Sometimes I wish people would have taken the time to express their reservations about my relationship before I got married. I don’t know if it would have made a difference, but it would have been easier to hear their concerns before the fact. This is me trying to extend that favor to you.
If this is starting to sound like a relationship column given last week’s post, don’t worry. Talking about relationships is critical, because deciding who you marry is one of the three most important financial decisions you will make in your lifetime.
No, this article did not come exclusively from my own experience. I secured the permission from friends to share their experiences anonymously.
Consider the Source
Despite the stack of books I’ve read on relationships, I do not claim to be an expert.
In spite of my ability to listen well, I do not claim to be a counselor.
But the bigger question is this: Why would you want to read the advice of someone whose marriage failed?
You would think the people most savvy about relationships are those who have been married for decades. In my experience, the reality is more blended than we care to admit. I’ve spoken with people who claim to have never fought with their spouse in twenty years of marriage. I have also spent time with people who have fought with their spouse for the better part of half a century. They are still together, because as Billy Joel sang:
“Yes they’re sharing a drink they call loneliness, but it’s better than drinkin’ alone.”
I believe there is something to learn from those who are succeeding and those who learned from their mistakes. The point is not to discourage you from getting married. My only goal here is to get you to ponder a few questions before you take this major step.
How Do They Make You Feel?
Your friends and family can express their reservations all they want. In the end though, the decision to go through with it is completely up to you. After the ceremony, you are the one going home with them and experiencing the day to day with them.
- How does your body react when someone mentions their name?
- What words do you use when describing your significant other?
- What goes through your head before you see them?
- What does your stomach do when you think of life with this person twenty years from today?
- How would you describe their support of your future goals?
- How would you describe their support of your friendships?
- How do they handle things when things get tough?
- How will you manage the relationship when life gets tough?
- What will you do when the love is not as passionate?
- How do they express jealousy?
- What constitutes infidelity?
Thousands of poetic lines have been devoted to the battle between your heart and your head. Very little thought seems to be given to your gut; however, your body is one of the most accurate barometers of a healthy relationship. Your level of mental and physical relaxation after the initial rush of dating will tell you plenty about the longevity of your relationship.
Check the barometer when things are in a state of neutral. If you assess your feelings shortly before having sex, or shortly after having a fight, the needle is not going to give you an accurate reading.
How Do They Apologize?
You can tell a lot about a person’s character by the degree to which they acknowledge their mistakes. The most visible expression of remorse is through an apology.
- What typically prompts them to apologize?
- How generally satisfied are you with their apologies?
- Where do they place the burden of responsibility for the offense?
- What kind of pattern are their offenses creating?
- How long does it take them to apologize?
Sometimes the apology may not be offered with words. It’s possible they feel so thoroughly ashamed about what they did that the words may not immediately come, but if this is true, what actions are they taking to show you they feel sorry?
Don’t give the offending partner a persistent pass; we all need to learn to put into words what we did wrong and what we will do to avoid making the same mistake, but understanding a person’s silent language is just as important as understanding their spoken words.
If apologizing does not come naturally to them, are you going to be okay with this?
How do their financial behaviors fit yours?
Fights about money are the second leading cause for divorce, behind infidelity. The three major leading causes for financial friction are: incompatible priorities, unforeseen major expenses, and secret spending.
- How do you each approach joint accounts?
- Who will pay the monthly bills?
- Who will handle retirement planning?
- How do you each approach credit cards?
- How will you handle the debt you each bring into the marriage?
- How do you both feel about prenups?
- When will you consult each other about major purchases?
- What are your shared financial goals?
- What are your individual financial weaknesses?
- How will you compromise on financial disagreements?
- How will you handle expenses involving friends and family?
- Where will you live?
- What factors did you guys consider in setting a budget for your wedding?
Interestingly, your partner’s approach to planning the wedding will tell you a lot about their personality and their financial aptitude. If they are being unreasonable about what you feel are minor details, buckle up.
It is never too early to set financial expectations. Even during the dating phase, if one party appears to be relying too much on the other to pick up tabs, there’s an imbalance that needs to be addressed. If one of you is in school, unemployed, or otherwise unable to contribute for a legitimate reason, you should be looking for other ways to make contributions to the relationship. Don’t let your partner develop resentment or run the risk of having them feel taken advantage.
Financial incompatibility is not hard to spot. We all have weaknesses, but if you would rather eat out and your partner would rather cook, if you prefer materials but your partner would rather have experiences, you’re going to have to learn to compromise.
Create protected time. Sit down, and talk about the various financial scenarios where money will play a key role. If you plan on going back to school, now is the time to put the possibility on the table and talk through what that will look like. If your plan is to retire early, now’s a good time to discuss this too.
How will family influence your marriage?
You know that stereotype about spouses who dread the mother-in-law coming for a visit? I can’t say I can relate. I absolutely loved my parents-in-law when I had them, but the stereotype of in-laws exists for a reason.
- Where and how will you spend major holidays?
- How often will you see immediate and extended family?
- How will you handle parents who want to tell you how to parent?
- How do you each feel about getting involved in family drama?
- How do you each feel about family getting involved in your drama?
- Where do furry relatives fit in your master plan?
How do you guys feel about children?
Most issues will lend themselves to common ground. The question of children is not quite so forgiving. You are either both on the same page about having children, or you are not. You can’t decide to have half a child.
Well, I suppose you could compromise by substituting children with pets, but people who want children are usually adamant on the point. Do not wait until you are married to talk about your feelings on the subject.
- How many children do you each want?
- What happens if you can’t conceive?
- What kind of education should your children receive?
- What parenting principles do you see yourselves upholding?
- Who, or what, influenced your belief in these principles?
- How will you each discipline?
- How will you handle disagreements about rewards and consequences?
- If you’re both religious, in what faith will the children be raised?
Oh, that’s a perfect transition to…
How do their spiritual values fit yours?
Yes, most of this has to do with church; however, a good portion of it also has to do with your daily behavior.
- How do you both feel about sex?
- What about strong language?
- How do you each feel about violence in multimedia?
- What do you each find offensive?
- What are spiritual practices you each find necessary as part of a routine?
- How do you both approach prayer?
It’s not just a matter of spiritual agreement. It’s also a question of devotion. If you’re both Catholic, but only one of you believes in confession in preparation for Communion, would this create a rift?
Never get married to someone with the intent to convert them to your faith.
Never get married to someone and join their faith for the sake of harmony. Adjusting your spiritual views for someone else’s benefit will only create discord.
How do they treat strangers?
I recently stopped by my building’s front desk to pick up a package. I’d gotten an alert the night before. The concierge couldn’t find the package even though she had been the one to enter the delivery into the system.
She says to me, “So what happened to the package between last night and now?”
I thought to myself: Isn’t that your job to answer?
I chose not to get upset. I chose to believe it would turn up. After all, it’s never happened before, but this is the sort of scenario that could test a person’s patience.
A couple years ago while apartment hunting, I watched this guy lose his head because the leasing office hadn’t replaced his mailbox key. The guy resorted to yelling and making an ass of himself even though the front desk had been dutifully collecting and holding his mail for him. I did not wind up choosing that building, not because of the buffoon, though I admit the incident did not make a great impression. I wonder how a prospective fiancé would have felt had they witnessed this guy behaving this way.
Considering your own future spouse:
- How have you seen them treat servers when a food order was made the wrong way?
- How do they handle people who cut them off on the road?
- How do they interact with uncooperative customer service on the phone?
- How do they describe the relationship with their supervisor at work?
- How would you describe the relationship with their parents?
- How do they handle their end of a disagreement with family and friends?
By the way, the missing package showed up the next morning. Because I go out of my way to establish a friendly rapport with all the staff in my building, I have a better chance of having my issues resolved.
What behaviors are already driving you crazy?
There are areas where we should find compromises. My nerves are given a good workout when people leave half full cups around the apartment. If you’re done drinking, dump it and wash it!
Would I break up with someone over half full cups? Logic says we should patiently overlook such offenses, but the thing about resentment is that if a separate, more serious, issue accumulates enough strength, these minor points are going to be amplified. It’s best to point out what’s bothering you during the courtship so the marriage does not begin with quiet irritations.
- What did you used to find cute that you now find obnoxious?
- What is the most embarrassing thing they ever did that still resonates with you now?
- What do you do that drives them crazy in an annoying kind of way?
- What behaviors are quietly telling you this is a red flag?
My advice: Compile a list of questions that most concern the both of you of marriage into an email. Send them to your future spouse. Both of you write down your responses, and then exchange the responses with one another. Do not read each other’s responses until you each have their answers to avoid the remote possibility of influence.
Do not use the exercise above as a substitute for premarital counseling.
This is not the definitive questionnaire on premarital considerations. I didn’t talk about politics, for example, but political compatibility is just as essential as financial. You do not both have to be Republican to enjoy marital bliss, but if your spouse is of a different political ideology, you’re going to have to exercise mutual respect.
Yet, I hope these points have given you something to think about before you seal your love in a legal contract. If you discover you are not compatible with each other, It is better to pull out now than it would be to go through the emotional and legal mess that is a divorce.
I am by no means perfect. Off the top of my head, I can tell you that when I grieve, I grieve alone. I sometimes have a tendency to fix than I do to listen. I often think more about the finances and logistics of a relationship than I do the romance. My fuse is long. When it flares, it burns hot but burns quick. These are things I would want a future bride to know about me. If my first marriage taught me anything, it is the importance of laying ourselves out in all our flaws in order to make sure our partner is making an informed decision. Marriage is as much a risk for them as it is for you.
If you are in doubt, wait. Don’t let anyone pressure you into getting married before you are ready: not your partner, your family, church, age, or societal standards. I would never advocate you swing for 100%, but I do want you to feel as confident as possible when you exchange your vows. You can always get married again down the road if this one doesn’t work out, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t plan for this to be your last.
Do you have any questions? What advice would you pass along if you’re already married? Please make use of the comments!