Deal Breakers: Things to Clarify Before Saying “I do.”

If I May

Note: I don’t often overtly play psychologist on this blog, but with so many of my former students getting married and lifelong friends saying “I do” for the 2nd (or um, 3rd time) I thought I’d offer up some time-tested advice. Like Billy Joel said however, “Advice is cheap you can take it from me. It’s yours to keep ‘cause opinions are free.”

“Will you marry me?”  Four little words, separately harmless, but when strung together in that particular order, endowed with the power to invoke a virtual kaleidoscope of emotions that all but chase logic away with a stick.

It’s hard to be rational when you ask or answer that question. And it’s virtually impossible to consider all the lifelong consequences that come from entering into this verbal agreement. But you should. To be truly certain in this moment of moments you’d have to consider countless “what if” scenarios all guaranteed to surgically remove any hint of romance. So you won’t. No one ever does. Instead we smile, cry, and kiss ourselves into an oblivion of the happily ever after. And that’s okay. After all, it’s our moment.

For most couples the days between “Yes” and “I do” are filled with happy phone calls and festivity planning. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you’re looking to increase the chances of long-term wedded bliss make sure you take time to talk through the big five deal breakers before mailing those invites.

  1. Kids: Hopefully you’ve discussed this one during the dating phase, but if not, make sure you’re on the same page before the big day. The key questions are: if you’ll have them, how many, and when, but don’t overlook the fine print. You won’t agree on everything, but your general views on their care, discipline, and education should align. This is especially important if you came from different backgrounds and upbringings.
  2. Family: Your discussion about extended family should go deeper than where you’ll spend the holidays. You need to openly discuss your opinions of family members and the amount of time you see yourself spending with them, especially if they are out of state. You should also clarify your individual responsibilities. For example, if one party intends to take in an aging parent (or deadbeat half cousin once removed), that commitment should be made clear from the start.
  3. Religion: This can obviously be a problem area if a husband and wife come from different faiths. However, it can also spell trouble for couples who share beliefs but differ in zeal and conviction. Before saying, “I do” be sure you can honestly respect each other’s beliefs or lack thereof. This is also the time to come to an agreement on how your children will be raised.
  4. Money: The maintenance and distribution of personal and household finances is another hot topic. With more couples getting married later in life, there is a greater chance of both parties having become accustomed to independent bookkeeping methods, investing strategies, and spending habits. A candid conversation regarding your individual monetary obligations, commitments, goals, and expectations should help establish the framework for a lifelong financial union. Once both parties are aware of and comfortable with each other’s individual position, responsible decisions can be made regarding how your earnings will be managed, saved, and spent.
  5. Sex: This one sounds like a no brainer, but it involves more than whether you find each other attractive. Going from playing the field to a life-long committed relationship can be a big move for some, so make sure you’re ready before you leap. Ongoing honesty and communication, even if it makes you vulnerable is the key to a healthy and happy physical and emotional relationship.

There are other topics to cover of course. With dual incomes a necessity for many couples, conversations must turn to the expansion of our childhood expectations regarding traditional gender roles. Simply, if both parties work, it’s important for household duties to be evenly distributed. In addition, if both are professionals, feelings on potential relocation, spouse placement and international assignments should also be explored. In the end of course, a healthy view is a long-term one. Understanding and accepting that sacrifices will be needed can only increase the joy experienced in times of good fortune.

Communication Guidelines

Open discussion is the first step toward resolving these and other potential pitfalls. Couples shouldn’t be afraid to put everything on the table. Simply be honest about your feelings, tackle each issue separately, and approach the dialogue in a positive way.

Having realistic and fair expectations about what you will accomplish in a given sitting is also instrumental in arriving at an ultimate agreement. Although the process can take time, the results are well worth the effort.

Know Your Goals

While compromise should be the ultimate watchword throughout your discussions, it is important for you to keep in mind those issues that you are not willing to compromise on. For example, if you want children and your partner does not, it may be wiser to stick to your ideals and find someone new, than sacrifice a life long dream.

In most cases however it should be possible to arrive at a middle ground. Couples need to quickly get over the “my way verses your way” mentality. Things are not always 50/50. You may give a little on one issue, nothing on another, and a lot on a third. It seems a true determination of balance can only be made when looking at the entire relationship.

Benefits of Discussion

Engaging is such pre-matrimonial discussion not only brings your closer, it sets a pattern for continued communication throughout the relationship. This reduces overall conflict, limits negative surprises, and increases the chances for a successful marriage.

Conversely, if you enter into a marriage blindly, the consequences can be disastrous. This is especially true if you find yourself forced into accepting your mate’s opposing position concerning a deal-breaking issue. To avoid the resentment that can lead to infidelity, self-sabotage, marital warfare, and ultimately divorce, take the time to actively explore these issues. For couples who find it difficult to achieve such dialogue themselves, consulting an expert for pre-marriage counseling is an alternative option.

Accepting the Truth

There comes a point, good or bad, that couples must face the actuality of their situation. This is a point beyond romance, beyond the idealistic, trifling images of our youth. It’s reality, the true nature of the person they happen to be in love with.

And so, the question comes: yes or no?

Before you answer it’s critical to face one more relationship truth. You cannot assume that the other party will change simply because you marry them. That is the kiss of death. In truth, people say things because they mean them. And though sometimes, a few have a change of heart, you shouldn’t count on it.

In the end, we are each the center of our own universe. Although someone may love you dearly, they are still their first concern and should be loyal to their ideals. A bitter truth perhaps, but truth. All relationships take work. That work is consistent compromise.

Tim Toterhi is an author, career coach, CHRO, and speaker. But mostly he’s a husband, dad, teacher and student.

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