Congratulations! You think you’ve found the one. You’ve met the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. But are you really ready?
Spoiler: probably not!
Nothing can totally prepare you for the joys and challenges of married life because each life and relationship are so unique. But that doesn’t mean you can’t set yourself up for success. Asking the right questions of yourself and your partner now — before tying the knot — can prepare you to navigate the sometimes bumpy waters of early marriage.
Marriage experts John and Julie Gottman have researched thousands of couples and found that good conversations about a handful of important topics can have a big impact on the health of a relationship. Here are three questions that will get you and your partner started.
How will our married relationship be different than our current relationship?
Change is a part of life, so it will also be part of your married life. Some people will tell you, “Don’t marry someone expecting them to change,” which is good advice to the extent that you shouldn’t expect marriage to fix fundamental problems in your relationship. But on the other hand, we are all constantly changing and growing, so you should expect you and your partner to change.
It’s worth considering and discussing what changes you hope for in yourself, in your relationship, and even in your partner. Are you expecting marriage will be more or less the same as your relationship now? How will you continue to grow together in a loving relationship, even as each of you continues to mature individually? Answering these questions for yourself and with your partner can help you identify your expectations, assumptions, and goals for married life.
How would we handle a tragedy?
When planning a new life together, it’s natural to focus on the happy stuff — wedding plans, honeymoons, maybe even baby names. But how would you react if you lost your job? What if one of you got really sick? How would you deal with your parents passing away? What if your depression gets bad again? What if you can’t have kids? How would you support each other through these trials? What trials have you already survived that you can learn from?
Someone once told me, “Real love doesn’t begin until things get hard.” That’s when you find out what you and your partner are made of, deep down. Considering some morbid possibilities in advance — while unpleasant — can help prepare the two of you to face whatever storms come your way together as a team.
Those vows you take will bind you together “for better or worse” so don’t overlook the challenging side of that equation (but also don’t forget that the whole point of marriage in the Church is to invite God to help you carry those crosses together).
What couples do I look up to and why?
This question can help you clarify the vision you have for marriage. My wife and I both have older siblings who were married with children for about 10 years before she and I got married. This meant that both of us had spent a lot of time to observe and learn from the successes and struggles of our siblings.
Most of us have absorbed ideas about what constitutes a healthy marriage from the relationships we’ve seen firsthand. Taking some time to inventory and reflect on the specifics of those observations can help the two of you form a common vision for your own marriage. This exercise becomes even more powerful if you have an ongoing relationship with one of these couples who can perhaps serve as mentors for you. Treat them to dinner and ask them their secrets to success. I guarantee you will learn a lot.
So what are you waiting for? Sit down with a glass of wine, go for a long walk, or find a scenic drive and get to talking. These are the conversations great marriages are made of.