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Ask Team Practical: Questions Before (or After) You Wed

Remember, last month, when I asked you guys to help me brainstorm a Team Practical approved list of questions to ask before you get married? Well! A edited version of that list is going into the APW Book, but I wasn’t going to make you wait till next year to read the list! So today, Alyssa is here, with her Ask Team Practical round up. I know a lot of you are looking for (but not finding) secular pre-marital counseling. And while I still think you should do pre-martial counseling if at all possible, discussing these questions is a good start (and will do in a pinch). And now, Alyssa, who can make anything hilarious. (See: Kind Of A Mess.)

Today, we’re going to mix it up. Instead of answering questions, we’re going to talk about questions in general, and pre-marital questions specifically.

So anyone who fears change, go grab some hot cocoa and have a lie-down. It will be okay.

A Practical Wedding is all for pre-marital counseling. However, if the thought of discussing your relationship with a stranger makes you want to pass out or vomit, then no. For the sake of yourself, your partner and your shoes, you probably shouldn’t get counseling. What makes any kind counseling work is the willingness on the part of both people to listen and engage – if you don’t feel comfortable doing either one, then you’re wasting time and possibly money. And – so you don’t think I’m all hat and no cattle – I felt like that too. I knew pre-marital counseling would help, but we were running out of time and my snugglebunny and I were already SO madly in love and doing wonderful, there really wasn’t a NEED for it, was there? So I tossed the thought aside and commenced with the craft-making and being DIY-crazyface. And now 18 months later, I feel the need to go back in time and whack me upside the head with my glue gun. Because we’ve faced issues – not major, but large enough – that I know we would have been discussing in pre-marital counseling. They would not have been solved, but at the very least touched upon which would have put us a step further in the process.

So, fellow nay-sayers, (which is totally okay, APW is a no shame zone,) if we can’t convince you to go to pre-marital counseling, how about you read through our favorite APW-reader approved “Things to Discuss Before Marriage” questions and then you can go from there? They are way beyond the typical lists because, well,  APW readers are way more than typical. These questions are guidelines to spark conversation and most definitely should not be done all at once in one giant soul-baring session. Unless that’s you AND your partner’s thing. I personally would probably end up in a corner sucking my thumb.

And they are not just pre-marital questions. These things that are a good idea to talk about before or after your marriage. Sometime soon. Preferably before the situation comes up and suddenly one of you is standing in the kitchen hollering, “What do you MEAN, ‘Two kids is one too many’?!?” (It happens.)

The Basics

How do we split up chores?

Or, if you’re not living together, What are we going to do with all of our stuff?

What routines do you have that I might not know about? Do I want to know about them or LA-LA-LA I’M COVERING MY EARS NOW, THANKS!

What hobbies do we have that will affect the other?

When you talk about ‘family,’ who do you think of?

What kind of lifestyle do we want to live? (And YE-ah, you have to talk about money here)

What will we do for fun?

Do we have a partnership mission statement?

How we will handle holidays?

How will we handle communication? How can we improve our current communication?

What is the best part of your parents’ marriage? What is the worst?

Medical/End of Life Issues

Do you have or do you want a living will/DNR request/etc.?

How do you feel about organ donation?

Do you have religious beliefs that will affect medical decisions?

What medical concerns do you have or do you think will come up in the future? (i.e. genetic or hereditary issues.)

How will we handle pregnancy/childbirth/infertility?

I’m not even going to pretend to be funny on this. You both will soon be in charge of the other person if they are incapacitated or will require long-term care. It’s horrible, it’s upsetting and you’ll probably cry, but TALK ABOUT IT. And make sure your family knows that your partner knows what you want. There are way too many stories of partners fighting families in these decisions for you to even think about not discussing end of life procedures.

And when we say health, we’re not talking about just accidents, old age-related illnesses, or even something catastrophic. Discuss your general health and well-being as well, and get comfortable talking about it with each other. I have osteoarthritis in my jaw that causes major TMJ-related problems and requires surgery and care that is not covered by our insurance. This issue quickly went from MY headaches to OUR big giant freakin’ problem. But it was my husband that went, “You know, your head hurts ALL THE TIME. Maybe you should do something about that.” Partners tend to be the ones who discover lumps or point out changes in behavior that signal medical issues. Start getting comfortable discussing these things with each other, so you partner feels okay to say things like, “You know, your period has been going on a really long time these past few months.”

Also, if you plan on having children, you need to discuss how you’ll handle your health during that time. It’s your body but their child also, and you need to find a good middle ground on health and pregnancy.

Even if you don’t plan on having children, still talk about how you’d handle a pregnancy. No, seriously, STILL TALK ABOUT IT. If you have sex, you need to have a plan to handle having children unless your body no longer contains the parts that make babies. And I mean, ‘no longer contains,’ as in they were removed or never there, not ‘the doctor says I can’t have them.’ Doctors can be wrong, which can be wonderful or heartbreaking. Talk about it.

Religion

What role does religion take in your life and the life of your extended family?

What role will religion take in OUR life?

What role do you wish it did or didn’t have?

How might we raise children in our chosen religion(s)?

Also, Meg’s note here: Talk about this into the ground, even if you think you know what your partner thinks, or you’re not religious. You don’t want your partner to announce, “No more Christmas trees now that you’re pregnant, since we’re raising the kids Jewish,” And you to be all, “What the F*CK?” (True story, though not mine, thank God.) Or to ask your partner to pray for your dying mother only to have them volunteer “Oh! I don’t believe in prayer,” leaving you to wonder what exactly they were doing in church all those years. Faith is never simple, and it may be that those of us with overt interfaith conflicts and active religious practices, have a jump on the rest of y’all because we’re forced to discuss this stuff ad-nauseum. So join us. It’s kind of… fun… if yell-y. Now back to Alyssa.

Career

Where do you see your career going?

If you had the chance, what would you REALLY like to do? (Or, “I would love to one day, _____. What do you think about that?”)

If I lost my job today, what do you think we would do?

What if we had the opportunity to quit our jobs? What would we do?

Do you think we could ever go into business together?

Career talk doesn’t have to be completely prosaic. Discuss the fun stuff. Dream a little. It may open up opportunities that you didn’t know you had. Partners are great for helping you dream big.

Child Rearing

How do you feel about __________?

You already know you need to talk about kids; if you’re having them, how many and what happens if one of you doesn’t want them anymore? But what about the actual process of raising them? There are SO many ways to talk about children and child rearing. If that feels overwhelming, bring it up by using others as examples. Like, “Today I saw a little kid who swore and his mom popped him in his mouth. What would you have done?” Or, “My parents never went to PTA meetings. How involved do you think you’ll be?” Or “Lord Jesus, I saw another picture of Suri Cruise walking around in heels and drinking Starbucks. What do you think about that?” Parenting is not set in stone, but discussing your intentions can be enlightening and ward off future parent vs. parent discussions.

And I’m going to get yelled at for including it in this section, but talk about stuff like this about pets also. Let’s just say you should talk about the care for and raising of pretty much anything living in your household. Your “mangy dog” might be your partner’s “widdle ickle fluffer-buns”.

Location/Relocation

Where would you like to live?

How close would you like to stay to family?

Is there any place you would NOT like to live or any location deal-breakers for you?

How do you feel about travel?

Where do you see us growing old together?

Some people are very attached to their location or their hometown. Some people are very attached to not being within driving distance of their mother-in-laws. Discuss what “home” actually means to the two of you.

Finances

What happens if we don’t have any?

What if we suddenly get a lot of it?

How do we deal with family and their money crises?

How much debt do we have? What is worth going into debt for?

Who pays for what? How do we handle our paychecks?

What about our extra money? How do we spend that?

Have we started planning for retirement?

Ugh, money talks, very few people enjoy them. DO IT ANYWAY. Hiding from money discussions, like any other discussion, is bad-news-bears and only makes them worse. Except in this worse case it’s not an “affects your relationship”—worse, it’s a “I can’t pay my damn bills and have no emergency fund”—worse. Talk about it and reward yourself with booze. Or candy. Or sex. Or all three, if it was especially painful.

Sex

Okay, seriously, how often are we gonna do it?

Is there anything you won’t do?

How do you feel about alternative lifestyles?

What would you like that we haven’t done/discussed?

How do you want to grow sexually?

You’re at your most vulnerable during sex and leaving your wants and your needs up to chance leaves you open for embarrassment at the least, humiliation and heartache at the worst. Also, you and your partner are both bringing experience from previous relationships to the table. I’m not saying go into detail about previous experiences, but know that something that you have in your bag of tricks may be a no-no or a complete turn-off for the other person. You can find out in bed or you can find out over a glass of wine. Your choice.

Couples/Friends/Social Interaction

How much space do you need?

How do we greet each other after work/when waking up or when saying goodbye or goodnight?

How often do we hang out with friends?

What do we agree that we keep private about our marriage? What boundaries do we need to set?

Honestly, _____ gets on my damn nerves. Let’s deal with that for a sec.

There’s a tendency to want to cocoon with your honey and be two against the world for the rest of your life, when you’re newlywed and blissful. And then after a couple of months of that, someone is going to need some space and to talk to someone who didn’t use their toothbrush on “accident” again this morning. Figure out together how you do this. Keep in mind that your social tendencies wax and wane throughout your life, and not at the same time. How are you going to handle it when she wants to go out and you just want to watch Project Runway? Think about me time, our time, and friend time, then discuss.

The Hard Stuff

What is your biggest fear about being married?

How do you feel about divorce?

If we run into marital problems, how would we handle it?

Do you have any skeletons in your closet? (i.e. past trauma, previous relationships, family addictions, etc.)

What are you and your parents’ plan for their future care?

How do we deal with our ex’s in our lives? If this is a second marriage, How do we deal with your ex/our children/my new step-children?

How do you show love? What do I do that shows I love you?

How do we deal with extended family stress as a couple?

How do we reconcile any differences in culture?

What constitutes monogamy to us? Do we care about monogamy?

What are your ‘deal-breakers’ for our relationship?

It was pointed out that in order for a lot of these questions to be truly helpful, you should add a “Why?” at the end of them. It’s not a challenge, but a chance for your partner and you to explain yourselves fully. You’ll also get a chance to flesh out, reinforce and reconsider long held views. The fun part about discussing these things is you often find out things about yourself you never knew. I found out during one of our discussions that not only was my husband okay and willing to stay home with our future children, but that I was not okay with that and thought I should be the one to stay home. I never thought I would be the conservative one when it came to child rearing, but when faced with a possibility, my southern roots started showing. It was odd and eye-opening and more than a little jarring. But those are the best kind of discussions, right?

Consider these questions just the beginning of a long conversation you’ll have for the rest of your life. You don’t need to be able to answer them all, but just bringing them (and any questions of your own) up is the entire point.

*If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Alyssa a askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though we prefer if you make up a totally ridiculous sign-off like conflicted and rageful but deeply in love in Detroit (CARBDILID, duh). Seriously though. You guys are not making up sign off names and WE ARE DISAPPOINTED.

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