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 of entering into this verbal agreement. But you should. To be truly confident 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 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 want 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 views on their care, discipline, and education should align. These factors are especially important if you come 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 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 be problematic 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 agree on how you will raise your children.

4. Money

Maintaining and distributing personal and household finances is another hot topic. With more couples marrying later in life, both parties are more likely to 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 position, they can make responsible decisions regarding how 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. Even if it makes you vulnerable, ongoing honesty and communication are the keys to a healthy, happy physical and emotional relationship.

Other Key Issues

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. If both parties work, the couple should distribute household duties evenly. In addition, if both are professionals, the couple should explore their feelings on potential relocation, spouse placement, and international assignments.

In the end, 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 positively approach the dialogue.

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 essential to remember those issues 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 to sacrifice a lifelong dream.

However, in most cases, arriving at a middle ground should be possible. Couples must quickly overcome the “my way versus 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 in pre-matrimonial discussion brings you closer and sets a pattern for continued communication throughout the relationship. This reduces overall conflict, limits negative surprises, and increases the chances of a successful marriage.

Conversely, the consequences can be disastrous if you enter a marriage mindlessly. This is especially true if you feel 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. Consulting an expert for pre-marriage counseling is an alternative option for couples who find it difficult to achieve such dialogue.

Accepting the Truth

There comes a point, good or bad, when couples must face the actuality of their situation. This point is 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 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 people will change their minds on a big issue, 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 a truth nonetheless. 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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