It’s a wonderful feeling to be in a deeply committed relationship, whether that means you’re married, engaged (congrats!) or simply in a solid forever partnership. But with deep dedication comes a great responsibility to make sure you’ve talked about the most important questions to ask before marriage—even when it’s tough.
After all, “learning how to ask hard questions is not something that ends after you get married,” says Michelle Joy, MFT, co-owner and co-instructor (along with her husband) of Marriage Prep 101, a workshop designed for engaged, newlywed and seriously dating couples. “Asking your partner difficult questions even when you disagree or are afraid of their answer is important to keep emotional intimacy alive. Being comfortable with this before the ‘I dos’ sets the trajectory for continuing this open communication in your marriage.”
As for what you should be asking? Let’s start with these questions.
Where do you stand on kids?
“Many partners have values or assumptions that point to one partner staying home with the children, however, more and more I am seeing that both partners really desire to stay connected with their careers—even if it’s just part-time—after children are born,” says Joy. “Having that expectation discussed beforehand is important.”
1. Are we having kids? If so, how many?
2. How soon after marrying do you want to start a family?
3. What is our plan if we have trouble conceiving?
4. After we have children, do you plan to work?
What should I know about your upbringing?
“For example, if there was a lot of yelling,” says Joy,“then either the partner believes that yelling is normal and thinks nothing of it when they yell, or on the contrary, yelling may scare them. Asking about your partner’s parents can give you an enormous amount of information about their sensitivities and perspectives about communication and conflict resolution.”
5. Did your parents ever disagree in front of you?
6. How did your parents resolve conflicts?
7. How did your parents show love?
8. Were your folks emotionally available to you?
9. How did your parents deal with anger?
How will we approach money?
According to Rachel DeAlto, Match’s chief dating expert and relationship coach, this is a tricky conversation that can definitely bring up feelings of insecurity and awkwardness. But it’s hugely necessary in terms of mapping out your life and deciding how to intermingle your dollars (and debt). “The important thing is to be transparent, because not disclosing financial issues could cause a huge problem down the road,” DeAlto says. “People talk about everything but money.”
10. Do you have any debt or any savings?
11. What’s your credit score?
12. Are we going to buy a house at some point?
13. Should we discuss purchases over a certain amount before buying?
14. Will we have joint accounts?
15. What’s our plan if one of us loses their job?
16. What are our savings goals and what will they go toward?
17. How will we split expenses?
And how about religion?
“In an ideal situation, it’s OK for each partner to have different beliefs but neither is expected to conform to a religion that’s not theirs,” DeAlto says. “If they support your faith from afar, and if you’re OK with attending services on your own, it’s perfectly normal to not expect them to physically show up for you.”
18. How would you describe your beliefs?
19. Do you expect me to join you in group religious services?
20. Do you envision our whole family attending every week or on holidays?
21. Are there any rituals you’d like to adhere to at home?
22. Will our kids be raised religiously?
23. Will we have a religious marriage ceremony?
How do you show and accept love?
“We always want to be sure that emotional resources are not only being given to our partner, but that we are receiving them as well,” says Joy. “For instance, are you able to receive affection but it feels awkward for you to give it back? It’s possible that your partner’s definition of affection differs from yours. Ask them what affection, dedication or commitment means to them and how they plan on demonstrating those qualities in your marriage.”
24. How much affection do you need from me to be happy?
25. Do you expect us to always be monogamous?
26. What does showing love mean to you?
27. Are you willing to see a marriage counselor with me?
28. What do you need to feel appreciated?
If you’re met with resistance when broaching any of these points, remind your partner that you’re in your relationship for the long haul and talking things out will only make you closer.
“If someone doesn’t want to have these conversations, I kind of want to shake them—gently—and remind them that this is a huge step and talking is intended to benefit both of you,” says DeAlto. After all, “When you have mortgages, job issues and kids, all of these things make life more complicated.” In other words, do it now.