People like to trot out the adage, “What I don’t know can’t hurt me,” as a lighthearted way of justifying a lack of curiosity.
Nothing proves the lie to that contention with more potentially dramatic consequences than marriage.
Couples would do well to find out what could hurt them by asking questions—some of them, tough ones—way before the invitations go out.
The truth is that couples who don’t ask each other some important questions are going to find out the answers anyway. In some cases, they’ll wish they’d known them sooner.
Marriage is not some magical band-aid capable of fixing any and all problems within the relationship. Just because you’re now legally bound to one another doesn’t mean you won’t deal with the same issues as spouses.
So, it’s in your (and your future spouse’s!) best interest to be proactive by asking the right kind of questions prior to exchanging vows. Even if that means asking the scary or awkward questions…
Unexpected crises, stresses, and losses can derail even the healthiest relationships without any notice or way to prepare.
In many other cases, early warnings of foreseeable conflicts are usually present all along, in the form of personality clashes or other incompatibilities.
A Little Proactivity and Asking the RIGHT Questions Can Go a Long Way
We’d pretty much roll our eyes at anyone who bought a car or a house without getting answers to a host of questions to make sure that we were really getting what we want and need.
Why fly blind into a theoretically (if not statistically) lifelong contract before trying to make sure you’re on the same page about the stuff that really matters to you both?
The hopeless romantics among us might argue that approaching marriage with the same common sense as buying a car takes all the fun, spontaneity, and kismet out of it.
Our experts, many of whom make a career out of helping couples deal with the issues that can make or break a marriage say, think again.
The better you’re equipped to deal with potential friction prior to joining hands at the alter, the more likely you are to work towards a resolution before it potentially damages your marriage.
However, don’t overlook compatibility issues. Even the deepest love isn’t foolproof against perpetual conflicts in your relationship.
The key to a long lasting marriage boils down to both how well you’re able to anticipate issues and work through them.
First Questions First: Why Get Married?
Sometimes, the most obvious question is the most overlooked—and the most important.
A good place to start is with the question, why get married at all?
Are there spiritual/religious reasons for entering into holy wedlock?
Pressing legal or economic advantages?
All those wedding gifts?
Or is it just the compelling idea of making your love and commitment to each other official and public?
If you haven’t already, it’s a good time to consider this and related questions such as:
- What does “marriage” mean to you?
- How do you think your relationship will change once you’re married?
- What does it mean to be a good wife, husband, or spouse?
Even before you tackle questions like these with your future spouse, there are some questions worth asking yourself that can save you both considerable grief later on…
- What makes this person different from the rest?
- Is your partner a benefit or a hindrance to achieving your goals?
- Do you bring out the best in each other?
- What differences do you love now but may find grating in five years?
- Is there something that you are expecting to change?
Additionally, couples should ask questions about what their partner views as an ideal marriage, specifically, in regard to what a happy matrimony looks like.
Asking the aforementioned questions are important because they provide you valuable insight about which areas of marriage are most important to your partner.
Next, you can start to drill down to important questions about the key areas of your lives that you will be learning about and sharing.
Start with the basics about your histories, experiences, and expectations around relationships.
Questions About Relationships
There’s a common notion among marriage and relationship counselors.
They believe that there are always more than just two people in a relationship—that, in fact, we bring all our previous relationships and partners with us every time we get involved with someone new.
The questions here don’t revolve around who or how many partners we’ve been with before meeting and falling in love with ‘the one.’
Instead, they examine what we’ve learned about ourselves—our needs, desires, patterns, and preferences—based on our experiences up to that point.
There’s a host of wide-ranging questions you can ask each other related to your ways of relating…
- What did your past relationships teach you about love, trust, and commitment?
- Were any of your past relationships physically or emotionally abusive? Explain.
- What were some of the mistakes you made in past relationships with your boyfriend/girlfriend?
- When conflict arises, do you tend to want to fight or avoid it? Why do you think that is?
- How and when will we resolve differences in our marriage?
- Do you feel comfortable seeking professional counseling if needed? Why or why not?
- What things make you angry? What do you do when you’re angry? What are ways you process your anger in a healthy way?
- What should we do if we end up having mismatched sex drives at some point in our marriage?
- Is there anything from your past that might affect our sex life?
- What are ways we can make sure our sexual intimacy stays a priority once we’re married?
Questions About Work and Finances
Differences and disagreements about finances are among the most common—and potentially most lethal—problems to plague couples when there has been little to no discussion about it before ‘becoming one.’
Oftentimes, money is connected to emotional importance, and it’s significance among individuals can vary widely-from freedom to security to autonomy to power and status.
The more you communicate openly and honestly with yourself and one another about your attitude towards money and finances the better! The key, though, is deciding together how any differences will be solved.
These questions cover many territories – from major career and work issues, to spending habits, to how critical decisions will be made. Ignore or avoid them now, and you may be counting your losses down the road.
- Will we merge our finances? Share a bank account?
- How will we make big financial decisions? How about little ones?
- Do you have any debt? Will we share responsibility for each other’s debts?
- Are you a spender or a saver? How much do you have in savings?
- Do you expect one of us to be the primary earner in this relationship?
- What happens if one of us loses our job?
- Are you willing to relocate for either of our jobs, and if so, to where?
- What will happen if one of us loses a job or is laid off? What would be your plan of action?
- Which one of us will pay the bills? Or will we share that responsibility?
- If we have differences regarding our finances, how will we plan on resolving them?
Questions About Family—and Kids
Everybody knows that “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes…“
Or do they?
What pretty much any relationship advisor knows is that once the subject of marriage is on the table, the subject of children (or step children) needs to be right there beside it.
Most couples understand the importance of discussing expectations and preferences about having kids, but the one frequently overlooked phenomenon is people change.
Consequently, it’s important to not only discuss your preferences, but also assess how your expectations may change over time. This way, you can determine if through any potential flexibility you two can still be compatible down the line.
What happens if one of you changes your mind?
What if after one child, one of you absolutely wants to stop?
What happens if infertility becomes an issue?
How hard will you continue to try?
How do you both feel about adoption?
It’s crucial to dig deeper than the superficial and surface level questions.
Here are some of the questions worth exploring together…
- Do you want kids? If yes, how many children would be ideal in our family? When do you want to start a family?
- How would you handle it if we have difficulty conceiving?
- How do you see kids fitting into—and changing–our life?
- What style of discipline do you plan to take with your kids?
- Do both the husband and wife share equal care for a baby? What about as a child grows older?
- Do you have a belief in any religion? What role will spirituality play in your life together, if any?
- Do you intend to raise your kids with a particular religion?
And while you’re on the topic of children and families, don’t forget that you both are also children, likely with parents/families that predate your relationship.
How will your marriage and the family you create mesh/merge with those you’re already part of?
Questions like these can help to clarify how those relationships might affect the one you’re building together down the road…
- How close are you both with your parents? Your extended family?
- How often will you want to see your in-laws and extended families?
- What is your preferred way to spend the holidays?
- How close and open with your parents will you and your partner be about the goings-on in your day-to-day lives?
- What happens as your and/or your spouse’s parents age and need care?
Family differences and conflicts can show up sooner than you might think.
One of the first settings where squabbles are likely to develop is during the wedding planning stage. Don’t brush it off. Instead, treat instances like these as an opportunity for learning and practicing how to all get along.
Questions About the Future, Goals, and Dreams
The idea of marriage lasting forever may be statistically improbable, but it remains a fervent hope and a widespread aspiration.
If you are one of those couples in it for the long haul, it makes sense to do some crystal ball gazing together.
Find out if what you see five, ten, twenty, or fifty years into the future is even remotely what your partner sees.
Better to find out sooner than later about his plans to be living in a grass hut on Fiji in 25 years or her goal of being the first woman on Mars.
Maybe creating a joint vision board isn’t your thing, but there are a few questions that could help you look ahead together…
- How do you envision your life in five years? Ten years?
- Do you believe in regularly giving to a charity or volunteering your time?
- What expectations and goals do you have for your career?
- What is your dream job? What would you be willing to sacrifice to obtain it?
- Where do you want to live?
- What impact do you want to have on the world?
- How do you want to be remembered after death? What do you want your legacy to be?
Questions About Red Flags and Disclaimers
In the best of all possible worlds, you and your partner would be equally invested in making sure that your similarities outnumber your differences when it comes to sharing a life together.
But what if your partner isn’t so keen on having those conversations?
Or they shut down when presented with particular questions?
There are plenty of things you don’t have to tell each other, such as the number of partners you’ve each had in the past or even issues or problems you dealt with but have now overcome.
Instead, focus on the here and now. The past is in the past, right?
Overall, you should feel comfortable with one another talking honestly about most things.
That said, there are a few questions most experts agree that your partner should almost always be willing to answer.
If they won’t answer these questions, it might be worth your while to press for reasons why…
- How did your last relationship end?
- Can we talk about our health histories? (Chronic illnesses? STI’s?)
- What is your relationship with substance abuse, spirits, and gambling?
- Would you ever go to therapy with me?
- How do you define trust?
- What really scares you?
- How do you want to handle money?
- Do you still talk to your ex?
What You Don’t Know Might Help You
If you’re concerned there might be a downside to all the pre-marital Q&A, you may be right, at least according to some experts.
Honest and mutual inquiry about the important areas of your lives that you’ll be sharing is a good thing.
However, too much of a good thing can produce some diminishing returns, especially for women.
Generally, women connect with others by sharing their feelings-and they accomplish this by talking. This is also how they process information, too.
Ever wonder why the majority of psychotherapy patients are women?
Men, in contrast, usually feel differently about talking to communicate their feelings. Doing so could even make them feel weak, vulnerable, scrutinized, judged, and even anxious in some instances.
Our advice to women whose partners don’t exhibit a similar eagerness towards discussion is this: share your lives as much (or more) than you talk about them with your partners.
For men, generally, sharing information comes from a different place and has a different purpose than talking does. This behavior can be summed up nicely as showing more than telling.
It may sound contradictory, but saying less can be more when it comes to the need to know all the answers before taking the leap of marriage, regardless of how well you think you know each other.
At the end of the (wedding) day, no matter how many important questions have been asked and answered, the process of trusting each other is underway.
As you are working your way through the list of things you feel you must know moving forward, it’s worth considering the words of British philosopher “of everyday life” and bestselling author Alain de Botton, who suggests:
“In relationships, the only way to trust is not to ask too many questions.”