When it comes to marriage, what you do not know can hurt you.
Whether it’s embarrassment, lack of interest or desire to preserve the mystery of romance, couples do not ask themselves some difficult questions that, according to relationship experts, can help build the foundation of a stable marriage.
In addition to looking for someone with whom they want to have children and build a safe life, those who think about marriage now expect that their partners are also their best friends and confidants. It can be difficult to live up to such expectations, which are partly Hollywood’s fault.
Of course, there are many questions that couples can ask themselves at the beginning of a relationship to be sure they are for each other, but let’s be honest: most do not.
“If you do not deal with a problem before marriage, it will touch you when you’re married,” said Robert Scuka, executive director of the National Institute of Relationship Enhancement. It can be difficult to keep secrets decade after decade, and reserving certain information before the wedding can provoke disappointment later on.
The following questions, intimate and sometimes uncomfortable, are designed to initiate honest conversations and possibly give couples the opportunity to reveal their secrets before it is too late.
1. Did your family throw away dishes, discuss problems calmly or get blocked when disagreements arose?
The success of a relationship is based on how differences are resolved, said Peter Pearson, founder of the Couples Institute. Since we are all shaped by the dynamics of our family, he said, the answer to this question will help them understand if their partner will end up imitating the conflict resolution patterns that they learned from their parents or will avoid them
2. Will we have children? And if we do, will you change diapers?
With the question of children, it’s important that you not only say what you think your partner wants to hear, says Debbie Martinez, a divorce and relationship therapist. Before getting married, couples should honestly discuss whether they want to have children. How many want? When do you want to have them? And how do they imagine their roles as parents will be? Talking about contraceptive methods before planning a pregnancy is also important, according to Marty Klain, a sexual and marriage therapist.
3. Will the experiences with our exes help us or be an obstacle?
Bradford Wilcox, the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, said research funded by his organization indicates that having many serious relationships can present a risk of divorce and diminish the quality of marriage. Raising these problems early in the relationship can help, said Dr. Wilcox. Dr. Klein said that people “hesitate to speak explicitly about their past” and may feel retroactively jealous or prejudiced. “The only way to have an intimate, productive and loving conversation is to accept that the other person had a life before being in a relationship,” he said.
4. How important is religion? How will we celebrate religious festivities, if we do?
If two people have different religions, will each person follow their religious affiliation? Dr. Scuka, executive director of the National Institute of Relationship Enhancement, has worked with couples to encourage honest discussions on this topic. In addition, couples are much more likely to experience conflicts around religious traditions when children are part of the equation, says Dr. Wilcox. If they decide to have children, they must ask themselves how they will handle the religious education of the children. It is better to have a plan, he added.
5. Is your debt my debt? Would you be willing to bail me out?
It’s important to know how your partner feels about financial self-sufficiency and if he expects the resources to separate, said Frederick Hertz, a divorce lawyer. Being honest about debts is very important. Similarly, if there is a significant discrepancy between your income and those of your partner, Dr. Scuka recommended creating a basic budget according to proportional income. Many couples are not able to talk about finances although it is crucial, he said.
6. How much is the most you would be willing to spend on a car, a sofa or a pair of shoes?
Couples should see if they are in tune with regard to financial caution or recklessness. Buying a car is a great indicator, according to Hertz. Couples can also put this question in context by asking about the things they could spend exorbitant amounts of money on, he said.
7. Can you bear to do things without you?
In forming a marriage, some people hope to maintain their independence in certain areas of their lives as they build a relationship, according to Seth Eisenberg, the president of Pairs (Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills, by its acronym in English). This means that they may not be willing to share hobbies or friends, and that can cause tension and feelings of rejection if the topic is not discussed. Couples may also have different expectations as to what “privacy” means, Klein added, and that should also be discussed. Dr. Wilcox suggested asking your partner about the time when he most needs to be alone.
9. How important is sex to you?
Currently, people expect their partner to sexually excite them for a prolonged period, an expectation that did not exist in the past, according to Eisenberg. A healthy relationship will include conversations about what everyone enjoys sex, as well as the expected frequency, said Dr. Klein. If people are looking for a different experience through sex, perhaps a negotiation will be necessary to ensure that both are satisfied.
10. How far can we go from flirting with other people? Is it okay to watch pornography?
couples should talk about their attitudes and expectations about pornography, flirting and sexual exclusivity. A couple’s agreement on these issues may change over time, and it is very likely that they will, but it is important to raise the issue quickly. Ideally, sexual exclusivity should be discussed in the same way as other day-to-day concerns so that problems can be faced before someone gets angry, he said. Dr. Pearson suggested asking your partner directly what his views on pornography are. Some people, fearful, avoid this issue at the beginning of a relationship, but Klein says that it can become a point of tension later on.