You wouldn’t take an exam without studying beforehand. You wouldn’t run a marathon without extensive training prior to the race. It is the same with marriage: marriage preparation is key in smoothing the way for a happy, satisfying and successful wedded life. There are a lot of things to do before your marriage. Some are fun, some are not so fun, and some are downright boring. Let’s take a look at some of the more important details you should attend to before marriage.
Here is a list of things you should work on in preparation for your life as a married couple.
Tangible items-The concrete nitty gritty
You may have to or choose to have physical medical exams and blood work, to make sure both of you are healthy and fit. Some states require blood tests from the bride and groom before issuing a marriage license. You should check to see what specific paperwork—if any—is required from the state in which you will be wed. Wedding licenses and other event-specific paperwork check and double check. Research and look at the venue for the actual ceremony. You should have a pretty good idea of how big or how small you want the wedding to be, and who the guest list will include (or exclude, as the case may be. No way is Aunt Griselda attending!) Reserve the venue, officiate, reception site, select and issue invitations, etc. Pick out your caterer, menu and cake. You may want to attend a bridal fair when there is one in your area. These often take place in January, in preparation for June weddings.
Intangible items-Your dreams and hopes
1. Discuss what you imagine marriage to be
You each may have a different vision of married life, so take time to talk about how you think your combined life should be structured. Talk about chores and who does what. Do you have a preference, say, dishwashing vs. dish drying? Vacuuming vs. ironing? How do you see spending your free time? Do you enjoy the same activities, sports, hobbies? Do you want to learn more about your partner’s free time interests and will he want to learn more about yours? Do you have shared interests already and can’t imagine extending those you already have? Do you share old friends?
2. Careers, roles, and other nuts and bolt
How important is your career path to you and how important is your partner’s to him? Where do you want to live? Would either of you want to live in another state or country? Do you prefer living in a house, condo or apartment? What should be the place for traditional gender roles in how household tasks are shared? Are you both sure that you want to have children, and if so, how many is the “ideal number”? Could you envision one day allowing your husband to stay at home and take care of the children? Does that make sense financially? Will you be able to afford one spouse staying home with a baby full-time? And even though it’s a long way down the line, how do you envision retirement? On a golf course? On a beach? In a fast-paced cosmopolitan city or on a quiet country lane in a cute cottage?
3. Have the money talk
As uncomfortable as some of us are with discussing finances, you need to be clear on how you view money with each other. Will you open shared bank accounts and mix funds? What are your financial goals: save for a house, spend it on fancy electronics, take luxury vacations each year, start putting away now for future children’s education, your retirement? Are you a saver or a spender? Think about your spending and saving styles. Are they compatible or will this area be a source of friction? This is an area that can be a potential minefield since money can be the source of many marital arguments. What are your individual debts at this time, and what are your plans to get out of debt? Do either of you have loans to pay back from college, graduate school, medical school, etc? Do you have individual savings or portfolios? What about IRAs and pensions? Make certain you both have a clear idea of the individual assets that you each own before marriage. This does not sound romantic, but learn about the tax implications of married life; generally, they are in your favor! Some couples have New Year’s Eve weddings, not only because anniversaries will be easy to remember, but also to enjoy the tax savings. Not exactly romantic, but definitely pragmatic on several levels!
4. Ensure you are insured
Your insurance needs will change when you are married. If you’re renting an apartment, you may want to consider renter’s insurance, which will cover the contents of your apartment. Certainly, if you’re buying a house, you must have homeowner’s insurance. Good news! Your auto insurance rates often go down after you’ve tied the knot. You should research whose medical insurance offers better and/or cheaper coverage, and change plans once you are married. Often times the rate is based on the younger partner’s age, so you might have a savings there also. Likewise, some dental insurance.
5. Examine your communication styles
Do you consider yourselves good communicators? Can you talk reasonably about most things, even the points of conflict that you may have? Are there any “touchy” topics you avoid? Are there any topics you feel are off-limits between the two of you? Have you always enjoyed discussing most topics? Some very successful marriages are between people with very different opinions and ideas, but what makes these marriages work so well is that both people communicate with each other; in other words, you don’t have to think exactly like each other (how boring!) but good communication is key. Opposites attract. Democrats marry Republicans. It all comes down to good communication. If you feel uneasy about your communication styles, you may need to work with a counselor to learn strategies to enhance and better this area. Would you both be open to that?
6. Talk about how you would handle large-scale disagreements
It’s good to know how your spouse-to-be would confront sensitive issues in the marriage. Even if now you can’t imagine there could possibly be any issues, inevitably these will occur. Work on coming up with different scenarios, such as “What would you do if I became depressed and were unable to work?” or “If you suspected me of having an affair, how would we talk about that?” Talking about these issues does not mean they will happen; it just gives you an idea of your partner’s approach to navigating potentially important life issues. The more you know before marriage, the better you will be prepared for whatever comes your way.
7. Discuss religion
If you are both practicing, what will be the role of religion in your shared lives? If you are church-going, do you expect to go every day, every Sunday, or just during the major holidays? Will you be active in your religious community, taking on roles of leadership or teaching? Will you go to the same place of worship? What if you follow two different religions? How do you blend them? How do you pass this on to your children? What if one of you is an atheist or agnostic, and the other partner is not? As we know all too well, different religious issues can cause wars. You don’t want a religious issue to be the source of conflict in your upcoming marriage. If you are religious, how much religion do you want in your actual wedding ceremony? Would you be comfortable taking your vows from a religious leader of a different faith? Will you take religious instruction in preparation for your marriage? Would you convert to your partner’s religion or expect him to convert to yours? These are all important questions to consider and resolve before taking that walk down the aisle.
8. Talk about the role of sex in your marriage
How much sex is “ideal” for a couple? What would you do if your libidos were not equal? What would you do if one of you became unable to have sex, through impotency, frigidity or illness? What about temptation? How do you define cheating? Is everything cheating, including innocent flirting online or at the workplace? How you do feel about your partner having friendships with members of the opposite sex? How do you both deal with ex-partners? Is there jealousy? Again, it is important to learn how your partner feels about all these areas before you are married.
9. Discuss about in-laws and their involvement
Are you on the same page concerning both sets of parents and how much they will be involved in your family life? What about once the children arrive? Discuss holidays and whose home they will be celebrated in. Many couples do Thanksgiving at one set of in-law’s house, and Christmas at the others’, alternating each year. Do you want to live near your parents or in-laws given the choice? If you have children, will they help out with babysitting? Do you want your in-laws to help out with your finances? For example, would you take their financial help with the down payment for a house? Would you want to take a vacation with them? How close do you think your relationship will be with them? Will you have a weekly dinner or brunch with them? Do you feel that you might feel a bit “smothered” if there is too much interaction with them? How does your partner feel about his parents? Do you feel similarly? In-law jokes have been around since the start of time, so you won’t be the first person who has felt a bit uneasy about these new relatives, but life is a whole lot easier if you like and respect them from the start.
10. Consider pre-marital counseling or a marriage preparation class
Would you just start driving a car without taking driver’s education? No way; that would probably not be wise for you nor anybody on the road. The same is true for marriage.
Don’t wait until your relationship encounters problems to seek counseling. Do it before you are married. Eighty percent of couples whose marriage preparation includes pre-marital counseling, report greater confidence in their ability to ride out the tough times of marriage and stay together. Counseling sessions will teach you vital communication skills and provide you with scenarios to stimulate conversation and exchange. You’ll learn a lot about your future spouse during these sessions. Moreover, the counselor will teach you expert marriage-saving skills that you can use when you sense you are going through a rocky patch. Pre-marital counseling can provide you with growth, self-discovery and development, and a sense of mutual purpose as you begin your shared life together. Think of it as a crucial investment in your future.
Marriage preparation is a big step towards a happy life together
Take the time to prepare for your new life, and it will really pay off in terms of trouble down the road. There are so many considerations for your new life as married partners. Make time preparing for this new stage of your life. You will appreciate it many times over as you spend the rest of your time together with the one you love.