There are movies, TV shows, and industries dedicated to helping you have a fairy tale wedding. But what about the marriage that begins after the honeymoon ends? Most couples marry with lofty intentions, but reality soon pulls them back to Earth. The beautiful vows you recite at the altar are fine when you’re driving full-speed down the “better” highway, but they won’t stop a wreck when you hit your first patch of “or worse.”
As a divorce attorney, my job is to help clients untangle their lives and move forward on separate paths. Issues that arise during divorce settlement conferences and depositions could have actually helped couples better plan their Happily Ever After – if only they had a time machine. Can we reverse engineer a better marriage by using the most common reasons for divorce as our guide? Let’s see.
Before you walk down the aisle, set aside your binder full of dresses, floral arrangements, and cake designs. Grab a blank piece of paper and a pen, and write down your answers to the questions below. Make your partner do the same.
Don’t share until you’re done. You also don’t need to tackle the entire list at once. Take your time; open a dialogue. This discussion will be a great test of your ability to clearly communicate with each other. Your goal is to discover your fiancé’s answers and to share how you feel. Quite often, people don’t think ask themselves these big questions until it’s too late.
- Why are you getting married?
- Why are you getting married NOW?
Sure you’re in love. You can still be in love without entering a binding legal obligation with a lifelong pledge. Often, people think marriage will magically smooth over any imperfections in their lives. Marriage is how most heroines “win” in the movies. But most romantic comedies also roll the end credits during the wedding reception. In the Disney fairy tale Enchanted, when Giselle asks Prince Edward what their lives are actually going to be like after the wedding, she quickly realizes how boring his idea of “happily ever after” sounds.
- Do you have any?
- Do you want any?
- WHEN do you want them?
- How many?
- If you can’t conceive naturally, are you open to fertility treatments or adoption?
Quite often, couples marry because the biological clock is ticking and they want to start a family; but once the logistics are discussed, they realize they wildly disagree.
- Who will stay home with the baby? For how long?
- Can you afford a nanny and/or housekeeper?
- If not, who pauses their career to raise the child and run the home?
- What roles will each parent have?
- How will you discipline your kids?
- How will you educate your kids?
- How will you inspire your kids?
We see pictures of our friends hugging, playing, and vacationing with their kids on our Facebook feeds, so it’s natural to want the same thing. In reality, parenting takes a lot of hard work, planning, compromise, compassion, and time – the real life you don’t always picture about. Before you have a kid, make sure you’re both on the same page as to how you will raise your kid.
- What is your Faith?
- Will you practice it?
- Will your kids be raised in it?
With the rise of online dating, it’s much easier to meet people from wildly different heritages, backgrounds, and beliefs. When you get swept up in the throes of romance and physical chemistry, you can sweep some important issues under the rug. Never assume your partner agrees with your plans to raise a child with or without religion without discussing it.
- What are your political beliefs?
- How tolerant are you if your spouse believes differently?
If your partner’s views differ from yours, you will need to agree on what topics you should discuss – or avoid – with each other and in social situations.
- Are you a spender or a saver?
- What’s the role of credit in your budget?
- What are your retirement goals?
- Do you have a pre-nup in place?
Most couples fight over money; during a divorce, every penny of physical and financial assets will be divided. Money can be a very sensitive topic for most people. It can trigger tears, fears, insecurities, and anger. Calm, communication, and compassion are the essential ingredients for discussing cash-related matters.
So, how did you do?
Hopefully this got a good conversation – or many conversations – going. Keep in mind, you can’t change how your partner feels; tying the knot doesn’t automatically lasso your partner closer to your position on these answers. How you and your fiancé feel now might change over time. By starting the conversation today, when you walk the aisle and say “I Do” – you’ll better know the partner and the life you are about to enter.