Honestly, when it comes to a relationship and marriage, you should be asking endless questions and having conversations about any and everything with your partner. This does not stop once you get married either, you and your partner must continue learning about each other. You will be amazed to learn how much information you “thought” you knew about your partner, only to realize that these were nothing more than your own assumptions. Your partner, like you, will be constantly changing and evolving, so if you were told something 20 years ago, you cannot assume it holds true today.
While there are many conversations to have before tying the knot, here are 3 often overlooked ones.
Conversation #1: Gender roles and expectations
Learning about how gender roles were viewed in your partner’s family of origin is a great first step. Not only does it give you an idea of how your partner grew up surrounding gender roles and norms, but it gives you some insight into how they might view their role in the marriage, and more importantly, what they might be expecting of you.
Did their mother stay at home and raise the kids? Was their father gone a lot for work? Did household chores fall on their mother while the father would go out for a drink after work? Did both parents work? Were children in daycare, did a nanny raise them, or were grandparents expected to help while the parents worked? Did their father stay at home with the kids while the mother worked? Was their mother expected to be submissive to their father, or were both parents seen as equal partners in the marriage? Were finances discussed equally or did one parent “control” the finances? Did men help with the raising of children? Did they change diapers? Who prepared the meals?
This does not mean that just because these were the gender roles they had when growing up they will automatically take this into the marriage. But it might mean exactly that. Does this experience align with your experience growing up and your expectations of your role and your partner’s role in the marriage? As you can see, one question begets another question. This is an area that you and your partner want to start exploring before marriage to avoid many uncomfortable situations and arguments. Even though you both probably have many similarities that brought you together, there are differences that need to be discussed. As you embark on beginning your own family, you are blending two different cultures together to create one culture. Done correctly, the result is beautiful.
Conversation #2: Where you will be spending the holidays
You just had your dream June wedding. The day went off better than you could have imagined and the honeymoon that followed was even more of a dream. You are now settling into marriage with your new spouse and still on the high from the wedding and the honeymoon where everything seems perfect. Before you know it, September rolls around and your parents start speaking to you about all the wonderful things planned for Thanksgiving and Christmas and how excited they are for your spouse to be a part of their traditions. You could not be happier, to get to experience the warmth of the holidays with your family as you have always done with the addition of your spouse who you love more than anything. What could possibly go wrong?
How about the fact that your spouse might be having the same conversation with their parents and thinking exactly what you are thinking? They cannot wait to include you in their holiday family traditions.
Neither of you have ever spent a Christmas or a Thanksgiving away from your family and the thought of having to do so months after you have started this new life does not sound appealing. Then the guilt trips from both sides of the family begin. Your marriage was tough for your family to accept since you now live in another state and now you are not going to come for the holidays? Maybe you are an only child so if you do not go, your parents will be forced to spend the holidays with no family. Or maybe you live close to your family and interact with them a lot, so your spouse thinks it only fair that their family gets holidays since your family gets every other day of the year.
There is much to navigate in situations such as the one described. Embarking on this new life yet expecting everything to remain the same is probably unrealistic. Previously, when you made decisions, those decisions were based around your needs and your wants. Sometimes you may have based them on the wants of your parents. But now you have started this new family, where the wants and needs of your spouse must be front and center as well.
Having that conversation prior to your wedding day hopefully gives you enough time to come to some understanding and to prepare all parties involved for what is to come. Whatever agreement you and your spouse arrive at will be the correct one, if it is determined by you both that it is the right decision for your relationship. I would suggest trying to look it from a positive perspective. Do not think about the fact that you will be losing out on spending the holidays with your family, but that you now have 2 families to spend the holidays with and that you now get to share in your spouse’s traditions.
Conversation #3: Expectations around leisure time
This one may seem simple and almost silly to discuss. Afterall, you are in love and you both love spending time with one another. Why would you need to discuss what you are going to do with your spare time? I cannot tell me how many couples I have worked with who are gridlocked over this exact topic.
Is it okay to make plans with friends without checking with your spouse? Is the expectation that weekends are for “us” while friends fit in around that? Is it okay to spend time with friends of the opposite sex? Does your spouse need to be involved in all your leisure activities? What happens if you like to read in your spare time but your spouse sees it as an opportunity to interact with you? How about if you like to go hiking, but your spouse would rather spend all their spare time playing video games?
All these options are assuming that children are not in the mix. Add kids into the mix and it becomes possibly even more muddled and possibly more contentious. While you might think this topic is simple to navigate and not worth disgusting, I can assure you so did the couples I worked with where this became a very big thing, sometimes the thing they argued about most.
No matter how silly you think these topics are to discuss beforehand, the ensuing arguments that might arise from them are even sillier, but the stakes are much higher. Save yourself some grief in the future and have these 3 conversations with your spouse to be!