When people are crazy in love, they usually don’t think about the seemingly mundane issues that could flag problems with long-term compatibility. Yet, these matters deserve serious contemplation and discussion, because they can make or break a marriage.
Before your own wedding bells start chiming, take a long, hard look at the questions below. Remember that while many marriages can retain the qualities of a love affair, few love affairs are capable of becoming healthy, happy marriages. Is yours?
What does “being married” mean to each of you? Are your views compatible?
In your mind’s photo album you probably carry a blurry image of your ideal marriage. Maybe that picture looks suspiciously similar to mom and dad’s union—or perhaps it’s the complete opposite. Either way, if you dig deep and are truthful with yourself, you’ll see what commitment “looks like” to you. You’ll know what you expect of your partner, what sort of role you anticipate playing in the relationship, and the one you need-want-expect your partner to play. The more difficult question is: does your partner know all this, too? Does he or she have compatible views?
You needn’t feel badly about having a secret agenda—everyone does. Problems only arise if you refuse to acknowledge it or continue to keep fantasies and expectations from your other half. If the terms of your desired marriage aren’t spelled out, they’ll eventually come to light anyway, and one or both of you may be shocked to realize that you’ve been living in two different worlds, with two different sets of presumed agreements.
Another way to frame this issue is to ask, “why am I getting married?” Make a list of all the reasons you each want or need to be married vs. continuing a relationship as unmarried partners. What benefits do you seek from marriage that you imagine you couldn’t obtain any other way? Do these relate to finances, children, fidelity, pleasing your parents, or maybe fear of being alone? No matter how sensible or ordinary your reasons seem, you need to spell them all out on paper, then compare lists with your partner. You want to be absolutely certain that the two of you are on the same page and can support each other’s concepts of marriage. Severely incompatible views warn of dire problems ahead, and it’s far better to address the issues early, rather than make a mess that’s more painful to clean up the longer you wait. Even though most people do change somewhat over time, you want to start out together with the confidence that comes from knowing you have the ability to articulate your marital agendas, and that they are complimentary.
How Well Do You Know Each Other?
The Internet is chock full of sites containing lists of questions that couples are meant to address before marriage. I urge you to do a little research and pull up some of these lengthy lists. Questions range from the most basic–for example, who will take out the garbage or diaper the baby–to serious values concerns, such as how you approach religion and finances. General topics include sex, money, children, family, hobbies, passions, purpose, roles, friendships, food, and just about anything else you can imagine. These questions don’t just test how much you already know about each other, they help you gauge how much you probably need to learn—about your partner and yourself.
While it isn’t necessary to be in total agreement or share all of the same goals, it is necessary to be able to discuss these topics thoroughly. It’s especially crucial to note which subjects lead to volatility. Trouble with one of the three core relationship issues—money, sex and how you spend your time—point to serious problems that will undoubtedly affect your future. If you find that most topics lead to fights or someone invariably shuts down or stomps off in a huff, that’s a glaring sign that reads: not ready for prime time!
Does marriage mean sacrificing too much?
If tying the knot means you’ll need to give up a lot, that’s another major warning sign. If you fear having to make too many sacrifices, then you need to discern whether your worries are based on marriages you’ve observed (like your parents’) or whether you’re already making profound sacrifices for the sake of your relationship. In that case, it’s only logical to assume that marriage would add to the burden. Perhaps your partner is emotionally or sexually demanding, possessive, or pressures you to carry a larger share of responsibilities as a provider than you’re able to shoulder. These and similar problems should be taken seriously. Giving easily to another is only possible when you feel you’re also receiving enough. Partners may give in quite different ways, but both need to feel that the return on their investment of energy and resources is well worth their expenditure.
There is an axiom about happy marriages that goes something like this: “partners shouldn’t aim for a 50-50 division of efforts; rather, each person should strive to give 100% of themselves.” Yet, if partners aren’t giving their best before marriage, that won’t “magically” change afterward.
Are you sexually compatible?
Having great sex doesn’t guarantee a happy marriage – but having lousy sex guarantees trouble. What about mediocre sex? Well, you can work on that—but only if you’re both open about your desires and complimentary in preferred roles, fantasies, and intensity of libido. This is a crude reality that few experts are willing to acknowledge. Instead, sexual disparities before marriage are often handled with kid gloves, coupled with platitudes about how love and communication are all it takes to bring two people together in the bedroom. While I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, I have to tell you that love isn’t enough. Even communication isn’t enough. You need an equal willingness to learn about sex, explore your own sexuality, and experiment freely together. Having relatively similar sex drives helps, too. If your appetites are dramatically different, that disparity will only become more pronounced once you’re “legal.”
Lacking these key attributes, you probably aren’t ready to get married. When couples ignore these issues, here’s what typically happens: the more sexually expressive partner will expect the other to “open up” once they’re wed; the more conservative partner will expect the other to back off and accept her/him as is. In time, both will grow progressively more angry or resentful when their expectations are foiled–creating yet another set of obstacles to sexual pleasure and marital bliss.
To put it simply: if your sex life is a problem already, expect that it will become more troublesome after you’re married. My advice? Fix your sex life before you get hitched–then, walk down the aisle as a sexually enlightened couple, happily anticipating greater delights ahead.