The flowers, the décor, the venue, the food—there’s so much to think about as you approach your wedding day. But before you take another step toward that aisle, make time for some serious conversations with your beloved. After all, marriage is only one of the steps towards a long and happy life together. Here are nine important topics to discuss before your big day.
1. Wedding planning
Before you are knee-deep in potential caterers and photographers, make sure you both have the same vision for the wedding. Agree on the fundamental elements of wedding planning early on, such as how many people to invite and whether to serve alcohol (in some families, this could be a big issue). And, of course, the biggie: What’s the budget, and who pays for what? Speaking of money…
2. Finances: Past, present and future
Money can be a difficult subject. Much–maybe most–marital discord comes down to finances. Start discussing money before the two of you decide on a wedding budget. Sit down and explore:
- The past: How’s your credit rating? Will past mistakes affect your ability to get a mortgage or buy a car?
- The present: Be upfront about any debts, including student loans. Likewise, you and your partner need to know what accounts each other has—health savings accounts, IRAs, etc. This is also a good time to discuss your respective approaches to money. If you are both spenders, talk about how you plan to save for children, a house, retirement, etc. If one of you is a spender and the other a saver, discuss what that means to the marriage and how to reconcile your different approaches.
Take your time discussing these topics, and exercise patience. Jot down notes, do some research, and be open with each other.
- The near future: Will you have joint bank accounts, separate ones or both? Talk about your financial goals. Discuss how much you want to save, and for what. You don’t have to be in perfect accord, but you do need to come up with a plan you can both live with.
- The distant future: When do you want to retire? What material things are needed to enjoy a happy life together?
You won’t agree on everything, and you won’t settle each point of contention right away. However, it’s important to get it all out in the open now and to have a plan for dealing with these things down the road. It will make your marriage so much more peaceful.
3. Will marriage involve a surname change?
It’s time to decide on a family name. Today, there are so many options. Perhaps one or both of you will hyphenate. Perhaps you will each keep you birth surname. If the two of you won’t share a surname, do you have a plan for the children’s last name? And since we’re talking about children…
4. Do you want children?
You’ve probably already discussed whether to have kids (if you haven’t, it might be time to bring it up). Yet this question is just the tip of the iceberg for future parents. If you plan to raise children, there’s much more to discuss, including:
- How many do you want?
- When should you have them?
- Do either of you want to be a stay-at-home parent?
- If not, how will you finance daycare and other necessary expenses?
- How will you divvy up childcare responsibilities at home?
If you want to raise your children as part of a particular faith, have that conversation now–especially if you and your future spouse practice different religions, or if one of you is spiritual and the other isn’t.
How will you discipline your children? You definitely need a strategy in place. If one of you believes in pacifism and the other strongly encourages a firm disciplinary hand, it could lead to conflict.
This topic can be tough. Try writing out your thoughts beforehand so you can articulate yourself without getting heated.
If you find you cannot have children, is adoption a possibility? If not, talk about how would you handle being childless.
Regardless of what your plans are today, you want to consider what happens if one of you has a change of heart about children and the other doesn’t.
5. Work and home: what’s the balance?
Are you both able to balance work with domestic life? If not, decide who picks up the slack and when. And yes, you need to talk about chores. Before marriage is a good time to discuss the domestic division of labor (if you haven’t already been living together for a while). Cooking, cleaning, laundry — while not always the most enjoyable parts of the day, are important tasks that help maintain a happy household.
6. Where shall we live? Now & in the future
You’ve probably already discussed this one, too, but if not, it’s about that time. Even if you know where you’ll live as newlyweds, think about five to ten years in the future. You don’t have to decide immediately, but you do need to know what’s on and off the table.
7. Politics and values: What matters?
Politics are closely tied to personal values—values that can define who we are. Chances are, you and your partner don’t have identical views. Discuss the differences and how you intend to address them.
Along those same lines, discuss what charitable organizations you can both support. And—if this didn’t come up during the Money Talk—discuss what percent of your income you plan to donate each year.
8. Family obligations
What role will your extended families play in your lives? How much time do you spend with them—especially those out of town—and how you’ll divvy up your time among far-flung family members. You don’t need to start planning Thanksgiving dinners right now, but you do need to have a rough idea about how you’ll spend holidays.
9. Sexual expectations
Yes, you already know about the birds and the bees, but you still need to have an open conversation about physical intimacy as a married couple. Sex after marriage—especially after children—might be very different than it is now. Talk about what you each expect of marital sex. Are you comfortable talking about your needs with each other? If not, try to discuss this topic in a way that feels safe for both of you.
As you have these and other conversations, you’ll get to know your partner better. Some will be stressful—even embarrassing. But by being open now, you are laying the groundwork for a long and fulfilling marriage.