Getting married – it's so exciting! There's the proposal, the ring and, of course, all the planning for the big day.
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But getting married isn't really about the wedding day – it's about the quality of the marriage that follows. So how do you get started on the right foot? We talked to Bev Behar, registered marriage and family therapist, about the top 10 most important issues couples need to discuss before getting hitched.
1. Decision-making model
Marriage is about compromise, meaning the art of negotiation is an essential skill. "Your decision-making model is vital because it indicates how egalitarian your relationship is," says Bev. "Make sure your partner agrees with you about how an ideal relationship should work. Sharing important decisions and deciding together who should decide what takes strong listening, negotiating and problem-solving skills. You may not be perfect at it, but you need to know what you're working toward."
2. Chore and task-sharing
Do you plan to take care of the laundry, while your man takes responsibility for outdoor tasks like mowing the lawn?
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Don't just assume you know how these responsibilities will be divvied up. Talk about them. "Roles in relationships have been changing for the past few decades, and gender roles differ from one family to another," says Bev. "Talking about it before marriage can give you a foundation on which to build later discussions if and when you find you aren't happy with the status quo."
Do you both want children? If so, how many?
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And once you've got your little brood, how do you intend to raise them? While you might assume that children are an obvious part of a marriage, your partner may feel differently. "Most couples talk about how many children they'd like to have and when," Bev says. "How you think children should be reared can be discussed over time as you see various families in action."
Page 1 of 2 – You might think sex is the last topic an engaged couple should discuss before getting hitched, but you'd be wrong. Find out why on page 2.
4. Religion and values
It's likely that you're marrying a person who mirrors your views on life and subscribes to the same moral code as you. But, as Bev points out, religion and values are important to discuss because people often take these issues much more seriously after marriage than before, and extremely seriously once they have children. "You and your partner may both feel differently after you have children but at least you will have a foundation on which to build your later discussions," she says. "You and your partner can't hold each other to what you said before if it no longer fits. But you can continue the discussion. Be flexible."
5. Connection to extended family
Will Christmas Eve be spent with your family and Christmas Day with his? While these little details might not seem important now, they can become an enormous source of conflict with extended families if not everyone feels like they're getting their fair share of your time. "How much devotion you have to your extended family may cause conflict in the future, if you haven't accepted the importance of your partner's connection with his family, or he yours," cautions Bev. "It's best to assume that families are demanding and peculiar, and learn how to manage them."
"Career paths often change over time, so you want to know that your partner is going to respect your need to make decisions about yours with his input and respect, and expect your input on his," says Bev. "Look for a flexible, sharing and respectful attitude."
Sex shouldn't be a topic that you can't discuss freely and frankly with your spouse. Be open, honest and always ready to communicate on this subject. "Watch for a respectful, sharing and flexible attitude about sex," Bev says. "Make sure the two of you can talk about sex comfortably, because sex that's never talked about can easily become unsatisfying and unsuited to one or both of you."
Is one of you a spender and the other a saver? Money troubles plague many couples and it's important to discuss this aspect of your relationship before it spins out of control. Agree on budgets and debt-reduction schedules that suit both of your needs.
9. Time together and apart
Do you envision yourself spending Saturday nights snuggling with your honey on the couch, watching movies and enjoying quality time together? Your partner may have a different idea about how to spend Saturday nights. Discuss these things and don't fall into the trap of making assumptions about your partner's preferences. This can lead to unnecessary disappointment.
10. Alcohol, drugs and gambling
Last but definitely not least: addiction. By the time you decide to spend your life with your partner, it's likely you're well aware of his or her proclivity for certain things. If any of these things is an addiction or has the potential to become one, discuss how you're going to handle this as a couple. Discuss whether one or both of you should attend counselling and be sure that this is something you agree you can tackle together.
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