Every so often a couple comes in to see me for a Pre-marital Checkup. My thoughts are that after the engagement is announced and wedding plans are underway, this might be like locking the barn door after the horse is out and gone. Perhaps not. However, it’s never too early in a serious relationship to review some of the major issues which can derail it and check compatibility of beliefs and expectations. It’s never too late in the middle of a relationship either. These “How are we doing?” discussions from time to time may prevent unpleasant quarrels in the future.
Dr. Tina Tessina, one of my favorite relationship advice writers, published a book called Money, Sex and Kids which I often recommend to couples. While these are certainly topics that require discussion for any two people contemplating a life together, I always comment that I would have added a few more issues to be counted among those “biggies”.
Following are some questions to discuss on several major topics. Any agreement made can be “for now” and open for discussion in the future … AND only be broken by renegotiating a mutual agreement.
Money: Will there be separate accounts? How much can each spend without consulting the other? Will there be a budget? How much is to be put away each month for major purchase such as buying a house or taking a trip.
Sex: What are the preferences of each of you as to time, place, spontaneity, planning, frequency, and specific activities. Do not expect to agree with your partner on everything. Be open to exploring and be direct in conveying your wants.
Family: I choose this word to cover not only any family the two of you may create and the timing of that, but the family each of you comes from. I find the family of origin – how many times they visit or you do, phone calls to and from them, where you spend the holidays, how much you share with any of them about your private life and how involved they are in yours – to be major issues for many couples, married or not. Agree on some basic rules and try to be gracious and flexible when others’ need intrude.
Exclusivity: Many couples make the mistake of assuming the two of you are on the same page until he watches porn or she flirts at a party and someone calls either of these cheating. Define clearly what is okay and what is not in your coupling. There is no one right way. Open relationships, with agreements, are likely to be just as successful as monogamous ones can be.
Time: Very few people think this a necessary topic to discuss until it becomes a stumbling block: “You spend too much time with your friends” or “Why are you always at home in the evenings? I need some time alone.” In this hectic modern life there are many claims on your measly 24 hours like rest, work, recreation, couple bonding, family duty, civic responsibilities, maintaining friendships, etc. Talk about your wishes. See where possible conflict may lie and see what you can do to accommodate to your partner’s needs when they differ from yours.
Beliefs: This is about more than whether one or both will be attending worship services and, if so, where, or even a belief in a deity. This is about what you hold dear in life, your guiding principles. Is honesty always the best policy? Does love conquer all? Share some of the important words you live by and see what your partner has to say about hers/his. Are they compatible?
I have seen two of the least likely to be compatible people make a go of their relationship and I have seen couples who part over some niggling nonsense like the “right” way to make the bed. Dissension that breaks a relationship is rarely about the subject of the quarrels but always about the manner of resolving them or the need to get one’s way and be right rather than quarrel-free.
As I said before, perfectly happy people can disagree on many things. Some happy couples have periodic “discussions” about the same disagreements their whole life together. If you can refrain from name calling and respect your partner’s decisions without ridiculing two people can usually find acceptable arrangements. If not, don’t go blithely on hoping she or he will change in the future. That’s possible but not to be counted on. Deal with the differences that seem important and come to some acceptable accommodation “for now”. If that’s not possible, give a good think about the future of this relationship and whether you want to keep facing the same problem. There is no shame in seeking a counselor for help in moderating your differences.