Four Things to Talk About Before Marriage

When you’re starry-eyed and in love, it’s easy to overlook some of the important questions to ask before you say, “I do.” But the truth is, if you really love this person, you’ll be willing to put in some hard work on the front end to create a game plan for life.

You’ve probably heard the sad stat that half of marriages don’t stand the test of time. But keep in mind: That stat includes people who get married after knowing each other for three days, people who are deeply in debt, people whose parents won’t stay out of the equation, and people who can’t agree about kids. In other words, it includes people who have not prepared well to be married.

If you are engaged for six months or more before being married, go through in-depth pre-marital counseling (not just one visit with the preacher, high five, walk out, and get married), and take some pre-marriage classes, then you're off to a great start. With these factors in the equation, the success rate for marriage goes from 50% failing to almost none of them failing.

The Big Four

Marriage counselors tell us that there are four main areas you need to be in harmony on before you get married. Those things are money, religion, kids and in-laws.

To the extent that you’re not in agreement on these areas, your marriage will struggle. But to the extent that you are, you’re setting yourselves up for much smoother sailing.

Money: The first one, and the biggest cause of divorce, is money problems, so there needs to be discussion about money. Put all of the debt on the table—all cards are face up. No secrets. It’s time to come completely clean and get in agreement about what’s going on here. When you do that, you’ll also learn a lot about that person’s habits, whether they are a spender or a saver and those kinds of things.

We’re not talking about, “Oh yeah, I know he has some credit card debt from college.” You need to know, “He’s got $42,321 in debt between student loans and credit card debt. He cut up the cards and started paying off debt before we ever met, and he’s got a plan to be debt-free in 22 months.” Those are the details you need.

Religion: If you have the same faith, you have a much higher chance of making it, statistically speaking. When your faith is aligned, so are your value systems—your guiding principles—and that’s your natural road map through life and through the tough times we all have to face.

Kids: Dig into each other’s expectations about kids and make sure they’re compatible. How many do you have in mind? How should children be raised? Should they be allowed to run around like wild animals, or do we make them behave?

Talk about how each of your families raised you—what you agree with and what you don’t. Kids may not be coming for years, but when they do, you need to know where the other parent stands and be in agreement early. You don’t want to start sorting through this for the first time with baby number one on the way.

In-Laws: You really need to find out what you’re getting into with the in-laws. How much of a part of your life do they want to be—and how involved (or uninvolved) do each of you want them to be? Lay out your expectations up front.

Discuss how you can honor your parents yet separate from them and become one. If you don’t agree about what this looks like from the get-go, you may be headed for real trouble.

Dave recommends renting for the first six months of marriage (even if you’re in a position to buy) in case you need to move farther away from one of your families than you thought!

From Stress to Success

Your marriage has a much better chance of surviving and prospering if you are in agreement on the big four. Every couple needs to really explore these things, because everybody’s got issues with all four of them!

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that things have to be perfect. Having a solid, healthy relationship is a great goal, but shooting for perfect is too much pressure. There’s no such thing!

The good news is this: Knowing the four main problem areas for marriage gives you the opportunity to focus on them before you ever walk down the aisle. You can turn what are trouble spots for most people into areas of strength and success that will hold you together for a lifetime.

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