A recent article in the New York Times poses a series of questions that couples should ask before marrying. As someone who has been married or living with the person I was going to marry for 24 years I offer you some perspective of my own.
For reference, I got married the first time to a man 20 years older than me when I was 20 years old. Yes, I know. It's been an interesting journey, what can I say? You can read all about that saga here. With my "learning marriage" behind me, I married Scott as a reasonably mature adult. We have been married 14 years now and it's a richer experience every year.
According to the Times article, the first question for a couple to consider is: Have we discussed whether or not to have children, and if the answer is yes, who is going to be the primary care-giver?
From someone who knows more infertile couples than she can shake a stick at (not that this is necessary, as they are nice people) and who happens to be a member of one herself, I highly recommend that you talk about your desire for and commitment to having children even if you run into fertility issues.
I saw a friend lose FIVE babies, one just two weeks prior to term, while becoming increasingly depressed and obsessed with having a child with each loss. Hard on a marriage. Hard on friends watching. Hard on us when I chose not to join her obsession when I hit my own biological brick wall. How important is having a biologically related child? How will you feel about this if one or the other is not able to "give" the other a child they desire?
Of course, you may not really know this until the situation is upon you. How we think we will feel in a situation may not be how we actually do feel once we are in it. I just have to say, especially for couples marrying in their 30s where there has never been a pregnancy, that it always makes me nervous when people talk as though pregnancy is a given.
Next issue for couples: Do we have a clear idea of each other's financial obligations and goals, and do our ideas about spending and saving mesh?
I would add, for those of you moving in the direction of a pre-nuptual agreement: be very honest about how you feel. I have said many times – and nothing you can say will change my mind – that they are a recipe for marital disaster. By definition you are building mistrust into the relationship. Don't believe me? I have evidence to back me up.
Further, talk about your relationship not just with money, but with "stuff". Everyone can talk budgets but the proof is in the pudding. What spending habits are you actually demonstrating? How many times have you, or your partner, convinced yourself that a certain expenditure was exceptional because the price was so good, when the truth is you can't walk by a sale rack without getting sweaty palms?
People are funny with money, one of the most abstract concepts there is. Numbers go into the account, numbers go out. If only I had a nickle for every man who complained to me that he had become a wallet for his family and that no one seemed to realize that their spending was obligating him to stay in a career he hated. Hey, wait, I do get nickles for that! Dollars even. On second thought, don't talk about this. You could put me out of business.
But if you must, do talk about your career happiness and long-term goals and dreams. What if the primary breadwinner is laid off? Is the other partner willing and able to step up and become a full-time earner if necessary? Does one of you have a dream of self-employment? Is one of you entrepreneurial? How prepared are you both to deal with fluctuating incomes and career experimentation? Would a return to school be supported?
The last question I'll expound on is #10 on NY Times list. "Do we like and respect each other's friends?" I would add this question as well, "Do we like and respect each other AS friends?"
This probably sounds obvious but I see friendship deteriorate so rapidly in marriages. It's almost as if getting married makes the spouse lose status in some way. I've written more in-depth about this in Secrets of a Happy Marriage. Please, make that assigned reading for yourself. Divorce is no fun, nor is a marriage where the friendship has grown anorexic.
There are fewer and fewer examples of long-term, happy, thriving and growing marital relationships out there. When you are lucky enough to meet some examples in your own life, ask what makes them tick. Marriages do require attention if they are going to evolve along with your own growth.
Even if you are already married or are considering marriage and have considered these issues already, it is good to revisit them from time to time. I know I am not the same woman my husband originally married and my perspectives on these issues have certainly changed over the past 14 years as have his.
Don't get caught in the myth Paul Simon so astutely speaks to in "You're the One."
Nature gives up shapeless shapes
Clouds and waves and flame
But human expectation is that love remains the same
It doesn't. It won't. And therein lies its beauty.