Being in love is a wonderful feeling but staying in love takes skill and effort. Research shows that couples who stay committed and passionate about each other are good communicators. Truth be told, no topic should be off-limits for a couple considering commitment and marriage. Engaging in meaningful conversations about touchy topics such as money requires a certain amount of vulnerability and trust.
Sitting down with your partner and having many heart to heart discussions before you get engaged is important to the long-term success of a marriage. You may think you know your spouse-to-be but until you create a dialog about key topics that face married couples, you may have just skimmed the surface, and those issues may come back to bite you.
While there are no guarantees when it comes to love and marriage, the likelihood of your marriage succeeding goes way up if you can go into this union with your eyes wide open with as much information about your spouse-to-be as possible.
For instance, I used to believe that a breach of trust was something that couples could bounce back from quickly but I’ve recently learned that this isn’t always the case. In a new study of 2,175 married Brits, 20 percent of them admitted to keeping a major secret from their partner and one in four of those people stated that they worried it would end their marriage. Unfortunately, many marriages just aren’t strong enough to survive big secrets or betrayals – or even a series of smaller ones.
My current view is that finding healthy ways to be vulnerable, expressing your thoughts and feelings, and being honest with your partner, is the best way to build a trusting relationship. It’s important to start this type of open dialog before marriage if you want to avoid divorce. Vulnerability is the glue that holds a relationship together over the long run.
For instance, Katie neglected to inform her soon-to-be spouse Dan that she had a close friendship with a male co-worker, and that they often ate lunch together and shared confidences. They were former lovers who decided to be platonic. She explains: “I don’t really see a reason to tell Dan about Steven because we’re just friends. I just didn’t want him to judge me harshly or leave because he’s very jealous and possessive – but I’m not willing to give up my relationship with Steven.”
When I attempted to explore with Katie the reasons why honesty and vulnerability are essential to a trusting, long-lasting relationship, she put it this way: “I guess I never saw myself as being dishonest but I do feel guilty.” At this point, I asked her to consider that mistrust erodes the quality of any relationship and that keeping crucial information secret from Dan isn’t a way to build trust and intimacy with him. During our sessions, Katie realized that keeping secrets was a form of self-sabotage because she loves Dan and wants to build a future with him. In the end, she realized that keeping secrets was driving a wedge between them and wearing down their ability to love and trust each other.
Like Katie, many of my clients fear being vulnerable and discussing tough topics with their soon-to-be-spouses. Perhaps they’ve convinced themselves that their significant other simply can’t handle the truth and might abandon them. While it is true that some partners will feel angry, hurt, and betrayed when they learn their love interest has done something unacceptable to them (or has goals they don’t share), honestly confronting issues is the best way to foster trust and intimacy with a partner.
8 essential topics to discuss before marriage:
1. How do you like to spend free time, vacations, and holidays? While these topics may seem mundane, being on the same page regarding expectations for holiday celebrations, weekend time, and vacations can reduce conflict. If your needs are extremely different, discuss how you feel about compromise or accepting the possibility of spending time apart.
2. What is your typical way of resolving conflict? It’s important to find out if he or she is likely to go into a shell when conflict occurs or do they tend to process things and/or want to hash things out? Don’t assume that your partner has good anger management skills. Do they tend to stonewall or withdraw from conflict — or see it as an opportunity for growth?
3. Have the money talk. Although many people find talking about money uncomfortable, it’s important to discuss credit scores, spending habits, and how he/she sees you managing finances. Don’t expect them to change their mindset about money drastically or you might be setting yourself up for disappointment.
4. Do you aspire to have children — if so, how many? I’m always surprised at how many couples avoid the crucial topic of how many kids they want and/or try to conform to their partner’s expectations while silently disagreeing. For instance, if you want a big family and your soon-to-be spouse only wants a singleton, this can set the stage for a hotbed of disappointment and resentment.
5. What are your career goals? This conversation should include how many hours a week he/she plans to work, possibilities for advancement or getting transferred, and evening and weekend responsibilities. It could also include possible financial stressors. For instance, marrying someone who plans to return to college could put a big strain on your budget.
6. How do you feel about infidelity? For some people, cheating is a deal breaker because he/she doesn’t believe they could rebound from this form of betrayal. While others might forgive a one night stand but not repeated betrayals. Sometimes couples have differing desires in terms of frequency of sex that isn’t always apparent in the early phase of their relationship. Having an honest discussion about what a faithful relationship looks like for you and clarifying expectations can save you from a lot of heartache later on.
7. Do you believe in marriage counseling? While couples therapy and relationship coaching may seem desirable to you, you can’t assume your partner is of a like mindset. Some people believe that sharing private matters with a professional is off-limits, while others may see it as a lifesaver. Most of us weren’t born with stellar communication skills and a trained therapist can be an amazing resource if you want to strengthen your marriage. However, couples counseling is only effective is both parties agree and are fully committed to the process.
8. What is your vision for your future? Where do you see yourself in five years? Twenty years? You don’t have to create a roadmap for your entire life but put your desires on the table in a realistic way if you want to strengthen your bond as a couple. For instance, if you plan to pursue a career that requires long hours or travel, make your needs be known.
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Terry is pleased to announce the publication of Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-lasting Relationship (Sourcebooks).