In my previous article, “Premarital Counseling: Questions to Ask Before You Marry,” I briefly examined five different questions couples should reflect on before or soon after marrying. These questions centered around your motivation to marry, the importance of exploring your core values and how they might differ from your future spouse’s, the need to prepare for personality differences that will intensify as the relationship matures, and how you envision married life.
Let’s now turn our attention to five relationship areas that can become trouble spots for couples. Time and time again I’ve seen couples get into conflicts over these very issues in my marriage/couples counseling practice.
The premarital questions below focus on your (and your partner’s) relationship expectations.
But before we proceed, here’s an important point I’d like you to hold onto: Early on in their marriage, most of the couples that I’ve worked with didn’t think problems would arise! Couples rarely prepared for or felt the need to examine their relationship expectations. It was only after their relationship progressed that unexamined and unmet expectations turned into relationship problems.
Preventative Relationship Medicine: 5 Questions to Help You Prepare for Marriage
1. What are your expectations about household chores/household maintenance tasks?
You’d be surprised by how many resentments can build when one of you feels there is an unfair distribution of household work. Couples get into trouble because they expect a certain amount of team work that never gets discussed. Whether or not you feel comfortable setting up specific cleaning/cooking schedules, it will be important to have a sense of equality when it comes to the day-to-day running of the household.
2. What are your expectations about careers, money, spending and saving?
Money is a sensitive issue for couples, and I’ve seen this become a major stumbling block no matter how much money a couple earns. Marital/relationship problems arise over the following issues:
You and your mate have different spending habits (for instance, one of you feels the need to save a certain percentage of the family income while the other doesn’t want to plan and save at the same level);
You disagree over what is purchased (“Do we really need a second big screen television when the car needs new tires?!”);
Conflicts arise over how the money gets distributed: You want separate bank accounts to maintain a sense of independence while your partner prefers to pool all the money into one account;
You (or your partner) expect to discuss purchases before they are made while your partner feels it is his/her right to make purchases without checking in with you;
Issues also arise when one of you feels the other is making her/his career a priority over the relationship and family and, as a result, the relationship is suffering.
As you can see, love and money are ripe opportunities for major disagreements. Compromise and mutual understanding are the goals when discussing these sensitive issues—but if you never address these issues and assume that you and your partner are on the same page, you’ll probably feel blind-sided at some point.
3. What are your expectations about how you’ll spend leisure time?
Part of maintaining a healthy marriage/relationship is having fun together, enjoying one another as you share and create new adventures together. Frequently, couples get bogged down by the stress of life and, as a result, time spent together becomes associated with dealing with stress.
Motivation is clearly needed to break out of the rut of your day-to-day to day routines. What’s also needed is a shared understanding of how leisure time will be spent together. You don’t need to be totally compatible in this area, but it will be important to find some common ground if you do have different expectations about what “relaxing” or “having fun” will look like.
4. What are your expectations regarding friends?
It’s quite common for couples to differ in their desire to spend time with friends (and the need to socialize in general). You may each have individual friends as well as other couples you enjoy socializing with together. Sometimes one partner has a stronger need to maintain friendships and spend time outside the marriage/relationship socializing. In this case the partner who’d prefer to spend more time together doing things as a couple might feel insecure and even jealous.
Having discussions early on about how much time you’d each like to have with separate friends as well as time spent with shared friends can help uncover any conflicting expectations you and your partner might hold.
5. What are your expectations around individual versus shared pursuits?
This issue has to do with relationship balance—nurturing your individual interests while also taking care of the relationship. When love is new, couples typically want to spend as much time together as possible and prefer to do things together. As your relationship matures, it’s natural for this intense togetherness to taper and for individual interests to emerge (e.g. creative, intellectual or career pursuits).
Supporting each other’s individual interests can only occur if you do not feel that your partner’s pursuits are somehow standing in the way of the marriage or causing him/her to neglect your needs.
So while you’re busy preparing to get married, it will be important to carve out some time for you and your spouse/partner to answer the above questions and share your responses with each other. Look for areas of agreement and overlap as well as any differences that you think might cause some problems in the future.
Research has demonstrated that premarital counseling increases the likelihood of marital success (in other words, a little preventive medicine goes a long way when it comes to your relationship).
So if you’re planning to marry, recently married or starting a committed relationship, I highly recommend the Premarital Counseling Workbook for Couples, by Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT.
Dr. Rich Nicastro