Stacy D. Phillips
I love a good wedding, and even more than that, a strong, healthy marriage where both parties feel fulfilled and share control. I am going to two weddings in August, including a COVID-delayed wedding where the couple has already gotten married and had a child but are finally able to celebrate with family and friends, and the other one a new wedding.
After two years of pent-up demand due to COVID-related cancellations, rescheduling, and waiting, 2022 is predicted to be the busiest wedding season in many years, according to The Wedding Report. A good number of these may be receptions for already married couples whose weddings were derailed in 2020 and 2021, but still signify the beginning of a lifetime commitment.
While successful wedding days take months of careful planning and coordination, many couples put surprisingly smaller effort into charting out the fundamental elements and plans for their marital relationship. Having honest pre-wedding conversations with your partner about the big subjects will not only help you gain an understanding of what the rest of your life may look like, but can help mitigate, bypass, overcome, handle, or otherwise cope with control issues that could wreck your marriage. I recommend that engaged couples have open, two-way conversations surrounding their goals and expectations for family, financials, careers, and lifestyle. Ideally, these discussions should have taken place long before the engagement.
Conversation #1: Family
Children are among the biggest, if not the biggest, topic to discuss with your future spouse. For younger couples, the obvious questions to ask each other are: Do you want to have children? How many do you want? When do you want to have them? Do you want to adopt children? Will both parents be working? Who will care for children during the day, and how? Will you use a nanny, a daycare center, have a relative care for the child, or another form of childcare? For multi-religion households, will the child(ren) be raised under both religions, one religion, or neither?
Couples should also discuss how involved each spouse’s family will be in their lives, including parents, siblings, cousins, and even ex-spouses. Will you combine celebrations of the major holidays, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah, or will you rotate your time between both sets of families? Older and not-so-old couples who have children from previous relationships will want to discuss what the expectations are for the new spouse’s role in the lives of the children. Planning a wedding by itself could force some of these family issues to come to a head sooner than expected but going into a marriage with a clear understanding of family roles can help ease bumps down the road.
Conversation #2: Financials
As I more fully discuss in my book, Divorce: It’s All About Control—How to Win the Emotional, Psychological, and Legal Wars, financial issues are one of the top reasons that couples divorce. To lower the chances of surprise money issues derailing your marriage, have an honest conversation (actually more than one!) about your, and your partner’s, financial situation. How much do you make? How much do you plan to save? How much do you plan to spend? What are your financial goals? How much debt do you have and how do you plan to pay it off? Will you pay bills as they come in or on a weekly/monthly basis? Who is responsible for ensuring the bills are paid on time? Is there a certain maximum price for large purchases that can be made without speaking with each other first? When I was a newlywed, my ex and I had agreed that we had to discuss any purchases over $100—it is amazing how far the world has come since then.
Other financial questions to answer together: How will you purchase household essentials, like groceries, and the more expensive items, like cars and vacations? Will you buy items together and save together? Will you purchase a home or rent? Will you need family help to purchase a home? What will you do with separate property that is already owned?
Despite the unromantic stigmas surrounding prenuptial agreements, they should be considered if there is a wide financial disparity between future spouses. I know of married couples who keep separate accounts and write checks or Venmo each other at the end of each month for expenses. This practice is not a legal way to save money separately as your own. It can differ slightly by state, but unless there’s an express written contract transmuting community property into separate property, your salary and money you earn after you get married from the services you render is part of the marital estate even if it flows into separate accounts.
Conversation #3: Professional Goals
Because most marriages begin at or near the beginning stages of one’s career, your anticipated professional growth should be a major topic of conversation. What direction do each of you want your career paths to take? What do you expect from each other during this journey? If you have kids, who will be the primary parent getting them where they need to go or responding to any emergencies that inevitably arise? Will the advancement of one spouse’s career be emphasized over the other spouse’s career?
Understanding each other’s professional goals at the outset can help avoid power struggles and allow you the opportunity to grow together as your careers evolve.
Conversation #4: Lifestyle
A healthy conversation topic for couples surrounds how and where they want to spend their marriage together. Do you want to live in an urban, suburban, or rural area? Near family and friends? How will each of you make time to see friends? Is it understood that a certain day of the week or month is your night out with the boys or your girlfriends? Some spouses tend to be more controlling over time spent apart.
Another area where control comes into play is household chores. Is it understood that one person will do the majority of cooking and cleaning? Will tasks be evenly divided? Will you hire a housekeeper? When one of you is sick, do you prefer to be cared for or do you hate being hovered over?
For the many who are preparing to marry, I encourage you to have conversations that answer these questions together. Now is always the best time to take control of what your future looks like together.