Many modern couples live together long before their wedding day, meaning they’ve already figured out who’s going to wash dishes and clean the bathroom, and which mid-fight button-pushing will send a small disagreement into the nuclear territory. There are, however, some conversations you should definitely have before marriage, even if you’ve already figured out the living together part.
1. Debt and finances
Long before your wedding, sit down with your partner and have a frank discussion about your financial situation. If either of you has debt — student loan or otherwise — be honest about it; hiding it will only hurt you down the road. Likewise, if you have bad credit because of a past mistake or financial tumble, tell your partner and discuss ways to improve your credit score together. This is also a good time to talk about how you’ll handle your finances going forward. For example, if you’re planning to buy a home, maybe it makes more sense to apply for a mortgage in just one of your names.
2. Children and parenting
You definitely need to discuss whether or not you want to have children, but beyond that, find out your partner’s expectations around parenting. Do either of you want to be a stay-at-home parent? Do both of you want to continue working full-time? If so, will your children go to daycare, or have a nanny? Can someone in your family take care of the children? This is also a good time to discuss whether or not you want to raise your children in a certain religion. (You’d be surprised how many young people aren’t religious but want to imbue their kids with some kind of spirituality!)
3. Moving to a new city or state
Times are tough and many people find themselves forced to move to new cities or states for work or affordable housing. Talk to your partner about his or her willingness to move — even if that just means moving to a new neighborhood or suburb — in the near future and down the road. If your partner is adamant about remaining in place, try to uncover his or her tipping point. Perhaps your future husband is concerned that you won’t make enough money to support a move out of state, but if the job pays X amount, he’d be more willing. Or maybe your future wife wants to be close to her family when you have children but would be willing to try out a new city in the meantime.
4. Life priorities
Getting married means making very long-term plans with another person, so it’s important to lay out your priorities early on. Is a yearly weeklong vacation on your list of absolute musts? Or would you rather scrimp and save for the first few years of marriage to buy a home? Talk it out with your partner and find a middle ground with which you’re both comfortable. You should both be able to achieve your goals — indeed, a good marriage can be a launch pad for big ambitions — but each of you may have to shift your timeline to accommodate your partner’s hopes and dreams.
5. Aging parents
You might not have to think about your parents’ age-related needs for a decade or more, but talking to your partner about how they hope to care for their aging parents is a good way to get familiar with each other’s priorities. Does your future spouse want her parents to live in your home? Would he prefer to put them up in a care facility? Will you be responsible for those costs? Include siblings in these conversations too.
Do you and your partner need to have perfectly identical political ideals? Well, maybe not… But you do need to understand each others’ points of view, so you can both determine if your relationship will be able to withstand your differences. Politics are closely tied to our personal values, so deeply differing opinions can create very tough territory to navigate.
7. Handling the tough stuff
Start with this question: What were some of the worst periods in your life and how did you get through them? This will help you understand how your partner copes with tragedy and what kind of support he or she requires in a difficult situation. Next, the tough part: talk about how you’ll handle major challenges, should they arise (think: emotional, physical or financial infidelity; infertility or difficulty conceiving; or life-altering health issues).
8. Improving your communication
If you’ve been together a couple of years, you’ve probably established some patterns of communication. But it’s important to talk about how you can improve the way you argue, negotiate and compromise. Ask your partner: How do your parents communicate and what can we learn from them? There may be things you’d like to try that work for your parents, or patterns you know you never want to replicate. Talk about ways you’re communicating now that are working and things you’d like to stop doing immediately.