or not). This one opened up some really interesting discussions and also made us both more aware of these kind of expectations.

  • Divorce/Marital Problems: Super important. How much of your relationship will you share with your family? Nothing is worse than having your in-laws knowing about every single fight. At what point will we seek outside counseling? What kind? For how long? What circumstances do you believe merit divorce? And if divorce becomes the best(not easiest) option, will you seek mediation or attorneys? Who gets the pets? Our judge allowed us joint custody of our dogs (what, no one else did that?). Most people think about kids, but pets can also be part of a divorce decree and can require a lot of negotiation. Look up the laws for divorce in your state. Some states have “irreconcilable differences” as cause. Some do not and that is a whole other can of worms. It’s no fun, but no one wants to come to the end of their rope and then find out that their state won’t “allow” them to legally separate or divorce without beating and/or abandonment as cause.

    Addictions/Personal Problems: It sounds silly but you should talk about addictions or those things that can lead to them. You’d be suprised how “not that much” varies from person to person. And if you don’t live with your partner before marriage, you may not know what that means to them. How often is too often to be drinking? How much gambling is too much? How many “occasional” cigarettes makes you a smoker? Ask yourself what your tolerance is for your partner? Will you keep alcohol in the house? How much? If the other partner notices behavioural changes in you, will you be willing to seek help on their suggestion? Is a stint in rehab a dealbreaker? Addictions and partners with addictions can sneak up on you even when you think you know the person well. Especially when you think you know the person well.

    Hmm, so these are kind of downer questions. Oops. They are questions I ask myself after it was all over, but probably should have contemplated before, evernBut even if you don’t get around to asking them of your partner you should ask them of yourself.

    • I’m going to second the addiction conversation. Also, family mental health histories. What are we both potentially susceptible to? What should we do if one (or both) of us find ourselves not doing well in either of these areas? What addiction/mental health issues may get passed down to our kids genetically? How would we handle that?

      • Morgan

        Also, the different definitions of addiction. His family are all heavy drinkers, but not “problem drinkers” – just the type to drink a bottle of wine with dinner every night. My family is full of alcoholics. What seems like a “safe” amount of alcohol to consume is a line we’ve needed to negotiate a few times. Especially as we both like rum a lot.

    • Jenn

      I love the idea of setting boundaries for what you will (and won’t) share with outside parties. From an early age I’ve been the sort to bite my tongue when friends would settle in for the weekly round of “My boyfriend, fiance, husband, etc. is worse than yours.” I found that the constant complaining not only brought us all down, it also tainted our views about each others’ significant others. Since then I’ve taken the same attitude with friends, family and the like, reserving only the good comments or genuine concerns/issues for sharing. My friends may think I’m strange for not sharing, but I like to think that we’re capable of handling issues in-house, rather than taking every last problem to outside parties. It makes us happier, and it gives people a more accurate view of our relationship and satisfaction level with it.

  • Kristen

    This is a great team practical question. My boyfriend and I are not getting married but we just agreed to move across the country together. He was offered a dream job and my current job situation is going nowhere. These are topics that we need to discuss before making this move I feel as we are making a HUGE step.

  • Katy

    How do you like to be greeted when you come home?

    Our premarital counselor suggested this, and while it’s very simple, it’s so important. Richard stops whatever he’s doing to give me a hug when I get home. Before the conversation, I didn’t always do the same. Now, I do, unless I have something on the stove and can’t walk away. We have a few moments to reconnect after we’ve been apart.

    • What a great idea! Often those first few moments of interaction after we both come home from work set the tone/mood for the rest of the night.

    • Lethe

      I love this – one of my favorite aspects of my parents’ relationship was that whenever my dad got home from work, he and my mom had to say hi and have a kiss before doing anything else. I’ve definitely adopted that in my relationship with my fiancee now too. ;)

    • It’s things like this that make me grateful for the APW community. You probably just improved my marriage, starting today. Thanks.

      • meg

        Aw. AWWW! And what a good question, right?

    • JEM

      This is a really important one that I never realised. Seconding Caitlin’s comment, thank you!

    • Dawn

      You know, this is actually a huge one for some couples. This is a really extreme case but my brother and his wife almost got divorced some years ago and a huge part of the issue was that he worked at a really stressful job with long hours that required him to constantly be talking to people and when he came home, he needed to just go into a room and be by himself for a bit to decompress and reset his extremely introverted self. Well, his super extroverted wife, who was a teacher and had been home for hours by the time he got home and who had only had interaction with middle schoolers all day was always desperate for conversation and attention and would basically attack him as soon as he walked in the door and wouldn’t leave him alone. He’d try to explain that he just needed a little bit of time to himself but she would take it personally and it would escalate. Obviously there were other issues at play in their troubles (which they worked through with counseling) but working through how to balance their needs when they come home was huge.

      And actually I’m realizing this is something I need to address with my boyfriend who is moving in with me this month. Currently we only see each other on weekends so we greet each other as though it’s been years since we’ve seen the other but I assume that will change when he moves in but I probably need to make it clear to him what I need and see what he needs as well. Ha, which will require thinking about what I need.

      All of the questions brought up here have been helpful but this is definitely one that most people probably haven’t though of so THANKS!

      • Every so often when I hear the garage door and he’s coming home, I jump up and run out to meet him and greet him as though it’s been years. I don’t do it every time, but I figure it can’t hurt to let him know I’m glad he came home (and it doesn’t hurt at all ;) ).

      • Morgan

        I had an ongoing (we’re talking years worth) fight with my ex about this. I wanted a kiss – a simple peck on the lips – when I got home, and he couldn’t/wouldn’t do it. It became a f*ked up power thing.

      • Kate

        I have a huge collection of vintage etiquette/marriage advice books and the question of how the home partner greets the working partner when they come home has been a huge issue for at least 130 years.

        And come to think of it, I need to talk to my fiance about it.

        This is such a great thread.

    • Other Katelyn

      My best friend’s parents have a 20 minute rule: no member of the family (kids included) are required or expected to talk to any other member of the family for 20 minutes after they get home from work or school. Even “hi” is optional. That’s recharge/grounding time.

      • Jennifer

        Not that it’s exactly the same, but the fiance and I have had many conversations similar to this about *how* we talk to each other. Meaning, we both pride ourselves on being nice to each other. We try to always be polite to each other, making sure we take the time to say “please” and “thank you.” Like an earlier comment mentioned, it makes a big difference in setting the tone for everyday life.

        And for the record, this might be my favorite APW post yet. Such an important topic and so many awesome responses!

      • I needed a rule like that when I was in college for the mornings. Trying to talk to me before I’d been up for an hour never was a good idea.

    • Marina

      I think it was Gottman who had a bit in one of his books about a couple who decided that they would try to out-do their labrador in how enthusiastically they greeted each other when they got home. That whole image just makes me grin.

  • Chelsea

    I haven’t read the comments yet, so maybe someone already touched on this, but I think an important questions to ask (after each of the questions Meg listed) is “Why?” My husband and I have different beliefs about some things, but knowing the why behind what he thinks(and behind what I think) is huge. Sometimes, we discover that our different ideas came from really similar places, so the conflict isn’t as big as it seemed. Sometimes we discover that they’re just unexamined beliefs that were passed down from our own families, and could use a second look. And sometimes we get an entirely new perspective on the issue that makes one or both of us change our mind.

    In the days before marriage, I think an ability to talk about your different ideas and the willingness to listen to your partner are SO MUCH more important than being on the same page about every little thing. So much can change, but if you have practice talking about difficult things you’ll be fine even if all of your carefully thought out plans implode.

  • LBD

    I didn’t see anyone outright mention unemployment yet. If either you or your partner were unemployed, and it was going to take awhile for you or them to find a new job, how would you deal with that? How does you or your partner feel about being the sole wage earner? How will you divide things so that things feel fair?

  • Lethe

    A couple more things to add:

    -Re: money: what is our attitude about charitable giving? (For some people this is an important moral issue and they expect to tithe or give regularly…other people didn’t grow up with this expectation.)

    -For LGBT marriages: how are you going to refer to each other? (because this can bring up some deep feelings/expectations.) what kinds of behavior do you need from your partner’s family in order to feel that your relationship is being respected? (…ok, that really applies to everyone, but it can take some interesting forms in LGBT relationships in particular!)

    -What obligations do you feel to your broader community – not to mention, which communities DO you feel allegiance to? A married couple I used to know ended up divorcing when one partner felt she had to return to New Orleans (where she had grown up) to be part of the rebuilding effort, but the other partner strongly wanted to stay in the town where they had settled. Life requires sacrifice and compromise, and sometimes we’re all surprised to find ourselves wanting something we didn’t know we needed, but still – if you feel you owe a duty to something larger than yourself, it’s important to let your partner know that well ahead of time.

    • N

      Ooh, I think charitable giving is an important one. Not only how much but where. My parents are of different political beliefs and they both contribute small amounts to their respective political causes from time to time, but I can’t imagine this is an easy thing, considering that they share finances. For me, I realized after we signed up for pre-Cana and started getting the Catholic parish contribution envelopes in the mail, that I had to speak up and say I wasn’t comfortable giving our money to the Catholic Church at large because some of that money would inevitably be supporting things I strongly oppose. So we talked and agreed we could contribute to the church so long as it was earmarked for funding St. Vincent de Paul and other social services.

      Anyway, point being: you might have worked out how to navigate differing political/social beliefs, but it gets trickier of you are sharing finances and contributing financially to causes. So, talk about that.

  • Stephanie

    This may sound really cheesy, but my fiance and I make a regular date out of watching that show “Parenthood,” and it provides a springboard for a TON of these conversations (parenting a child with special needs, parenting a teenager, setting boundaries with in-laws, carving out alone time for the marriage, retaining a sense of self in the midst of a growing family, etc.). Because the show serves as a kind of foil, and these discussions are ongoing, we’ve been able to explore some of these issues in greater depth and with less pressure than might happen for us in one big serious sit-down conversation. I guess my broader point (which I share with many earlier commenters) is that incorporating discussion about big questions into your day-to-day life as partners is really helpful, and I think it also encourages a sense of emotional intimacy, which is a huge plus. And no, I don’t work for NBC :-).

    • That’s our show too! It does pose a lot of parenting topics…especially for non-baby age situations!!

    • Ha! We watch it as well. And then we analyze it during the commercials. They have such a broad range on that show.

    • Tara

      This sounds crazy, but I’ve found How I Met Your Mother to have interesting relationship situations in it. Not kids or parenting, but adult relationships in general. An ex and I used to watch it together and it was really interesting to discuss the topics afterwards.

      I love Parenthood for a different reason – it shows how things can go wrong at ALL ages of life and the level of craziness of problems. It’s really awesome watching them work through their problems. It also feels super modern and fresh with the stay at home dad, the mom who walked away from her husband with her kids, the VP who has issues, etc.

  • By far the biggest things that we’ve talked about have been our relationships with our families of origin and how we see those developing over the years. His family has a history of mental illness, so we talk A LOT about that: about how it might impact our relationship with them in the future, and also about whether or not he might be a carrier for those illnesses, and what that might mean for us in terms of either having our own or potentially adopting children.

    And also, most of the stuff that the other commenters have posted. But I’ve found for us that most of these things come up naturally anyway; the discussions have never been something we’ve had to do formally.

  • Meaghan 2

    Wonderful post! I have to say, our premarital counseling was incredibly helpful. We had 5 sessions with our minister who is a long-time family friend and at first I was a bit nervous but we had a lot of great discussions. We discussed a lot of the topics already mentioned but here were some of our big ones.

    End of life – My husband absolutely did not want to talk about this. He figures we’re late 20’s and we’re going to live a long time, we’ll discuss it at a later date. I reminded him that car accidents and random acts of violence don’t care how old you are and we at least need to have an idea of what the other wanted just in case. So as a compromise we had the discussion but he wasn’t ready to make out a will so that will be at the top of our to do list once we have children so we can make sure they are properly taken care of.

    Fertility – We both knew we wanted children but what happens if there are problems? My family has a history of fertility issues and I have been up front about my fear of not being able to conceive. First, if there are problems conceiving is this going to damage our relationship? How much are we willing to spend trying to conceive? How long will we try? Adoption? From United States or abroad? Open or closed adoption? How about a surrogate? Even if we can have our own biological children do we still want to adopt?

    Jobs/Relocation – This has been a more recent topic in our house but where would you ideally like to live? Where would you be willing to move? What decisions go in to deciding to relocate (happiness, jobs, money, family)? How close/far do we want to live from family? How often do we want to move?

    Another thing we’ve discussed since the beginning of our relationship is our bucket lists. Some are personal goals, some are job related, places we want to travel, things we want to do with our future children. It’s just fun!

    • meg

      Oh agreed. I think everyone should do pre-marital counseling.

    • Related to end of life – make sure they know if you want to donate your body/organs or not. I know one family member of mine does not want that to happen to them, and so we’ll make sure it doesn’t. In the TV and movies they always show the family members debating what the person would’ve wanted. Make sure they know your wishes.

  • Arachna

    I think a lot of these conversations are great and I’m taking notes! And it’s very very important to talk to you partner.

    But. Though I don’t think any of the above can hurt I disagree a bit on the importance of many of these questions, especially the really specific ones, like what would you do if X happened to our kids or if Y situation arose with money or I desperately wanted Z. IMO that answer might not be the truth (not due to lying!) and can easily change.

    I think the answers to those questions are crucial – but I don’t think you need to ask them to get them or that that’s the most reliable way to go. To me marriage was all about finding that person who according to my values and views was trustworthy and a good person. I feel like I have a very good handle on how he feels about money and family and frankly think I can predict what he’ll do in situation X as well if not better as he can. I think it’s super important to have a handle on the fundamentals of who he is as a person and how open to compromise he is. Everything else follows from that.

    I’m one of those outliers in today’s society who had never discussed marriage with my bf before he proposed. We both knew we wanted to get married to someone some day but that’s it. But… he proposed a couple months before I was thinking I was going to propose or that he might. That’s not a coincidence (and he felt comfortable poping the question without any explicit indications that I’d say yes not because he’s braver than 99% of other guys) it’s because we had a good handle on each other who we are as people and how we felt about each other.

    • Arachna

      Oh forgot to put in my point!

      I do think there is such a thing as over talking or overanalyzing something. (Not that any of the above sounds like it!) But sometimes it makes sense to just pay attention instead of having a lot of question intensive conversations – especially if your SO is not inclined towards them, doesn’t like them, etc.

    • I definitely agree to a point . . . it’s hard to discuss what you’d do in certain situations because not only are you not in those situations, but there are almost always mitigating factors that impact your actions. For example, how you both might react to unemployment or a sick child or a sudden relocation might depend on the amount of savings in the bank or level of insurance coverage or proximity to family/friends.

      Still, I think the idea is to get to the heart of the matter: how your partner feels about being a one-income household or various health care options or whatever. And then when one of you is like, “Nuh-UH, we’re NEVER doing that, over my dead body” then the other one can say, “well, but maybe we should be open to it because of blah blah blah,” and then the other one can say, “oh, I never thought about it that way before,” and this conversation can happen all without the crazy stress levels and other emotions running wild as they presumably would be if/when in the actual stressful situation.

      You know, ideally.

    • I think you don’t just ask the questions once either. All of these questions, family, finance, career, and all the others, change as we change and life goes on. It’s good to have the discussion early because it sets a stage where such things can be talked about. But talking about them once and then calling it good isn’t a good idea.

      • Caro

        In Gottman’s book ten lessons to transform your marriage (which we’re reading by each reading a chapter then discussing. Some chapters have brought up important stuff, others we’ve both been like “meh, that’s not an issue for us. next chapter”), there is a list of questions/conversation points to ask to “update your love map”, and particularly learn how your views on things have changed after big life events (a move, a new baby, the death of a parent, getting/losing a job, etc)

  • JEM

    love this post. can’t wait for the compilation of questions that results!

    • Me too!!

      • The person who does compile all this needs a big chocolate sundae for their work. :)

  • I second (third? fourth?) the comments about aging parents. Having watched my own parents fight/disagree way more than ever about the care my mom is giving to my grandparents, I can see how extremely important that is.

    Also, how does your partner feel about counseling/therapy? If/when does he/she feel that counseling is appropriate? Would your partner be willing to go only as a last resort, or would he/she be okay going as kind of a “tune up” to help keep things from getting really bad? It’s heartbreaking to read things like “my husband and I are having problems but he refuses to go to counseling.” To me, it’s 100% essential that both of us are willing to to go to counseling and work on our relationship. Some problems are best fixed with the help of a professional, and it was really important to me that my partner would be recognize this as well. And, fortunately for me, he does!

    Further, how about anti-depressant drugs and other psychiatric medicine? I’ve heard too many stories of women who had, say, severe post-partum depression or psychosis, and their husbands/partners didn’t want them to take the medicine they needed. Also, if your partner was diagnosed with a mental health condition, would he/she be willing to take medicine for it? And if not, what other treatments would he/she pursue?

  • suzanna

    Good stuff! I think this has been touched on a little already, but HOW you talk about these things is important, too. For us, often these things have just come up naturally and they’ve been pretty easy conversations to have.

    Other times? Hoo boy. The other night the boy came home and blurted out that we couldn’t have kids for a couple of years. This was devastating to me, because we’ve been talking about having kids ASAP. He, unbeknownst to me, had spent his entire commute worrying about money. But he didn’t give me that intro, and he didn’t put it gently. It pretty much took all evening to recover from that shock, and to turn things from a fight to a conversation about what was really going on.

    So yeah. Try not to do that. These are really emotional issues, and your partner cannot read your mind. Be gentle, be patient, and hear them out.

    • I definitely agree with these. Very few of our “big” conversations started with one of us saying “let’s have a big conversation.” The majority of them just came up as we watched movies, watched friends, lived our lives (we have a lot of parenting discussions now while watching the show “Parenthood,” that’s a good one to show you all kinds of situations you might be in as a parent or with parents). A few were sit down serious talks. But Life itself brought up the rest.

      • Morgan

        We’ve been talking about kids for a while, but the time line was After One More Big Trip. Then, a few months ago, after like 15 rum and cokes (small town bars are cheap, and I was driving), he blurted out that he wanted to start trying right now. I managed not to drive into a snowbank in shock. It took a while for me to get over that shock too. So yeah. Try not to do that either.

        • suzanna


      • Jo

        Being together for most of 5 years before getting engaged helped life “bring up” a lot of these issues for us to discuss about marriage. That’s one nonchalant way to get through the questions – take a long ass time to get engaged! ;)

    • This was going to be my suggestion too! All of our big conversations have happened organically. But boy does he get flustered when I try to randomly start one. Totally important to talk about how you’re going to approach big life discussions.

      • Yeah, I have a tendency to read certain things on the internet (ahem) and then try to have One All-Encompassing Conversation on a Tuesday night or something. It usually results in raised eyebrows and flip remarks.

        It’s hard for me sometimes to remember that there’s a difference between me thinking something over by examining it and exploring it exhaustively, and trying to make my partner do the same thing. All of the PRODUCTIVE conversations we’ve had in this genre have been organic. Most of the ones I’ve tried to start randomly haven’t been very useful.

        • Ashley B

          I’m the same way! After reading this thread I met the boy for lunch and dived into the really important questions, like pets and vacations and who we want to leave our vast fortune to. Luckily he’s use to my randomness, so reacted very well and led to a satisfying conclusion! It probably also helped that I plied him with delicious food and the sun was shining.

    • Kate

      I have a tendency to get into crazy head-spaces on my commute. (It’s one of the reasons I would really prefer a quiet re-entry to a Labrador greeting, to give myself some time to balance out my feelings.) You might want to keep an eye on this as a possible pattern, or he may already be aware of it . . .

  • i haven’t read all the comments yet but wanted to contribute anyway—my apologies if i’m stepping on anyone’s toes or saying something that’s already been said.

    i think the reason it’s important to talk about these things is to root out unspoken assumptions. APW readers are way up on assumptions like “wives should do all/most of the housework,” but what about assumptions like, “we’ll probably have a kid or two in two or five years” or “eventually we’ll buy a house and settle down in one area”? it’s a reality that society/the media more or less expect both of those things (especially the latter—lots of couples these days choose to remain child-free, but how many do you hear talking about how they plan to spend their lives renting and taking off for long-term travel as often as they can?). what needs to be acknowledged in these conversations is that any option/opinion/etc is AS VALID as any other (“but everyone wants to buy a house someday!” will not win over your partner, it will just make him/her feel guilty and silenced with respect to his/her feelings)… and to ensure the best happiness of both parties, these opinions and feelings need to be in the open.

    also: sex. how much of it and what kinds of it we expect in marriage and throughout our lives together. again, being aware of unspoken assumptions AND SPEAKING THEM, no matter how simplistic or obvious they may seem to us.

    i worked through The Ten Conversations You Must Have Before You Get Married by dr. guy grenier with my fiance before i asked him to marry me, and got that stuff about unspoken assumptions from him, i must admit. we both found the book really helpful and having a bunch of awesome conversations that reminded us that: a)we really are pretty much on the same page and b)when we’re not, we can work through it—really made me feel good about deciding to spend the rest of my life with him. but i’m sure there’s some stuff we missed and i look forward to looking through this comment thread with him. :)

  • this post reminded me of this book:

    it was awesome to go through it the year before the wedding. found out some interesting stuff about one another. :)

  • Jerry

    My bf and I aren’t any where near an engagement, but we’ve talked about how it’s going to be with finances, rent, kids, etc. I’m not a girl who wants a joint account. My money is my money and his is his. We’ve decided that. Questions like joint checking account, finances, debt need to come up. And I believe earlier than engagement because it seems silly to call off an engagement if you weren’t on the same page in the first place. Especially when it comes to kids. I personally don’t want any. I’ve told my bf this and he doesn’t want any. I know thats a dealbreaker for a lot of people, so getting it out there early will just help people find the right person for them. I realize you can’t cover everything before engagement or marriage but it’s good to try.

  • Just a teeny tiny little correction on your last question, Meg- if you are getting married, there is no discussion about whether you want “a family.” You already are one. You can, however, discuss whether or not you want to add any children to that family. :)

  • NF

    I had one “surprise topic” come up that I think everyone should think about: gun ownership. Beyond knowing general political principles on gun ownership it was really important to talk about how we both felt about owning guns, was it important (in our case yes for him), was it completely not an option (yes for me), and if we were to have them how we would ensure safety, especially if/when we had kids. This might not seem like a big issue for a lot of people, but I think that even if the conversation ends up being really short it’s an important one to have.

    • Right after I finished college both a roommate and a dear friend got engaged. Both girls didn’t like guns. Both guys were into hunting and outdoor sports. So I got to hear this conversation a lot. It’s definitely something to consider.

    • Denzi

      Hee, I love this, because we have had this conversation in pretty much the opposite direction. I am a bit of a gun nut, and my fiance is not. So we have talked a lot about gun safety and what we would teach our kids about guns and gun safety. And last Saturday he took me skeet shooting for the first time ever, and I felt very, very loved. :D

  • Just a teeny tiny correction to your last question, Meg! If you are getting married, there is no need to discuss whether or not you want a family. You already are one. You can, however, discuss whether or not to add children to that family. :)

  • Whoops- sorry for the duplicate- feel free to delete!

  • CIC

    I would echo the family comment – friends of ours said to each other upon getting married that it meant agreeing to wipe each other’s parent’s asses. We haven’t put it like that but in general discussions of what relationships we wanted with each of our families’, what kind of familial involvement we need and what boundaries we need are HUGE topics for us/ me.

    Whether to have a kid has been a huge conversation for us. I’m not sure I’d be at ease going into this if I wasn’t sure we were clear on that topic, because we started out at pretty different places.

    Money was something we were on the same page about pretty organically but wedding planning has been a place that has prompted many more specific conversations and brought out a lot of our (read: MY) money baggage!

    Our lifestyle and how we want to balance our friends, family, and very crazy busy jobs – a big topic for us. An ongoing, life-long topic for us in fact!

    Life goals (location being a part of that)

    Faith to a certain extent – and more so our political views being very tied to our sense of faith (eg our sense of social justice, world views, and how we want to engage with the world)

    Some basic lifestyle questions (eg: JK has promised to handle all mail responsibilities for us because I can’t take the US Postal Service – in turn, I cook and handle all gifts and cards and such).

    For us/me, the timing and context of these conversations has mattered a lot. I wanted the time to get into some of the harder issues before we lived together and were engaged so there was not added pressure on us inhibiting our ability to have honest, scary, hard conversations. We gave ourselves timeframes before which we were not going to move in together or get engaged. That said, wedding planning has been an amazing opportunity to learn how we each make decisions, how are styles are different, and how to resolve some of the conflicts that arise from that.

  • Eeee! This is so awesome! Thanks Meg. I’m still pre-engaged (this is that OP Sarah btw) and this list is so helpful and I haven’t even read through all the comments yet. Thanks again!

  • Anne

    It’s possible I read this in one of the APW posts, but I think it bears repeating:

    COUNSELING: Couples, Individual, etc. How do you both feel about it, and under what circumstances should it be involved in your lives, in your marriage? I remember reading somewhere that a couple agreed that if either one of them asked to go to marriage counseling, then the other one had to go, no questions asked. After years of watching my dad refuse to go to counseling with my mom over a number of issues (and refuse to take any ownership for his part in those same issues, or do anything with them, because they disproportionately affect my mom, not him), I thought that was brilliant.

  • I didn’t all the comments (man, we are so thoughtful! i kept getting distracted…anyhow)

    Things we discussed before gettting engaged:

    What defines cheating? How might we respond? How can we prevent it? (since we already decided that sexual monogamy is important to us.)

    How and when we want kids, especially how we would deal w/an unplanned pregnancy.

    And of course, money how we each thought about spending it, saving it and how to marry those two (very!) different financial styles.

    • Jillian

      “What defines cheating? How might we respond? How can we prevent it? (since we already decided that sexual monogamy is important to us.)”

      Forgot to put this on my list! This is such an important conversation to have I think, because it gets you talking about trust and boundaries. Everyone’s definition of cheating is different so you and your partner need to be on the same page.

  • Jillian

    This is such a great list and I wish I had time to read all the (probably) brilliant suggestions from everyone else, but I have limited time so at the risk of redundancy:

    Family: Not just “how many” kids…but how will you raise said children? In what faith (if any)? What type of education do you visualize for them?

    Career: What will you do if one of you suddenly isn’t working? What’s the back-up plan for this situation?

    Family/Career: Is one of you comfortable being a stay-at-home parent? If not, are you both comfortable with daycare if you both work full time?

    Living situation: Where do you envision yourself living (geographically)? Sounds vague but this can be very important to some people. Like for example, if all your family is from one part of the country and you can’t see yourself ever living too far from them.

  • Raqui

    Good times. Lots of grist for the mill here! Just adding a few from my personal experience:

    When we moved in together we worked through a financial workbook – 31 Days to Fix Your Finances – you can find it at the simple dollar dot com. This was really helpful and we learned a lot about each other’s values, pasts -so many things. Finances can encompass a lot.

    Astrology – if you are into it! We both are and got a joint reading done (you need your exact birth times). This can be extremely accurate and enlightening. It can also be intense if you like intense. The astrologist pointed out something she’s noticed in the charts of many happy healthy couples – that there can be a lot of astrologically intense stuff – squares, angles and oppositions – these aren’t bad things – they can make for a dynamic and strong relationship.

    Picking out rings together.

    Something of interest, my future husband is the only man who hasn’t gotten defensive when we’ve gone into depth about our pasts and he probably has the most complicated history of all the men I’ve been close to.

    Just like learning with the best teachers…there is never a dumb question when it comes from the heart.

  • JoAnna

    Something that was really important for us was talking about greeting each other but also how we leave each other… everytime one of us leaves the house it is with a kiss and an “I love you”. It’s also how we greet each other.

    Family dynamics were HUGE (did I say HUGE) for us. We both grew up in incredibly tight knit families and it was important for us to discuss the level of importance our families were in our relationship, how we envisioned our relationship with our families, and proximity to family.

    Discussing the home environment was also really important, how we wanted to live in our space, what we saw in the future. What kind of furniture we needed.

    Cars and motorcycles. She is a motorcycle mechanic and loves a project bike, so talking about how many she has at any given point. How often we are willing to buy vehicles, how they are going to fit our lives down the road.

    Non-stop conversations about kids, IVF, sperm donors, adoption, discipline, cell phones for kids, and chores…

  • optathy

    I’m not reading all of the responses, so forgive me if this has already been said. But:

    “What are your plans for your investment in our marriage? How will you work/what will you contribute to make us stronger?”

    Marriage is work. Relationships are work. Too often it’s women doing the heavy lifting. It comes more naturally for us, maybe, but it needs to be a both-sides thing. My husband is finally starting to figure that out… :)

  • Such important things to discuss! We talked about most of the biggies (finances, career, family, sex, etc) about one year before our engagement, then refined & rehashed things as they came up afterwards. As much as I hate to admit it because I was grumpy about attending, Pre-Cana was valuable for us. While we didn’t get to discuss everything during Pre-Cana, it jumpstarted many private conversations at a later date. Things we hadn’t thought of before like how we will handle aging parents. In his culture, aging parents move in with their children, as his grandmother lived with them for awhile & now lives with his aunt & uncle. For me, that’s not the norm. Infertility was another big one. I’m so grateful for the experience that taught us a lot & made us stronger.

  • So many good comments in this thread! We talked about a lot of those biggies, too, before we were engaged (sexual compatibility [REALLY important discussion to have if you’re waiting for marriage to have sex!], infertility, money, parental/family relationships that were modeled for us, religious agreements/disagreements, political agreements/disagreements, household chores). Here’s some that I think were really important to us:

    1. What will our boundaries be as a married couple in terms of our families and our friends? What will or won’t we share with them? (For bloggers – what will or won’t you share with your readers? Is your significant other comfortable with that?)

    2. How do we envision ourselves as a married couple? What is our marital mission statement? (i.e. Hospitality is super important to both Jason and myself, so a big thing for us was being on the same page about how we as a couple would interact with others – how we’d invite people over, how we’d interact with people/each other at parties, etc.)

    3. If one of us feels we need marital counseling, will the other person go along, no questions asked?

    4. Will we/how will we fight in front of our kids? Is it more important to not let them see us fight (perhaps not very realistic) or for them to see us always apologize to each other (and to them)?

    5. Mental illness. I have a family history of lowgrade to severe depression and can suffer from anxiety/lowgrade depression. It was really important to me that Jason knew that well before we were engaged so he could work through whether or not that was something he could deal with.

    • Family medical histories are a real good thing to talk about. I’ve been asked a few times lately about my husband’s family medical history and he hasn’t been there to answer. It’s not something we formally talked about, but it has come up and so I knew the answers.

  • the most important thing to me was following up all of these questions with a “how much does this matter?” discussion.

    for us, the career and location questions were easy, because my career doesn’t matter much to me. simple. not to discount the discussion, which was enlightening – and profoundly reassuring.

    kids is where we hit a real wall (like, i cried for days). not because she wants kids and i don’t (oversimplified, but true), but because it matters a lot to each of us. but also, this wasn’t a “dealbreaker” because we both (me, mostly) decided that being with each other mattered *more*.

  • We talked about our views on education, our own and any potential children, (I’m an educator) before we’d known each other a month. It’s a deal breaker for me so I wanted it in the open clear back then.

    Along the lines of family, not just about your baby family but about the families you come from. Do you need to live close to family? If you are geographically close to family what kinds of boundaries will you set about visits and interference? Understanding the roles of your parents in your life as a married person and having a united front on that is huge.

  • this post/comment thread rocks. i just want to talk about everything, all the time, from now until forever. poor hubs won’t know what hit him when he gets home tonight! :)

    • You’re going to start in on it right after you greet him tonight, aren’t you? ;)

      • you know it!

        (i kid, i kid. this WILL fuel some good discussion, though, which i’m excited about!)

  • clampers

    How about “financial infidelity”?

    (I just learned this term when I was home sick last week watching The Talk on CBS…don’t make fun of me! Daytime TV is crap! Except for court tv.)

    They were giving statistics on how many people (men and women) hide purchases, bills, cash and even entire bank accounts from their partners…that really struck a chord with me.

    I think it would be important to at least define financial infidelity with your partner and discuss the fact that, like sexual infidelity, it’s unacceptable.

    • what a great term.

      also, the idea is so baffling to me. i adhere to “it’s only cheating if it’s against the rules”, so i suspect this sort of thing is a result of just not ever talking about money (and so, never really establishing rules).

  • Luna

    Such and great post and such great comments! FH and I have talked about a lot of these, but not all… I’m defiantly putting a couple of them on my “list”
    One thing that I haven’t seen in the comments is PROPERTY. Me and FH both own property separately, and even though we have most of the separate / together finances worked out, the responsibility of our properties is huge and needed to be talked about. What if one of our tenants has a problem? Can one of us deal with it in his/her stead, do we have authority to make decisions as wife / husband? If a major repair is needed can we borrow cash from one of the other’s investments? In the future when we want to expand our investments will we do it together or keep our ventures separate?
    I think this shared responsibilities and finances is a specific example of the general topic.

  • Laura


    All of these discussion topics are good! We’ve been going to pre-marital counseling, which is great and important. I do want to being up a (perhaps thought by all but unwritten) point that’s been relevant to me and my engagement: you don’t need to have all of the hard/intense/important conversations at once.

    My fiance and I have never been big fighters, but rather have been big “discussers”. Since getting engaged in August, I’ve felt the stakes for WE-MUST-HAVE-ALL-OF-THESE-IMPORTANT-DISCUSSION-STAT increase, partially because I discovered that I have a lot of still-unresolved pain around my parents’ divorce, and a lot of fear around the topic of marriage. It’s caused a lot more arguing, and not necessarily the healthy kind. It’s not the healthy kind, because I feel like we MUST have this conversation, whether or not it’s really the best time to have it (i.e. we’ve had sleep, etc..) Why this rush, though? We talked openly about all of these topics before. We listened well and we talked honestly.

    I don’t believe that any of you are suggesting a push to constantly discuss these things, but I wanted to write what’s been helpful for me: remembering that we don’t have to discuss our budget every night. Remembering that saying we are undecided about having children and will talk about it in three years is ok. Remembering that it’s good to have some time to simply appreciate all of the qualities that we adore in one another. Remembering that laughter is necessary, and remembering that part of marriage is TRUST. Trust that you can continue to have these conversations, even after you’re married, and trust that your partner and you can work through the differences. This trust is what I’m working on.

    • Yup, I think one thing WIC culture convinces us about is that the wedding fixes all of our opinions in place. Hence, you *have to* decide whether you’re going to change your name or not before you get married, or you have to decide if you’re going to have kids, or combine your finances, etc. And then you never get to change your mind. (Which Team Practical knows is blatantly false, right?) There really isn’t often a message of, “Build your communication skills, try to make sure that your approaches to life and your relationship are compatible, but you don’t have to make up your mind about the rest of your life right now simply because you’ve made up your mind about who you want to spend that life with.”

    • suzanna

      Oh yeah. Once you’re engaged, the stakes is high! Or it can feel like it anyway. It’s that whole FOREVER business. Can make one jumpy.

    • Jo

      LOVE. this. So well said.

  • Oh, man, I am so all over this business.

    First, I was totally in Sarah’s realistically headstrong boat. I’m at that stage where suddenly everyone’s getting engaged, and last year one of my best friends was constantly freaking. out. that she wasn’t engaged yet. And I kept telling her, “if you’re ready to be engaged, and you know he is, then just BE engaged. Just propose.” But no. She looked at me like I was telling her to stab a kitten. Ridiculous. Is it so outlandish to assume you’d want to have a say in your future, regardless of the existence of a vagina? This is one of those times I’m so jealous of gay couples.

    Second, ummmm I kind of launched into the first date with all of these questions. Or at least the ones I’d thought of at that point. I’ve been in enough unsatisfying relationships to have identified a lot of my dealbreakers. And neither of us were really in a rush to be monogamous if it wasn’t going to be A Big Deal. So we were both all over answering Big Deal questions.

    Here are things I made clear before and during our first date:
    -Whoever I married would have to attend church with me every week. I wasn’t super concerned with a difference in faith, but my future children would be raised in my church, and I didn’t want to have the “why doesn’t Daddy have to go?” fight every week.
    -He had to be 100% comfortable with/excited about the potential for adoption. And also a big family. We both come from big families, so this was an easy one.

    We bought a house together a little over a year into our relationship, and we realized that the saving process would be much faster if we pooled our resources (way more interest accumulating on double the contributions). Neither of us had ever “shared” money before, but it’s been a very comfortable transition. We put all our money into our combined checking account, and use individual credit cards if we want to buy something without the other one knowing.

    A few months after we bought our house, I declared us engaged. He disagreed. Apparently it wasn’t momentous enough. But come on! We owned A HOUSE. We had JOINT CHECKING. He was suggesting and taking me to WEDDING VENUES and approved of me contacting a photographer! We were soooo engaged. But he still didn’t believe me. So I got the 8 blessings I needed (his 5 siblings, father, grandfather and aunt) and proposed.

    To wrap up my way too long post: talk about everything. Especially the stuff that makes you uncomfortable. It took me 3 months to work up the guts to say to him, “I need you to stick up for me sometimes.” Because he’s an appeaser and a stay-out-of-it-er. But now he sticks up for me. And it’s awesome. I’m still working on being able to talk about sexytimes, though. A few things that have come up are the lengths we’re willing to go to help his very unstable family (I was basically raised by the white Huxtables…my family doesn’t need us at all. But we moved to DC from DE to help his family.) Also HIGHLY recommend “The 5 Love Languages” which I saw was mentioned previously. I never knew that I was so dependent on physical touch, and it’s been incredibly useful to know that.

    I can’t wait to see the final APW question list!

    • Jo

      YES. When my spouse and I first started dating, I was coming off a nasty relationship explosion, and so I was very much in the head space of things I wasn’t going to budge on in a relationship. Relationship values, I guess. So we had some pretty serious talks pretty early! And we quickly recognized that we had the same philosophy on romantic relationships, which probably didn’t hurt the process of us falling madly in love with each other. :)

  • Morgan

    After reading all the discussions questions about parents, can I suggest talking to both sets of parents? Once you and your partner know what you’re thinking? To make sure your parents are on the same page? Because if you and your partner agree, say, that a parent will never move in, do your parents know?

    We were once down visiting David’s parents, and his father produced this giant folder with wills, estate planning, investment summaries, pre-purchased cemetery plots and the works. It meant the conversation with them was pretty short – “this is what we want, and we’ve already paid for it, and here’s the paperwork”, but really good to know. With my mother, we have a much more casual “if you’re good, you can help pick your own nursing home” type deal, but at least we’ve established we’re not the “come live with us” types.

    Also, my father died (of terminal cancer!) and left almost no information behind, and it was a nightmare to try to piece together passwords, bank information and bill paying details. As your parents age, try and make sure that things are taken care of, because the last thing you want to do is say, end up at a bank with your mother screaming, “he’s dead, damn it, dead, he can’t sign this paper because he’s dead”.

    • Not just as parents age, but for each other as well. My husband knows where I have online accounts and what to do with them in the event that I can’t. I call it my “dead list” and he thinks that’s morbid but he goes with it. We also know where the titles, deeds, and other important papers are.

  • Loz

    My husband and I grew up in very different households.My parents had more gender specific roles (Dad was the breadwinner, mum was at home or in part time work a lot), but they were quite relaxed and liberal with their parenting. They treated us like adults from a fairly young age, and were supportive and encouraging without putting too much pressure on us.

    His parents both worked in professional jobs while he was growing up. But they are much stricter and more conservative than my parents, and very focussed on the success of their children (his Dad even told me that it didn’t matter if we were happy, as long as we were in good, stable jobs). There was an enormous amount of pressure put on them to work hard. Their relationship with each other is distant.

    During our eight years of pre-marriage, we had many, many discussions about how we wanted our relationship and child raising to be, because I was very worried that coming from such different backgrounds we would have trouble. It led to lots of interesting discussions about what we thought of our parents relationships, what worked, what didn’t, and what we wanted.

    For example, he always assumed we would have 2 full time incomes and be able to afford to buy our kids nice things, because that’s what his parents had done. I assumed that at least for the first few years, having Mum or Dad (and probably Dad – I earn a lot more than my husband) at home was more important than buying nice things.

    I knew he wouldn’t want to put as much pressure on his kids to be successful as his parents had, but was surprised none the less to find that it was still a lot more important to him than it was to me.

    Another interesting discussion we had was around religion. We are both athiest, I was raised that way but his Mum is Jewish. It turns out that exposing them to their Jewish heritage is more important to me than to him, which really surprised me.

    I think if you come from even slightly different backgrounds, asking what you want to take from that and what you want to leave behind is really important.

  • HOLIDAYS! You have to talk about what you’re going to do about holidays. This is probably the biggest point of contention between J and I but I think we are starting to figure things out.

    His (huge) family all lives in the same area as us, save for two sets of aunt & uncle who live very far away from us, who come into town usually at Thanksgiving, if not once or twice more sporadically throughout the year. We see most of his local family maybe once every couple of months for a big family get-together, or a random dinner party, or birthdays, engagements, baby showers, etc. etc.

    My family, on the other hand, is distributed to 10 hrs north of us and 10 hrs south of us, save for three cousins who live in the next city over from us. We see the local cousins periodically for dinners and etc., but my aunt and her daughters (10 hrs north) and my grandma, other aunt & uncle and their kids (10 hrs south) are the family I grew up closest to and the ones we always saw at holiday gatherings (grandma used to live 5 minutes down the road from me and her kids and my cousins, the aunts and uncle and their kids mentioned above, would all come to her house for Christmas), and thus they’re the ones I miss the most). We literally do not see any of them throughout the year at all because travel is so difficult, and we also can rarely coordinate a big Christmas get-together for the same reason.

    What we have tentatively worked out is that we will do Thanksgiving with J’s family no matter what because my family never does anything for Thanksgiving and his out-of-town relatives come in, and that Christmas will be determined year-by-year: if my family plans something, there will be NO question that we will be there for the actual holiday, and we can do Christmas with J’s family before/after the trip, because it is such a rarity that this happens that it is imperative we be there because it might be another 10 years before it happens again. If my family is not planning anything then we will of course do Christmas with J’s family.

    (Holy run-on sentences, Batman! I’m tired and hungry…too lazy to edit right now.)

  • Jo

    WHO will manage the money? Our pastor suggested we discuss this along with the other good money questions. After discussing it, we realized that although I thought I’d be the one who would do it, it turns out it totally stresses me out to look at it all, and my husband really doesn’t mind. And so, it turned out that who manages the money makes a huge difference in my happiness and in our overall balance of effort. Yay!

    Also, I think a great question, which you could go on and on with answers with, is what is something about me that annoys you/challenges you…. and what is the benefit of that trait? This has been asked by more than one pre-marital counselor of me and my friends prepping for marriage… and I think it’s SO KEY that we go through the practice of realizing that the things that bug us about our partners are also often part and parcel of what we adore (the same trait, just expressed in a different context)… and the things that we love about them can also contribute to challenges. And to be able to recognize both sides of that coin early on, and know that your partner SEES both sides – HUGE!

  • Jo

    Ok one more thing to add that I don’t think has been covered yet. Lifestyle goals – how do you want your week to week lives to be? Uber social? Stay at home cozy? Late nights? Early mornings? Or can you agree to disagree – have different styles in a way that works for everybody. This feels like a related element to the shared space questions – how clean should the house be, loud vs. quiet spaces – are they ok with one or the other?

    If you live together first, these things come up. But if you don’t… Honestly, if you don’t talk about this, I’m just guessing you’re going to end up talking about before long. And at least for us, it has been really important that we both care very much about having a mix of social and home time – and we end up wanting a pretty similar balance. Maybe that stuff just comes up, but I think it makes sense to talk about.

    Here’s another example that’s sort of related: I remember sharing this fantasy I had with the hubs about living on a homestead with a straw bale house and all this very off-grid communal living style, and he was like – WHOA that is way too intense for me. So we had some serious heart to hearts about how important (and to what degree) that dream was for me, and what he could and couldn’t imagine himself doing.

    And then of course, these things can totally change. But probably it’s good to establish a conversation about it – so you can just be able to be yourselves day to day.

    • “Lifestyle goals – how do you want your week to week lives to be? Uber social? Stay at home cozy? Late nights? Early mornings? Or can you agree to disagree – have different styles in a way that works for everybody.”

      Yes. I think knowing about differences in energy levels and desires for social activity and “going out” is great to know in advance, since so much of life is made of these simple rhythms of life and daily activity.

  • Pigzfly

    Whew, that took awhile to read! I am very glad that I did, though.
    One thing that I happened to remember while reading this may seem like the “vegetarian” question to some, but hey.
    My partner and I have been dating since grad school, aka we were broke. One of us is now gainfully employed while I am extremely underemployed. It came as a surprise to my partner when I once complained about pirating yet another movie/song (I have always been the person who does the downloading.) I have always intended to pay for things, especially artistic products and apparently have never shared this before. To me, this ties in deeper to my values regarding ethics/art in our society/etc. This isn’t necessarily core to the lifestyle we lead and who I am, so not something that really comes up in conversation. This is sort of a “future lifestyle” question. ie – I would really like to own original art works when we can; this is both a financial and aesthetic decision which will affect both of us.

    So – how do you feel about copyright infringement/paying artists for their works?
    Can you agree on art and what to do when you don’t?
    (Case in point, red abstract art I purchased in Argentina, which was immediately referred to as a “vagina explosion” that might be able to live inside a closet.)

    On a positive note, just in the past week or two, I have been given a strong endorsement to continue my very passive collection of “nice books” aka hardcover, classic books which I pick up whenever I stumble across them at a Salvation Army or library sale rack. Apparently I got a very nice copy of some Tolstoy.

    Books are an expense line everyone needs to agree on. MIL never buys books, always library. For some reason I like to own them (supporting artists), but they are expensive (especially in Canada for some reason). I tend to buy them used, but we both had to agree that spending several hundred dollars a year on books was okay. New stuff always looks affordable next to the textbook collection anyway! Conversely, I had to be okay with having over a dozen kinds of scotch purchased with our money. I don’t drink it and don’t care for the smell either.
    These are financial decisions that you might not realize represent stores of value/significant expenses when you first get together. ESPECIALLY talk about these more minor sorts of things if you get together when you are in relative poverty/not yet established in your lives.

    Echoing the conversation earlier about the motorcycle repair habit/sewing rooms/etc. – I would prefer to not live in a locale which requires us to have cars (current), but I know FH would love to have a sports car in the future, probably in addition to whichever vehicles we already own. When my brother was 16, he and my dad bought a vehicle and worked on it in the driveway, which required some compromise with mom.

    Oh and along the line of the tv in the bedroom phenomenon: What cable package do you need, are you all okay paying for that and what does it mean for your couples time/time together/lifestyle. In my house, the sportsnews is turned on every day before work, which I am extremely apathetic towards. However, I also gripe that the TV is on too much in general. Same with computer time, especially if you end up with only one computer (one of ours is basically useless now and we choose not to replace it.)

    Wow, that got really long, really quickly.

  • I have a few kind of random ones that me and my fella have discussed that I thought I would throw out there, since the major ones have been covered by people wiser than I (ex: pet euthanasia).

    Who counts as “family” and who decides that? Does blood = family for you, or is there choice on who gets the benefit of a familial relationship? Which one of you decides that and do you both have to agree?

    Deal makers. A few people have mentioned deal breakers and I agree that they are more important, but I thought I’d throw deal makers in the mix. Where is there wiggle room on the Big Things? As in, “I’m willing to live in a smaller town… but only if the place has a pool and is walking distance to an Irish pub.” Or whatever. I think it’s helpful to know where there’s some room for maneuverability – and as others have said, where there’s NOT.

    Date night – sorry to use a cliché term – but seriously, date night. How important is it? How often are we going to have one? What day of the week? Does Tuesday count or does it have to be Friday? What counts as a date? Is it a date if I refuse to take off my sweatpants while we play Scrabble, at home, over pizza, but there’s wine and someone thought to light a candle? Or does it need to be dinner at a high-heels kind of place? Is it a date if we are out with friends? Or with our kid?

    This one is kind of dorky, and slightly off-topic, but a couple I know came up with a relationship motto “Never a dull moment” – and now every time a tire bursts or someone has a sh*tty day or whatever, one of them says that, and it totally lightens the mood. We came up with “less stuff, more life” to remind each other of our relationship philosophy while things are really easy. Now we say it when one of us has a weird flying-off-the-rails moment (ex: “If I don’t buy this $75 pink wooden Vespa-shaped rocking toy for our future-but-not-yet-conceived daughter I will implode in on myself like a dying star, you are literally ruining my life by not approving this purchase!!!!”), and it keeps us on track. I think this will be very helpful if/when I suddenly loose my Practical perspective and let my stomach go all Knotty over wedding favors or something.

    Whatever, food for thought.

  • Marchelle

    Um, wow. Lots to read on a quiet evening sometime soon.

    I had one question that lay under everything else, and I’m sure it’s been mentioned already, but oh well. It was about communication. How well do we communicate, and how are we going to communicate when the shit hits the fan? I suppose it was a question I started off asking myself at the beginning of the relationship, but it was one I made explicit, and one we had many discussions about before the happy engagement happened. Talking about talking sounds very meta, but a lot of other important discussions already mentioned flowed from there.

  • jane

    One of things I wish we would have talked about more is food. What kinds of food will we eat? Do you prefer to splurge on expensive foods or rather eat canned veggies? Who will cook, and will you try and cater to the other partner’s eating habits? Or will it be whoever cooks gets to decide?

    My husband likes plain foods and I don’t. It has been the biggest challenge yet. Obviously it’s not a dealbreaker (we weren’t going to not get married because we like different foods) but it is a challenge and can get frustrating on a day to day basis.

  • Leigh Ann

    We talked about all of the nitty-gritty things: Religion, family, religion for our future family, family names for our kids, money — no stone was left unturned. But my (BF? FH? Fiance? It’s only been two weeks) had some bigger issues I was concerned about, namely a lot of trouble leaping face-first into big life decisions, and becoming stymied by indecision. My vision for my future is to keep embracing change, taking risks, and just PLEASE GOD not getting stagnant, because why? When there is so much to do? Conversely, he was worried that I would never be satsifed with what I had, no matter what it was. So I think general philosophies for living are a good thing to discuss pre-marriage. Get down into it: “Here’s an aspect of you I am concerned might become a problem later on down the line. How do you feel about that?” I think the result of these conversations is that we’re both on alert about the potentially self-destructive parts of each other, and each making an effort to be a better person.

  • I just stumbled on to this beautiful site, and the tears just flowed. I am so happy that so much love and joy still exists in the world. Absolutely wonderful site.

  • Another one I thought of. We talked about pet names and nicknames we were okay with and ones we aren’t. He does not like any of the ones that end in “ie” or “y.” So no “sweetie” but “sweetheart” instead. And he’s my husband, not my hubby (I agree with him on that one). He is okay with “honey” though because that one is not a diminutive of anything. It was a little weird to have a formal conversation about that, but the absolutely amazing rolls at Texas Roadhouse made it a good one. And I’d rather him not cringe whenever I refer to him.

  • Thanks so much for this extremely helpful post! I read one of those lists of questions to ask, and the best one I saw, and one that really brings a lot of perspective was “What do you think is the best part of your parents’ marriage? What is the worst part? How will knowing this affect your marriage?”

    His parents are one of the biggest things we argue/worry about, and talking this over really gave me a lot of insight into that aspect of our relationship.

  • Marisa-Andrea

    This is a great list and to that I would add:
    Expectations — what do you expect of each as partners/husband/wife/whatever term you use? What do you expect in a loose theoretical way and what does that look like on a daily basis?

    What is the purpose of your marriage — This is more than why are we getting married. This is more about what each of you want to give and get out of the marriage and practical ways to accomplish those objectives. Sure, a lot of people marry because they love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives together, but what does that really mean? And almost no one does anything for purely altruistic reasons. You want to get something out of your marriage. What? Get specific.

    Sharing your marriage with others and setting boundaries — I think this is REALLY super important. There will be times when you will most certainly want to vent to someone or talk to someone about what is going on in your marriage. Discuss how each of you feel about this and set some boundaries and guidelines.

    I don’t think you have to discuss everything under the sun…a lot of marriage is learning as stuff comes along, but I think these coupled with the other list is a great foundation.

  • Allison Prehn

    The most important thing we have and see eye to eye on is our foundation, which is the Bible. Having the same world view, answering the big questions like why are we here and what life is all about, and standing on the Truth of God’s Word give us the foundation for all discussions, conversations and views on marriage. When the foundation is eternal and rock, it makes the rest fall into place and all the necessary pre-marital conversations headed in the same direction. There are disagreements and challenges, like with any couple, but the foundation is solid and the commitment to each other is forever and solid- no matter what. I cannot imagine a relationship without the solid foundation where it’s differing opinions and ‘man’s wisdom’ that reign. Life with Jesus is a beautiful life, indeed! And I’m so grateful!

  • Kate

    OK. I have a question for all you wise women.

    How do you decide what issues to bring up and which to let go?

    Laura Kipnis, in “Against Love” (an awesome book that should be an APW book club pick) had this hilarious, six page list of things people are “no longer allowed to do” when they get married. You know, things like load the silverware in the dishwasher points down, chew “that way,” etc. I had to hang my head in shame because a few of them were things I’ve specifically asked my fiance not to do and a hell of a lot more of them were things he does that I’ve allowed to bother me, and they were all such tiny things!

    This might sound like unrelated to the question of discussing big issues pre-marriage, but I don’t think so. For example, I would prefer not to be greeted immediately when I get home, and he’s a Labrador by nature. But if I bring that up, at what point does it become the kind of insanely corrective behavior that Kipnis describes?

    I think I’m actually going to send this in to Ask Alyssa, but I’d love your thoughts as well!

  • Kim

    Unfortunately I don’t have too much time to read all the comments here (there are so many great ones!), so instead I’ll echo/state my ideas:

    TRADITIONS/HOLIDAYS: Where are you willing to compromise, especially on holidays that hold great value for each of you? Can you combined traditions, add new traditions, mix families together? Are you both willing to schlep across the country/state to visit everyone, sticking to a rigorous travel schedule to make appearances everywhere, or would you rather alternate holidays.

    INVOLVEMENT WITH FAMILY: I think someone touched upon this, but my husband and I have very different levels of involvement with our families – he talks with his nuclear family more than once a day, I chat with my family every few weeks. He is very involved in supporting their daily issues, I trust that my family is capable of handling their own situations. Which leads me to the questions – do we appreciate the role our spouse has with their family? What is our role with our new in-laws expected to be? I tend to be very confident, independent, decisive and planned out. I’ve learned that my natural tendencies do not mesh with his family, who is more spontaneous, co-dependent and indecisive. By accepting our differences, my expectations are managed effectively.

    Someone else already said “LOCATION” and while my husband and I have discussed this frequently, we’re not getting anywhere fast. Especially since I was willing to take turns, so I moved where he wanted to live during school, but now that school is over, I’m itching to move and now he doesn’t want to move. I’ll take a look at all your suggestions to see if we can figure something out.

    I really like the “how do you like to be greeted when you come home?” question…we’ll have to try that!

    Can’t wait to see the final list. It’ll be filled with lots of useful info!

  • Emily

    My husband and I are approaching our fifth anniversary, and we’re now planning a series of date nights to revisit the hundreds of topics we discussed before marriage and ask all new ones that have been raised here. Thanks!

  • Aiyana

    Wow, there is a lot of good stuff in here. I made it half way through the comments, so someone may have said this already, but…

    All of these are great conversations to have as you get to know each other, before you get engaged, before you get married… AND after you get married, for the rest of your lives. Opinions and circumstances will continue to change, so of course your feelings about organ donation/sexual boundaries/bankrupcy/vacations will also change with time.

    I enjoy theoretical questions and imaging the future under various scenarios. My husband does not, and sees little point in working out all the “what-ifs” right now. He prefers that we work it out if and when the situation arises.

  • Today while we were driving around we started discussing how long left-overs have to be in the fridge before they are fair game (we decided the day after the day after). Upon making our decision my husband said, “And now our marriage takes a step forward as it evolves naturally.” Made me laugh.

    I’ve never seen left-overs on a list of things to talk about before you get married, but it is definitely something to talk about before the stuff in the fridge up and grows legs and walks away.

  • Not engaged yet, but have this cheesy idea to to print off all the questions I liked, cut them apart and put them in a jar, then draw them out one at a time (maybe 1 or 2 a week or so, who knows!) to discuss with my bf, as we currently live together. Hopefully this will spark some good discussions!

  • Sam

    I haven’t read too many of the comments but, as a woman in her early twenties who had exactly that “pre-engaged” conversation with her boyfriend (now fiance) I totally agree that “pressure” should be taken out of the equation. When I told my mom (who is wonderful but a tad conventional when it comes to relationship roles) she was horrified! It was as if I had made this huge faux pas by saying “look this is where I am, this is where I think we are and this is what I want from the future.” My lovely boyfriend however, was much less conventional than my well educated, well employed girlfriends. He said “great, we’re not on exactly the same page but let’s fix that.”
    The conversation is waaay less scary once you’re having it. And it really helps to keep having it. We set a long engagement (which we decided on during the conversation) to work out all the answers to our questions, and also to give ourselves time to say “maybe this was a mistake.” Pre-engagement was the BEST thing I’ve ever done for myself. It gave me a sense of control over my own life and my own destiny. It gave me a sense of security in my relationship with my boyfriend (now fiance) to know that I could tell him what I want and what I think (which was a great step towards marriage) and it left me with enough wiggle room that I was totally surprised when I was proposed to!
    I think every woman who wants to have this conversation, should feel able to. But hey, it’s not for everyone!

  • Sarah

    I’m so glad there are other people out there who talk about this kind of stuff! Personally, I’ve always thought it was crazy that people DIDN’T discuss their opnions/feelings on major life stuff before getting engaged. Because at that point, there are tons of feelings involved that are not rational. But I digress. Some of the things we discussed (no order)

    1. How many kids/method of acquiring them ;)
    2. How many shoes/purses is reasonable for me to own at any given point
    3. Finances (Duh)
    4. Sexy time (And we’re virgins, so this one was…fun)
    5. Child rearing
    6. Religion
    7. Holidays/where to spend them
    8. Careers/moving needs

    And I’m sure there are more. Also, I’d just like to add, everyone (co-workers, friends, mom) thinks we’re NUTS that we have A. Talked about this stuff and B. Essentially planned our wedding without being “engaged”.

    We’re goofy. We love it. :)

    • Stephanie

      Oh man yes. My manfriend and I joke that we will have our whole wedding & marriage planned before we are engaged.

      We’re both virgins too, and I’ve been happy with how natural the sex conversations have been! I like to think it bodes well.

  • I have to agree with a lot of the above
    1 – the “travelling test” – not only does it show you how your partner reacts to certain situations (ie. lost, lack of food, lack of sleep etc.) but how to best deal with them when they are hungry, tired etc. Also, try camping!
    2 – children – how to raise them, who’s faith, how many, who pays for education, diet, extra-curricular
    3 – lifestyle – goals for the future, ie. buying a house, living debt free, traveling, general standard of living – we recently combined finances and are working toward being debt free BEFORE we get married. I’ve heard its one of the main stressors in early married years.
    4 – career goals vs domestic duties – this personally is a constant struggle between me and my fiance. He grew up with a stay at home mother, my mother worked. I am currently working full time so we have to split the household duties even though he makes more money than me. It’s a difficult one to settle on. I tell him if he wants me to do everything, I would have to quit my job and we can’t afford that so he has to help. Something as simple as him making soup and grilled cheese for dinner when I’m working and he isn’t helps take the load off.