Women, in addition to spending hours poring over encyclopedic bridal magazines, I wish you would spend that same amount of time with your future spouse talking over these important points before you decide if you two should get married at all. In twenty years, the veil you selected will not come up in a fight with your true love, but the checking account surely will.
Here are some decisions to make before you decide if you will marry this person. It all comes down to priorities and expectations. Even if you don’t share the exact same priorities, if you have openly discussed them with each other, then you can manage the expectations each of your have for the marriage.
Joint Bank Accounts: I have heard many opinions on this question. The most important thing is to talk about it and make a conscious decision about it. My husband and I share all accounts and financial information with each other. I think this helps us work as a team as we save for the future and even as we buy groceries for this week. We remain accountable to each other at all times which can cause some tough conversations but serves us well in the end. I think that some couples who keep separate money just don’t want to have the discussions it would take to make joint decisions. If you don’t go deeply into these issues, you don’t allow each other to have input into, much less buy in to, the life goals that you need to share in order to move effectively toward them.
Retirement Ideas: Do you dream of a Peace Corps type retirement where you live in a hut on a river and teach shoeless children how to read? Or do you want to live in a high rise condo on the coast of a place with white beaches, blue water sends checks to organizations which help shoeless children? In order to be enthusiastic about meeting retirement goals, you must clearly define them together.
Children: Yes or No: A. Please talk about this before you decide if you should marry your partner. I am stunned to see couples fight about this years into the marriage as if it just occurred to them — “How dare you not to have read my mind about this!” Granted, people change their minds but recognize that there is an opportunity and a responsibility to honestly discuss this before you decide if you are compatible. And women, please don’t strong arm a man into being a parent. If you want kids and your partner doesn’t, honor his decision. Don’t have a baby and hope he will “come around”. Think of the child who will realize soon enough that he or she was your lifelong dream and your partner’s worst nightmare. And if you do decide to be selfish and do it anyway, don’t you dare act shocked, hurt and victimized when your partner slips out the door and doesn’t look back. He knew he shouldn’t be a parent, you should have listened.
B. If you agree that you both want children, talk about how many you would like to have, where do you want to raise them, will they attend public or private school, what discipline methods are acceptable?
Monthly Budget Priorities: As you begin to discuss marriage with your partner, each of you should write down your daily expenditures for a month. Then talk about them and what each category means to you (gym membership, eating out, charity donations, movie rentals, etc.). This provides a way to discuss your priorities in concrete terms. As a first step toward riding off into the sunset together, decide on a joint monthly budget that meets both of your needs.
Full Disclosure: Your partner’s financial picture can ruin yours so be completely certain what you are getting into. I know a woman who, even after two years of marriage, still didn’t know what her husband’s salary was. This Is Pertinent Information! If you can’t talk about these things, you are not ready to get married. Period. Ask your partner these questions, and anything else you need to know, and share your own answers with him.
A. What is your income?
B. What is the amount of your debt?
C. What is your credit score?
D. What are your career goals?
Family Obligations: As the saying goes, you don’t just marry the man, you marry his family. Does either of you have a parent or sibling for whom you are financially responsible? If not, is that on the horizon for one or both of you? How will you and your partner honor your commitments to your families of origin? How well have each of your parents planned for their last years? Also, is either of you a Godparent of a child? Are you named as guardian in the parents’ wills? Is your partner prepared to honor that commitment as well?
Insurability: You won’t find this in the happily ever after final chapter of a Harlequin romance novel but it is vital to know. If you are planning to marry someone, you have a right to know his complete medical history. You are planning your entire life — financial life, family life — around this person. Is he healthy enough to by life insurance? Is he healthy enough to buy disability insurance? If not, discuss the possibility of him working in a place that offers group benefits to fill this need.
You may be thinking, “I don’t know if I trust him with all of this information” or “I don’t know if I trust his answers.” These are important red flags you need to pay attention to. This conversation requires trust, so does a marriage. Even if this discussion turns into the biggest disaster ever, it pales in comparison to the disaster that your marriage can become without it. Consider this exercise the construction of a sound foundation on which you plan to build your shared life. You must dig deeply and work slowly and methodically for the foundation to be sound. If you only skim the surface and rush to throw the house together, the first strong breeze will threaten your fragile house.