Real Conversations: Better or worse? Questions before marriage

It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness and emotions of planning a wedding. But marriage is merely the first day of the rest of you and your partner’s lives together – so it stands to reason that you should have the ‘honest conversations’ before you tie the knot.

Sometimes it can be awkward to discuss big future plans before marriage, especially if they seem irrelevant to your current circumstances. But psychotherapist and couples counsellor Kylie Lepri says every engaged couple should sit down and ask each other five questions before the big day.

Kylie Lepri is a registered Individual and Couples Counsellor, Psychotherapist, Clinical Supervisor, and Training Consultant who has been working in counselling and psychotherapy services for over 17 years.

She regularly provides counselling and support for both individuals and couples with concerns such as anxiety, depression, stress, grief and loss, parenting, and relationship issues.

#1: “How do you want to handle finances?”

Finances may seem like a taboo subject when you are just starting out a new relationship, but when you are living together and raising a family, conversations around bills, loans and saving for a house become commonplace. Because money is an inescapable part of marriage, it’s important to discuss how you will manage your finances.

“Within a marriage, you are no longer solely taking care of yourself, so finances usually become a shared aspect of life that should be discussed,” Kylie says. “This discussion may revolve around how you would like to save money, how comfortable you are with sharing a bank account, and the spending patterns of you and your partner.”

Different couples will manage their money in different ways. Some may be comfortable sharing a single bank account for everything, while others may want to keep individual accounts as well as a shared account for family expenses. The key is communication, because without discussing how you would like to proceed as a partnership, any differences in how you manage money will eventually lead to conflict.

#2: “Do you want to have children?”

We always want to protect what’s most important to us, whether it’s our relationship, the life we’ve built for ourselves, or the future we’ve envisioned having. That’s why the question of whether or not to have children can have a major impact on not just your relationship, but your whole life. After all, if one partner wants to start a family while the other doesn’t, it may ultimately lead to the end of the relationship. It therefore makes sense to have that discussion before you tie the knot.

“This discussion could range from the number of children you both would like, how you see yourself raising children, and the expectations of you and your partner when it comes to parenting roles – such as who will take time off work when the baby comes, or who will do the late-night nappy changes,” Kylie says.

Making the decision to have a baby or not can be a life-changing moment. After you are married, you will expect there to be alignment of goals and values with your partner, and this includes the topic of starting a family.

#3: “Should we get a prenuptial agreement?”

For many couples, this question may seem awkward or even confronting. But you are choosing to marry your partner because you want to share everything with them – the good, the bad and even the uncomfortable. Having a prenuptial agreement isn’t for everyone, but for some people it can provide some reassurance, if the marriage were to ultimately end in divorce.

According to research in the Real Cost of Separation report, some of the hardest things to deal with during a divorce are the mental/emotional toll and financial issues. The money aspect shouldn’t be disregarded – in fact, the cost of divorce in Australia is a whopping $3.7 billion in legal expenses and $45 million in divorce-application fees every year.

If you are struggling with how to broach the topic of a prenup, here are a few tips:

  • Have the conversation well before the wedding – if possible, do it before you are even engaged. You especially don’t want the stress of a prenup looming over a ceremony that is just weeks or days away.
  • Explain your reasons clearly and calmly. The topic of a prenup should never be emotional, but rather based in logic.
  • Take ownership of your wants. If you believe having a prenup is the best way to protect yourself and your partner in the future, then be honest about your reasons why.

#4: “Where do you want to live?”

Just like discussing finances, choosing where to live is something that is unavoidable in a relationship. So before getting married, talk to your partner about whether or not you will be comfortable moving at some point in the future, whether it’s for work or lifestyle reasons. This conversation should also include your dreams for housing – would you be happy in an apartment, or will a house be essential for your growing family?

“Discussing where you both would like to live is an important conversation to have before getting married,” Kylie says. “This is because where and how you live is a big determinant of your happiness, and it is important that both people within the relationship are aware of and happy with the choices that are made.”

#5: “How will we manage our differences?”

Dealing with conflict can be handled in a multitude of ways. As a couple, if you have vast differences in how you manage conflict then that can potentially cause confusion or even damage the relationship. This makes discussing how you will manage conflict as a married couple a must before you wed.

“Conflict styles include accommodating, avoiding, defeating, compromising, collaborating and competing,” Kylie says. “Should the conflict styles of you and your partner differ, it is important to discuss how this will be managed and understood within your marriage. This may include asking your partner about how they've managed conflict in the past, how they would like to be treated during times of conflict, or how they wish to resolve conflict with their partner.”

Don’t be afraid of the tough questions

You are about to make the biggest commitment of your lifetime – nothing should be off-limits when it comes to questions and curiosities about your future together.

“If you find yourself avoiding specific questions before marriage, then I’d suggest you ask yourself why,” Kylie says. “It's likely a red flag that will cause problems down the track. In order for couples to build a secure relationship, they need to know they can safely come to each other with anything – regardless of its nature or the discomfort it may bring. Learning how to express your own needs, desires and concerns openly and honestly are all vital parts of creating a healthy, functional relationship.”

Create a safe space to talk

The hardest part about starting these conversations is often how your partner will interpret your words, especially if there have been challenges in these areas previously. Try to create a space where your partner actively listens first before responding. Once both of you feel heard, you can then openly discuss how you want to tackle your future together.

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