Whether you are eloping or having a big wedding, we all know there is at least some planning required for your big day, but have you thought about planning for your marriage? Your ceremony lasts just one day, regardless of what type of ceremony or party you have, but your marriage is meant to last a lifetime.
The best advice that I can give to those who are talking about or planning to get married is to focus more on planning a marriage than you do planning your wedding. It is so easy to allow planning a marriage to take the back seat to your wedding planning, especially when you have so many details to work out! Even eloping requires a few things to consider, read more about my considerations for eloping here. But the most successful marriages start with a successful relationship, not a successful wedding. You want to build a solid foundation and clear expectations for the union that you are entering into to give yourself the best future possible.
I have a list of items that I feel need to be discussed when planning a marriage. Even if you’ve been in a relationship for over a decade or already live together, you should still discuss these things. This will help both of you understand what expectations you have from your marriage. It will also show what potential changes need to be made in your current relationship.
You may have already discussed some of these topics in a broad sense, but don’t stop there. Dive in deeper. Reflect on both of your individual wants and needs before having this discussion. And don’t try to make it through all of these topics in one sitting. There may be some topics that neither of you has considered. Those areas deserve time spent contemplating your thoughts and feelings before, during, and after discussion.
Writing down and organizing your thoughts on each topic can help with clarity and focus, and I’d recommend marking the subjects you feel very strongly/passionate about. Make sure you share any fears that you have surrounding these topics as well, it’s important to be aware of these and work through them together.
Lastly, I believe that intentions truly show through in everything you do or say. Take a moment and set your intention to better understand one another in order to grow in strength as a couple while working through this list. When you are planning a marriage, remain open to hearing your partner’s views. You may not agree on every topic or detail, and that is ok. You can discuss how to work around the issues that aren’t dealbreakers for you, but knowing beforehand what those dealbreakers are and how you might be willing to compromise will help keep the discussion clear and focused.
Let’s dive in!
Children and Parenting
- Do you both agree on whether or not to have children? You’d be surprised how many people get married without discussing this beforehand. Since they aren’t ready to plan for children now, they delay the conversation. When they are ready, it’s shocking to find out that their partner doesn’t want children, or vice versa. If you do not want children, that is totally ok! You can skip to the next section and disregard the mentions of children in other topics.
- When do you want to have kids? This can obviously be hard to plan for. Having a general idea of when you will start trying to conceive would be a good topic to discuss though.
- How many kids do you want?
- If you have difficulties or are unable to conceive, how would you want to proceed? There are many options available. IVF, surrogacy, and adoption are all great things to consider.
- Think intentionally about the type of parent that you want to be. What parts of your childhood would you like to bring forward in your parenting? And what parts would you want to do differently? It can be difficult to look at your family in what feels like harsh light, but remember that no one is perfect and no one parents the same. The world is always changing and evolving, it’s ok to choose to be different.
- How would you handle your child telling you that they were gay, transgender, or dating someone outside of your race?
- What are your views on childcare? Are you planning to have one parent home to prevent needing to use a nanny or daycare? Or will you both want to work and utilize childcare services?
Religious, Political and Social Views
These are topics that can often be avoided in conversation because they are viewed as controversial because people feel so passionately about these beliefs. That passion is exactly why it is important to discuss these topics with your partner, it can create potential problems if not addressed in advance.
- Are you religious or spiritual? Are there specific practices or beliefs that are important to you? Discuss your expectations for your partner’s involvement in religion as well as how strongly you want to raise your children with those same beliefs.
- What are your political views or affiliations? If you do not align with your partner, how will you handle disagreements? Are there specific topics that you cannot agree to disagree on?
- What social views are you passionate about? How do you support gay or transgender rights? Anti-racism? Female equality? Finding out you disagree on these topics later on in marriage can be detrimental.
- What was life like for you growing up? How did you receive love, support, and attention, if at all? How do you feel this impacts your relationships? This question can be difficult to think about and may also be a topic that you have never had to consider.
My husband was raised in a stable home and has a very secure attachment style. He is very confident and trusting in our relationship. I was raised with a neglectful mother who eventually abandoned me. As you can imagine I did not receive the love, support, and attention that I craved from one of my parents and I do have abandonment issues. These issues do make it more challenging for me to feel secure in a relationship.
There’s no right or wrong way to talk about these kinds of issues, but discuss it with your partner however you feel you need to remedy them.
- If applicable, what was your parents’ marriage or relationship like? This is potentially the foundation that your views of marriage have been built on, whether or not you have overcome your own issues with it. Do you feel their marriage was healthy? In what areas would you want to be similar or different?
- How do you expect to be treated by your future in-laws? It’s important to consider what boundaries you will set to protect your marriage and what fears you already have. Some parents will overstep their boundaries or attempt to be involved in your personal decisions. Decisions such as moving, finances, or how to raise your children. How will you protect your marriage?
- How will you spend the holidays? Will you be dividing them between your families? Discuss how this dynamic can change if children are introduced into your lives. Of course, you can create your own traditions, but are there any that you grew up with that are important for you to keep alive and carry into your future?
This can be another very uncomfortable topic to discuss. There are no wrong answers, but make sure that you and your partner can come to an agreement that you both can feel satisfied with.
- Will you be joining finances or keeping them separate? Discuss who will be in charge of monitoring finances, savings, and bills.
- How can you find a way to be comfortable with financial contributions that are not equal? Something important to remember is that your income is not the only way you contribute to your family. Sometimes having one of you stay home to avoid paying for childcare is overlooked as a financial contribution itself. There are other types of contributions that add up to a whole relationship, like household chores, being a stay-at-home parent, managing bills, etc.
- How much money do you need to be happy? Picture your future and pay attention to how money contributes to that. If you want to travel regularly, have new cars, or a large house, make sure you talk about these desires for the future. Some people are happy with less money but knowing how money can play a part in building a happy future is important.
- How were you raised when it comes to finances, savings, and debt? What did you see with your parents’ financial decisions? What kind of financial sacrifices did they or did they not make? You may have learned lessons indirectly by watching the way your parents handled finances.
- Will there be a prenuptial agreement? You don’t want this to be a surprise that comes up right before your marriage, talk about it beforehand.
- What kind of savings do you have, and what kind of savings do you WANT?
- Do you have a budget? Budgets can help create a clear expectation in a marriage for where, when, and how money is spent. Are you open to creating one together? We looked into NerdWallet when creating our budget!
- Now the least favorite topic: Debt. How much debt do you have? What is your plan to pay off debt? How do you use credit cards and loans? When used carefully and intentionally, credit cards and loans can be useful tools for financial success, but they can easily become tools with which you end up digging yourself a daunting hole.
- How do you assign chores between the two of you? Talk about which specific chores you dread or slack on and which chores you don’t mind doing. You might find that your partner is willing, or even excited, to take the tasks you dislike the most!
- Explain your level of cleanliness. Are there specific things that would drive you crazy, such as laundry being left on the floor or dishes in the sink?
- What kind of expectations do you have for your partner in their everyday life, such as how they handle their own dirty laundry, dishes, and general picking up after themselves?
Hobbies and Activity Level
- What does your ideal day look like? How do you spend your free time? If you would like your partner to be included in some of that, make sure you let them know which parts are important to you to do as a couple.
- Are you a morning or night person? Talk about any routines you have throughout your day as well. I personally have a nighttime routine that I have to do uninterrupted before bed.
- How often do you need to leave the house and be active? How long are you ok with staying at home and relaxing? If your answers are not the same, try to find a way to satisfy both of your needs!
- How often do you need to socialize with others? Talk about whether or not this will be done as a couple or if you prefer to have some time alone with your friends. This can help to prevent one of you from feeling left out in the future.
- What are dealbreakers in your marriage? This might seem like a silly topic to discuss because it seems so obvious to you, but knowing how to respect and protect your marriage is crucial to a happy marriage.
- What do you consider to be cheating? Break down what emotional cheating looks like to you and what physical cheating looks like. For instance, there might be boundaries that your partner could cross with friends that you might consider emotional cheating. This conversation should be ongoing. You both need to be actively protecting your marriage from any and all forms of cheating.
- Now that you have a definition of what your partner views as cheating, have you ever cheated before?
- What are your views on porn or strip clubs?
- What is your relationship with alcohol, drugs, and nicotine? Are there any changes you wish to make when it comes to these substances? Let your partner know what you need from them when you make these changes. For instance, if both of you smoke or vape, do you need the support of your partner to quit with you?
- Name your perceived areas of weakness. In what areas do you wish to grow or evolve and how do you plan on doing so? When discussing the areas in which you want to improve yourself, figure out what forms of support you will need from your partner through that process. As an example, you could say “I want to work on my jealousy, I plan to do that in therapy, and by discussing with you more openly to continue to build trust. As my partner, I need your support in the form of listening, being patient, and understanding that this has more to do with my past than an actual distrust in you”
- What values and morals are important to you? How do you plan to instill these in your children, if you choose to have any?
- Envision your future. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years? What are your dreams that you would like to fulfill?
- What are you passionate about? This could be a specific career goal, hopes of becoming a mother, or a desire to help others.
- What do you need to be fulfilled in your relationship?
- What does support look like to you? How do you like your partner to support you when you are in disagreement? What about when you are grieving?
- Take the 5 Love Language test to find out how you interpret and express love. Compare your results to be sure you both understand the similarities and differences.
- How do you handle conflict? Anger? Grief? Discuss how your partner can best help you while working through these big feelings.
- Divorce – It may seem crazy to discuss divorce before you are even married but it is important to be clear on your beliefs and fears surrounding divorce. If your parents were divorced, how do you feel that impacts you? At what point would you ever consider divorce an option? Would you attend couples therapy if you felt your relationship was suffering?
- How much independence do you need? What does that independence look like for you? Are there rituals or hobbies that you prefer to do alone? I personally prefer to do yoga alone. I can focus better when I am alone and am less concerned about how I look and more focused on how I feel when I am alone.
- How important is sex to you in your marriage? Discuss any needs or fantasies that you might have along with the things you are absolutely not ok with.
Planning a Marriage Slowly and Intentionally
Be gentle with one another and take the time needed to work through these topics. Planning a marriage does not happen overnight! A lot of these points might be discussed over time and not resolved in one conversation. My husband and I went through 3-4 questions per night, depending on how detailed the explanations were. We revisited some topics multiple times after the discussion. If you have disagreements, now is the perfect time to work on your communication and come to a healthy conclusion that you both can be happy with.
This list is not meant to find problems in your relationship, but rather to prevent them. In my marriage, the prevention of problems is key. The more intentional that my husband and I are about preventing possible problems, the easier it is to handle those problems when they present themselves. It allows you to be more well-equipped and knowledgable as you face the issue, and it provides a strong foundation for you both to stand on.
Feel free to add any other questions that you would like to know about in your own planning of a marriage. If you do that, please share them with me! I love hearing your thoughts and suggestions.
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Elopement Photographer: Breck Ashton Grimm (Instagram @breckashton)