Thursday, May 1, 2014

3 + 1 Questions to Ask (and Answer) Before You Get Married

Annie and Wess Willis, because marriage is super fun with the right person.
As promised during my wedding rant, here is my brief list of what questions you and your partner should ask and answer before you get married in order to start laying the groundwork for a successful marriage.

The Wolfe's proving that when it's right,
nothing can stop you. (Not even crutches.)
Do you want to get/be married? Are you sure? Why?
This one may seem obvious, but it isn’t for everyone. Almost everyone has worries and nerves before they make any major commitment, but there is a difference between nerves and misgivings. If you’re not sure you want to be with this person for the rest of your life, you shouldn’t make that commitment. If you’re not sure that you want to be married at all for one reason or another, you shouldn’t make that commitment. It’s not fair to you, and it’s not fair to your partner. You need to be willing to be all in on this, or you’re setting yourself up for difficulties in the future.

Regarding the “why”… if you can’t articulate why you want to get (and be) married, then you haven’t really thought it out. Also, for the record, “Because I love them” is not a good enough reason. It’s a good start, but it isn’t good enough in and of itself. I love Sprecher’s Root Beer, but I haven’t decided to enter into a long-term commitment with it. I love my friends, but I’m not marrying them. Love is great, arguably the greatest thing in the world, but it isn’t always clear and it isn’t always enough.

I have my own ideas about what the best answer to “Why do you want to get married?”. I’m not, however, going to share them because I don’t want anyone to just glom on to that answer. Instead, I will tell you some answers that I know aren’t good enough:

Ashley and Brad, another couple who did,
and do, the work. One of my favorite couples.
Because I love him/her.

Because s/he really wants to get married.

I’ve always known I wanted to get/be married.

We’ve been together for a long time…

I want to stay together…

It’s time for me to settle down.

Because now that we can…

That’s a start, but it is, by no means, an exhaustive list of all the less-than solid or realistic reasons to get married. Marriage takes work and sacrifice. It takes commitment and compromise. It’s not something that you do because it seems like the next step, because other people want it, or even because you love someone. If you get married for those reasons then you’re not doing yourself any favors and, in the long run, you’re not doing your partner any favors either. This is something both partners have to WANT to do… otherwise one, and likely eventually both, parties are going to start to feel trapped and possibly resentful, and that is going to lead to all sorts of problems.

Don’t pressure your partner, either. It might seem like a good idea for your relationship but, trust me, you’re better off never being married than being married to someone who doesn’t want to be married.

And a quick note about the last bad reason I wrote… Now that more and more states are finally embracing the understanding that same-sex marriage is an equal/civil rights issue and that committed and stable couples, regardless of their sex or gender mixture, are the foundation of solid and successful communities, opportunities are opening up to people who have been denied those opportunities for a very long time. I am of the opinion that that is wonderful. That said, just because you CAN do a thing, doesn’t necessarily mean that you SHOULD do a thing. That’s just yet another way that same sex couples are exactly like everybody else. Bottom line: If it is right for you and your partner to be married, do it and send me an announcement (or invitation, I’m happy to attended if possible, I just don’t want to be the person who gets all pushy about it). If not, then don’t.

Zoey and Hadley, Rocking the Maroon and Gold
Do you want kids? If so, how do you envision parenting? What do you see as the role of each parent? Do you have any strong feelings about any aspect of parenting?

People often make the mistake of mirror-imaging their partner. They think that, because they are so in love and seem to be so in sync that they must have similar views to them on everything… which leads them to not asking what would otherwise be obvious questions.

For most people, kids are a deal breaker one way or another. You can love someone to bits, but if they are adamant that they want kids when you don’t, or vice versa, that is a problem. Parenting, like marriage, is something that people have to be all in for… and it’s even more important that each parent WANT to be there because it’s not just about your feelings anymore.
Ayden, handsome as always!

Parenting is something you should talk about in advance as well. If you both have strong ideas about how to parent, then those strong ideas had best be shared or there is going to be conflict in your relationship and your children will be caught in the middle.

Similarly, you should know what each partner is willing to do as a parent. If one parent isn’t willing to do some part of the work, then the other partner will have to pick up the slack. You will have to balance out the work, or accept that one of you is going to be working harder. If that’s okay with you, that’s fine. If not, you need to address it early and come to an agreement. If you can’t come to an agreement, then you need to reevaluate your willingness to be a parent, and that could lead all the way back to whether or not this is the right person for you to be marrying.

What are your thoughts about money and finances?

Financial matters are easily one of the most stressful aspects of the average person’s life. Until we live in a non-monetary based society (which, I believe, will require replicators – so keep evolving those 3D printers science!), we are all going to have to deal with the question of where money is coming from and how to budget it. In a marriage, people need to agree on how they are going to manage their finances or there is going to be conflict.

With regards to finances, I am a person that thinks that there are three main approaches. They are: Joint Finances; Yours, Mine, and Ours; and Independent Finances. Each of these has benefits and drawbacks. They all have questions that have to be asked and answered. For example, what are you going to do if one partner loses their income? How is that doing to impact your financial strategy? If one of you is working and the other is home, how does that impact both what is spent and what is expected on the part of each partner (i.e. if one of you is working out of the home, is the partner at home expected to do more of the chores? If so, which ones are most important to each of you?) These are questions to consider BEFORE you are in difficult circumstances, if at all possible.

You also need to you know partners spending/saving style. It also helps to know your own. Francis Bacon said that, “money is a great servant, but a bad master”. I think that is dead on. As I see it, money is a tool that you use to acquire various possessions – both tangible and intangible. (I’ll be writing more about this in the future.) As with any finite resource, you have to think carefully about how you wish to use it because once it is gone, it is gone. If one partner wants to spend and the other wants to save, then you have to understand why and what compromises you are going to make. If you can’t come to a compromise that feels fair to everyone involved, then you are going to have a difficult time.

Finances are tricky, because they are about a lot more than just money. Issues of trust, equality, fairness, entitlement, security, and all sorts of other complicated ideas are involved. If one of you would rather spend money on a certain product or experience and the other, instead, prefers not to spend so that they can feel more financially secure, that is something you have to work out. If one of you spends disproportionately more than the other, or if one of you works more than the other, or if one of you earns more than the other – then you’re going to have to decide if you’re both okay with that or not. If not, then you need to work out a solution. If you don’t, then you’re going to be fighting about a lot more than money and, when that happens, you need to stop and identify what emotions are involved for each of you.

What role do you see your family playing in your/our life going forward?

Kids, finances, and family – those are commonly understood to be the three main sources of conflict in a marriage. Family issues can be especially difficult because the feelings and preferences of others (beyond the two of you) are also involved. The more people are involved, the more difficult it is to make everyone happy. At some point, you are each going to have to make decisions about which person you are doing to please and which person you are going to disappoint. At some point, you are going to have to decide between your partner’s preferences and someone else’s. This is true in the very best circumstances.

Not all circumstances are the best circumstances. If, for example, one of you has a family member who doesn’t like the other partner, things are going to get difficult. Depending on the difficulty levels of the people involved, it might get very difficult. I strongly caution against frequently asking your partner to be the one who compromises and/or is disappointed. My best advice is this, try to keep your partner out of situations where they have to choose sides – and make it very clear to anyone who forces side-choosing situations that you will always choose your partner’s side. (People are a lot less likely to put you in to situations like that if they know going in that they are very unlikely to be happy with the outcome.) Find out, too, if your partner is willing to make the same commitment and stand firmly by it, because if they aren’t/don’t you’re going to be forced to make a lot of compromises and choices – and your feelings will be hurt. The more it happens, the more your relationship is going to be hurt, and it isn’t a hurt that is easy to brush aside.

Certain family issues have always been the number one source of conflict and pain in my marriage, and I am still trying to figure out the best way to deal with those issues. Things have, glacially slowly, gotten better, but 14 years into my relationship it has far from gone away. It is for this reason that I don’t feel like I can offer much more useful advice, but if you need someone to listen and relate, I’m pretty good at that. What I can tell you is that you need to think very seriously about what you are willing to accept and/or deal with… and then you need to lay that out for your partner and decide whether or not it is really worth the trouble.  I, for one, have never questioned my decision to marry my husband, but I have often wished that certain things didn’t have to be so very difficult.

That’s it, those are the big 3 plus 1. The big three are, of course, children, money, and families. The additional one is whether or not you should get married at all – which is a question that I don’t think enough people really consider at all.

There are, actually, a LOT more questions that I think you should ask, but this is a blog post, not a book. I will, most certainly, write about other such questions in the future, but, for now, I recommend that, if you are thinking about getting married, that you look into pre-marital counseling and find as many sources of questions to ask BEFORE you’re married as you can. Then actually ask those questions and have frank discussions about them. Those discussions are the groundwork for a solid and successful marriage, both because you’ll come to agreements and because you’ll be learning how to communicate. The more time you put in, the better off you will be. (Or, worst case, you’ll realize that you shouldn’t get married. That might hurt but, I assure you, it won’t hurt as badly as divorces usually do.)

What do you think? What questions should people ask before they get married? Please share your ideas in the comments or on the Facebook Page.

Don't forget to check out this week's Cause: Kristel's Run for Clean Water

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