Getting married is an exciting time for a couple. There’s a whole lot of love going around, and lots of plans to be made – guest lists, venue, cake, a dress… But one thing that is often neglected in the fun and frenzy of preparation is the future of the marriage itself. When the honeymoon’s over, many couples find that they haven’t given much thought to the rest of their lives. Which is why, when marriage is on the cards, you should have some serious conversations with your partner or even seek professional help to make sure you’re ready for happily ever after.
“Effective communication is a skill that can be learnt, and sharing and understanding is the basis of marriage preparation. Couples often avoid tricky areas and they need to speak about them. Especially the ones causing conflict,” says Anne Rennie, counselling social worker at the Family Life Centre in Parkwood, Johannesburg, which offers a Marriage Preparation and Enrichment programme.
A programme like this usually focuses on resolving differences between the partners as well as looking at problem areas that could cause conflict in future.
Building a successful marriage takes time and starts before a couple gets married.
As a part of this, there are some things you should have at least begun to discuss, and be willing to explore further and hopefully resolve, as you approach your marriage. Couples considering a long-term commitment – buying a house together, for instance – should also ask these questions, whether or not they are getting married.
Do you want children? This is obviously an important starting point when two people are considering spending the rest of their lives together. Wanting children is a big deal, and people who don’t agree on this should be very cautious about taking the next steps. It’s risky to go ahead with marriage and hope your partner will change their mind.
But the children discussion doesn’t stop at yes or no – there are any number of things that should be discussed, like when to have them, how many, what level of financial security is required before they are conceived, whether one of you can and will take time off to raise them, how they will be cared for if not, and what kind of schooling you both believe will be best.
What is the state of your finances? Money is one of the main causes of divorce, so open communication about this tricky issue is crucial at an early stage. It’s also probably one of the hardest discussions you’ll ever have. It’s not a bad idea to start the discussion by bringing a list of assets and liabilities, and income and expenses. Some people really don’t like to discuss money and prefer not to tell their partner what they earn. This is not a healthy approach to a marriage, because every partner has a right to know what their joint financial situation is, regardless of whether you are getting married in or out of community of property.
Once you have a clear understanding of both partners’ financial situation, you can make plans together. You can work out how much you want to invest or put towards retirement, how you are going to deal with debt, or what kind of house you can rent or buy, for example. These decisions can’t be one partner’s alone – you both need all the information to make informed decisions.
How involved is your family in your life? You don’t marry an individual, you marry into a family. This may be a good or a bad thing, as far as you are concerned, but it’s worth having a conversation with your partner about any future issues that may arise. Start by discussing points of conflict and emotional triggers. Work out whether batty Aunt Bertha really has to be invited to every family Christmas and consider whether you can put up with that. Mention problematic compromises that sometimes have to be made and work out whether you are both happy with those.
And of course, finance is an important aspect of the family conversation. Is it possible that you will end up supporting adult members of your family, and if so, what plans are in place for this? To what extent are you expected to support family members right away? Working out these realities will help you to write up a plan for your future, and to draw the line when expectations are impossible to meet.
What are your long-term plans? What are your dreams and your goals in life? Both of you should lay these out so that you have a sense of what your future might hold. Try to identify things that could have a particular impact on your future spouse – like taking a year off to study, or moving to another city or country, or buying a business. Of course, all of these things could change, but the point is that if there’s a plan already being contemplated, you or your partner needs to know about it.
What do you both need to work on to improve your relationship? Even though you are feeling full of optimism about the future at this stage in your life, now is the time for an honest discussion about potential problem areas in your relationship. Are you a communicator, but your partner shuts down in times of conflict? Do you need your space, but your partner is a bit clingy? Are you a social person, but your partner is an introvert? Are you a neat freak, but your partner leaves a trail of chaos in their wake? Try to raise these issues with love, with an open mind, and work out how to address them when they arise.
This area, in particular, is where a marriage preparation course can be extremely helpful in getting you to confront the problem areas that could arise.
Happily ever after Your life together is ahead of you. What kind of future you will have is in your hands. Make sure you have the difficult discussions early on, to make sure that you’re taking this step together with your eyes wide open and your minds in agreement – so your hearts can keep on doing their thing.
The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of 1Life or its employees.