By Taylor Roach – MA, Intern & Stephanie Camins, LPC
Are you thinking about or preparing for marriage with your partner?
How ‘ready’ do each of you feel to take on this lifelong commitment?
Do you know your partner’s process when it comes to disagreements?
Are you aware of your own reactions to challenges that inevitably come up in a relationship and how that affects your partner?
You may have already spent hours preparing and dreaming about what your wedding day will look like, but how much time have you spent on preparing and dreaming about what your marriage will look like? Our brains innately place higher importance on the more immediate future rather than the long-term future. However, because a marriage lies heavily within the long-term future, it may be crucial to force yourself to consider the visualization of the important, challenging details of a life together. Perhaps a therapist trained in guiding couples through this process is the perfect place to begin.
Here are ten discussion topics to get you started, but keep in mind that the help of a premarital therapist will give you and your partner the best results:
1. Discuss the important topics before marriage
While marriage is meant to bring a lot of growth and learning throughout the process, it is important to acknowledge topics, no matter how easy or uncomfortable, prior to making a marriage commitment. Each person has their strengths which will be important to discover and express.
Consider the topic of finances, for instance. This topic of discussion should not stop at “who is better with finances and handling the bills.” Rather, one person may be more fluent in paying the bills, but the other may be better at saving the money. Finances go beyond understanding what goes into the paperwork for paying a mortgage. Finances include the how, what, why, and more. Learning how to make decisions together now will help you make some of life’s bigger decisions down the road together in the best way.
“I want kids.” “I don’t really want kids.” When one or more of these thoughts or sentences are mentioned, discuss it. Understand that minds and hearts can change, but it will be highly crucial to proactively establish what each of you feel and think about “hot topics” such as children (how many, birth control that will work for both of you, how you will raise children: morals and religion, where to raise them: safety and schools, etc.).
Be open to understanding your partner’s perspective, including where it comes from. Now, while you are preparing for a lifelong partnership, it is the perfect time to start practicing expressing your own perspectives, emotions, and why you feel the way you do as well. It is important to dive a little deeper into your own reasoning for your thoughts and personal values at this time.
Other important topics to discuss in order to visualize your future together and before putting a ring on it: household roles and chores, sex, extended family relationships and expectations, last names, dream job goals and career obligations, and much more!
2. You may not know each other nearly as well as you might need to for a lifelong partnership
The blissful “honeymoon phase” of a relationship often happens like the blink of an eye. Every relationship has its moments of bliss. You may even have a relationship that is always blissful, but reality can then often hit hard. This idea of reality doesn’t have to always carry a negative connotation, especially if you know how to face this reality together. Even still, in many cases, the reality is better than the blissful moments (consider when you are on vacation but are just wanting to be back home and back to your routine). The important thing to understand is that reality is forever, and bliss is for a moment.
To get to know someone, you really must invest your time into this, constantly staying curious. Everyone has good and not so good parts of themselves. In time, you will learn to truly love the things your partner may not love about themselves, and also learn that you are loved for the same. If this is someone you are considering spending the rest of your life with, you will have to learn and practice the art of curiosity and consideration of what you may not already know about this person.
Though it may be difficult to fathom, you can learn something new about someone every single day. Keeping a relationship alive is a skill practiced throughout a lifetime. Can your partner hold the depth of a conversation that you are hoping for? Is your partner as “interesting” as you are hoping?
3. Understand the meaning, value, and importance of marriage
Here are some questions that you and your partner should consider and discuss when preparing for a lifelong commitment. Just like with every important decision in life, it is crucial to know why you are making the decision that you are. This ‘why’ includes multiple other factors such as why you are making this decision when you are, how you are, with whom you are.
Why are you getting married?
What is the purpose or “end-goal” for marriage for each of you? Do your meanings and purposes differ? Will this create conflict? Are you wanting to grow old, gray, fat, and wrinkly together? Can you still picture yourself being in love with this old, fat, wrinkly version of your person? What do you see in your person now that you can see being in love with long-term, regardless of impending and inevitable changes?
What does the rest of the world say about the purpose and goal of marriage? Do each of you agree with these same ideals? What do each of your families say about the importance of marriage? Do either of you come from divorced parents? Will these experiences clash for you and the value you hold to marriage?
4. Figure out your goals and values to see if they align
A fun way to do this, since everything up to this point has been pretty serious, is to create individual vision boards together (Google this fun activity if you don’t know how to). Get the creative juices flowing! Once complete, compare and contrast your vision boards. However, recognize that your visions may change over time and that you might create new visions together once married. You may also want to pursue certain visions or goals that your partner wants to. How will you change your focus and attention to these without compromising your own values and goals? It is important to be open to each other’s passions. Dream together! Now is your chance – get excited about your future together by picturing it!
5. For all you pet lovers…
Own a pet together or any other mutual investment! This will be helpful especially if you are open to having children together in the future. Owning this mutual investment together and sharing the responsibilities for it will engage you in a way that your relationship may have not already experienced before. You may even love each other more or in a different way once you intimately love or devote yourself to something else. Witnessing your partner’s love and devotion to this other creature or investment that you own together will draw you closer in a beautiful way.
6. Anticipate obstacles and challenges & decide how to address them
Life often throws curve balls at you that you may never expect. How will you manage these curve balls together? In a marriage, you are not alone in life, so learn how to lean on each other. Be realistic about situations, mourn when it’s time for mourning, but move forward together when it’s time to rebuild.
Are there important “what ifs” to consider that might be helpful to address with your partner before marriage? For example, if someone in the partnership is experiencing a job loss or prolonged unemployment, how will you handle this and work through it together? What does each of you need to get through the tough times? Often, unexpected life situations that happen last longer than a week. So, will you just need validation and comfort for the unfortunate thing that happened for a week until you will be ready to accept help to fix it?
7. Learn about the importance of being “refined by fire” in a marriage
“Like fire that purifies, relationships must also go through the fire in order to be purified.”
Who have you become? What did you do in times of trials to form you into the type of person you are today? Did you let the fire refine you or did you let it burn you? How did you react to situations that made you a stronger person?
Start setting boundaries early if needed. Perhaps one partner requires “space” more than the other. Boundaries do not necessarily mean that you are shutting someone out. They more likely mean that you are opening yourself up to growth by giving space or being aware of what is best or most appropriate for your relationship.
9. Practice verbalizing expectations and expressing needs
Although communicating about plans for the weekend is necessary and a great way to practice this skill, communication is, more importantly, verbalizing the tough things that the other person may not like to hear and the tough things that are difficult for you to tell about yourself.
10. Flexibility with change
What happens for you as a couple when things don’t go as planned or when you experience stress? Are you able to put aside pettiness? Are you demanding? Do you know how to reconnect? Here’s a great question to practice when you need to reconnect: “What do we need to do to make us better?” Before asking this question, put aside all distractions, face toward each other with your bodies, and look into your partner’s eyes no matter how disconnected you are feeling with one another.
The counseling team at Road to Growth Counseling is here to help you reach your goals.