My wife and I recently celebrated our one-year anniversary. As we reflect back over our engagement and first year of marriage, we think about some of the questions we asked each other before the big day and the questions we should have asked before saying “I do.”
It’s easy to think that when you date and finally get engaged, you will have learned everything there is to know about your future spouse. This is absolutely not true. When you spend time together as a married couple, you begin to see quirky characteristics, uncovered passions and dreams and annoying habits that you never noticed when you were engaged. We’re not talking about which way you prefer the toilet paper to roll or if you fold or crinkle the toothpaste tube. There are much deeper and more significant questions to ask beforehand. Discussing these questions openly will allow you to have a more accurate expectation for married life, as well as help you avoid being surprised and shocked by some of the things you find out. Being intentional about communication before—and during—marriage is a key to working well together.
If you plan on tying the knot in the near future, here are some questions to discuss before your big day:
[Questions about beliefs and values]
Whether you realize it or not, your background and upbringing have a huge impact on who you are and what you value. It’s so important to talk about things that are important to you … as well as the things that are a low priority to you. Your actions will reflect your values and beliefs.
· What do you hold as essentials and core values for your life?
· What are your long-term/short-term life goals (i.e., will either of you be going to graduate school; will you want to travel; how soon would you want to look at buying a house or a car, etc.)?
· What is important to you and your marriage?
· Will we go to church together? How often? How involved do we want to be in ministry?
· How often will we pray together? How often will we study the Bible together?
[Questions about children]
You may not be thinking about children for several years down the road … but your future spouse may! We have heard so many stories of soon-to-be-marrieds discuss their expectations about children and realize they were very different! I recently heard a story of an engaged couple who had very different family backgrounds. The future husband grew up in a family whose parents didn’t believe in birth control and had eight children in his family, while the bride-to-be was an only child. Because of their backgrounds, he desired to start having children immediately, while she had no intention of ever having children. This was a major surprise to them as they began their lives together.
· When will we begin to think about starting to have children?
· Will we use birth control?
· Approximately how many children would we like to have?
· When the children are born, who will stay home and take care of them?
[Questions about roles and lifestyles]
Discussing the everyday details, even tasks around the house, such as who pays the bills, cooks the meals, cleans the house and mows the lawn, are important to discuss. We joke about it now, but before we got married, my soon-to-be wife commented off-handedly: “You know, when you cook it would be great if you did this.”
“What?!?!” I responded. “I’m not going to be cooking! Plus, I don’t even know how!”
What we realized was that our family backgrounds played a huge role in our thinking. In my family, my mom was a teacher who would be home after school and able to have dinner ready by the time my father walked through the door. While my dad’s role wasn’t in the kitchen (although he was responsible for grilling), he did do other things around the house that helped keep our family running smoothly.
My wife’s father did quite a bit of the cooking as a way to help out his wife. To me, it seemed obvious that the husband was not “gifted” enough to be in the kitchen to cook but was “gifted” enough to wash the dishes after dinner and do other important duties around the house. But to Megan, it was expected that the man of the household also wear an apron occasionally. As we discussed this, she expressed that she would appreciate if I would help out with the cooking, at least occasionally. For the months following up to our wedding, every Thursday night was cooking night and Megan would teach me how to make simple dishes such as spaghetti, chicken casseroles and stir-fry (I presume there are many women reading this chuckling at the basic culinary skills I needed to learn!)
· How do you like to spend a Saturday morning (i.e., sleep in, get up early and read the morning paper, go for a run, etc.)?
· How do you like to spend your evenings?
· Who will be responsible for what household tasks?
· If you had two hours of free time, how would you spend it?
· What are your spending patterns and attitudes about money? Do you save your money or spend it immediately? (Hint: Look at each other’s credit card statements and checkbooks over the last few months).
· How much do we intend to spend on entertainment each month?
· How often should we spend time together, and how often should we hang out with our friends?
· How many nights of the week do we plan to be home as opposed to elsewhere?
[Questions about family traditions]
Oftentimes, we’ve caught ourselves saying, “That’s not the way you’re supposed to do it. My family did it differently!” It cannot be stressed enough: Your family background makes a huge impression on your life and on the way you perceive how “things ought to be.” It takes a lot of humility and patience to wade through the differences of family backgrounds.
· Where will you spend the holidays? Which side of the family?
· How did you celebrate holidays such as Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter
· Will you spend vacation at the in-laws or do your own thing?
· What was the environment and ethos of dinnertime in your family?
· Was your home growing up an “open” home where you had people over often, or was it rare when you had people visit?
· How did your family settle differences? Did they yell and raise their voices, or
did they sit down and talk about them respectfully?
· Growing up, was your home a safe environment where you could express your opinions openly, or was it more strict?
· Did your family laugh a lot together? Did you play a lot together?
· How often would you go on vacation? What types of vacations did you take?
There are so many more questions than you can possibly ask before the big day. Don’t be surprised if you find some things out about your future spouse that you didn’t know. Megan and I still find ourselves talking with friends when one of us will tell a story and the other will say, “I didn’t know that about you! You never told me that!” (Part of me hopes we will be saying this to each other 50 years from now!) We’ve learned that we’ll never learn everything there is to know about each other. If we did know each other perfectly and completely, how boring would that be! Cultivate an environment of learning about each other and learning with each other. Communication, within the context of a humble and teachable spirit, is the key to maintaining a healthy relationship, both before and after you tie the knot.
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