6 Things You Must Discuss Before You Get Married

As a financial coach I’ve learned that my job involves much more than helping people with their finances. I’m often a marriage counselor, psychologist, and a motivator.
Before you need the whole marriage counseling aspect, let’s try to spearhead a few of the most issues couples face.

It surprises me how often people get married on a whim.

Rushing off to Vegas to get hitched by Elvis.

Running down to the courthouse after 4 months of dating because “you’re madly in love.”

Maybe it’s not even on a whim…maybe you’ve known the person for years. However, have you considered that you’re just good buddies and have failed to really dig into the deeper issues of life?

Getting married

Picture by kongsky

In reality then, you’ve failed to get to know the person that you plan to spend the rest of your life with and you’re setting up your marriage for failure.

It’s no wonder why the majority of marriages in the United States end up in divorce.

Isn’t it sad that I get surprised to hear of a couple that has been married for 50 years? Or when I get surprised to meet a person my age (27) that has parents that are still married?

If you’re interested in having a marriage that beats the odds and lasts for decades, then here are 6 things I think you should delve into before popping the question.

6 Issues That Will Stop a Marriage Before It Starts

1. Children

Do you both want to have children?

If so, how many?

How long will you wait after you get married?

The key to these conversations is to go deeper than simply the questions allow: are you ready to handle the sacrifices that being a parent entails? Are you both grown up enough to be responsible for another person’s life? Are you willing to be the parents that the child needs you to be?

When Holly and I first started dating we were both against having children. I’m not exactly sure why, but it just wasn’t something we were both interested in.

I’ve talked to dozens of people on this topic and I the responses always confuse me. You hear that children are the greatest blessing on earth and they’re the best thing that will ever happen to you!


But from the other side of the mouth you hear the same person say how difficult they are and how much they’ve had to give up for them.

I’m not trying to create an argument here; my point is only that there is no “correct” answer. The answer is dependent upon you and your future spouse.

The key is that both of you should be on the same page and have a great understanding of what you each expect as far as having children is concerned.

To be fair, Holly and I have both eased on our stances of having kids. We’re certainly not ready as of this time, but I could see a day 3-4 years from now when it’s a possibility.

2. Religion

Another topic that causes great marital distress is religion.

Regardless of your beliefs it’s important to know what your future spouse believes. I’ll go out on a limb and say that an atheist and a devout Christian aren’t going to live happily ever after.

Personally speaking, I wasn’t really raised in a church and believing in God didn’t really matter all that much. On the other hand my wife was raised Christian and her family regularly attended church and bible studies.

While we failed to discuss religion early in our relationship, the longer we were together the more my spiritual beliefs were influenced by her.

Over the course of time we saw religion through the same lens. It’s been one the greatest blessings in our marriage, but I can only wonder what it would be like if we weren’t on the same page.

3. Finances

As a financial coach I’m consistently surprised as to how ignorant each spouse is of their husband/wife’s spending habits.

Not only that, but many people don’t know their spouses financial past before getting married!

While you shouldn’t make your marital decision based on their financial failure/success, you should know how they handle money and you should know how much debt they have before you get hitched!

Finances are the #1 cause of divorce in this country for the mere fact that so many of us are different: we come from different backgrounds, we each have different values and goals, and we each have a different understanding of how to properly manage money (or no understanding at all).

To make matters worse, I’ve found that it’s very common for one spouse to be a SPENDER and the other to be a SAVER.

Opposites do attract and that’s why it’s so important that you talk about money before you get married. I don’t recommend that you combine your finances prior to getting married, but you should have a firm grasp on each others financial views and situation.

4. Family

It’s SOOOO important to have family boundaries before getting married.

Does your husband like to visit his parents every weekend? Is he a momma’s boy?

While there isn’t anything wrong with that – heck, I think it’s good to spend time with your family! – it could cause problems and be a serious area of conflict.

As husband and wife you’ll have to start making decisions and resolve conflicts on your own. It only creates issues when one spouse runs to their family for help and alienates the other spouse.

It’s also a recipe for disaster if you’re so tied to your family/parents that your spouse always questions himself/herself and constantly looks over their back.

Relying on your parents and going to them for advice prior to consulting your spouse is a BAD IDEA.

It’s also not a good thing to compare your spouse to your parents: ‘well, hun, you’re a good cook and all but it doesn’t compare to my mom’s.’

Or, ‘my dad was sure handy with cars, why can’t you ever fix anything?’

I’m not saying you can’t think those things, you just can’t say them! Good grief! We undermine our spouses a lot without even realizing it. Hopefully, for your sake, they’re able to let it roll off their back.

5. Politics

For a majority of people this won’t be a big deal, but I’ve met quite a few people that are VERY opinionated.

The reality is that strongly opinionated political minds are just that: they’re not really willing to accept somebody else’s ideas or arguments.

It is possible that you can exist together for the majority of your marriage, you might just want a large enough house to separate once every 4 years.

6. Career Aspirations

Take some time to discuss what your goals are in life and in your careers.

Do you want to own your own business and be an entrepreneur? If so, there are sacrifices and risks that come along with those things and you need a spouse that will stand by your side through the thick and the thin.

Will one of the spouses want to be a stay-at-home mom (or dad) if you have children? What would that look like financially? How can you start planning for that as soon as you get married and set things up so that dream can become a reality?

Do you both have similar work ethics and motivations? A major problem I’ve seen with spouses is that one will work like a crazy person and the other is relatively unmotivated and isn’t driven to do much.

While it’s fine for you to get married if you find yourself in this situation, don’t get upset or frustrated years down the road if your spouse isn’t bringing in much bacon. Furthermore, don’t expect the person to change just because you’re marrying them – what you see is what you get.

It’s not uncommon for people to completely ignore a majority of these discussions. The fact is that you might love the person you’re with and simply enjoy spending time with them. However, if you want to set your marriage up for the long-haul then I’d strongly encourage that you take some time and have a few serious heart-to-hearts.

What have been some of your biggest marital hurdles? Were there things you wished you would have discussed prior to tying the knot?

About the Author

By , on Mar 23, 2012
Andy Tenton
Andy is a 30-something New Yorker who turned his financial life around. He took charge of his finances, got out of debt, and is now working his way toward financial success. He is the publisher of WorkSaveLive.com.

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{33 Comments}

  1. So I’m freshly engaged (this past October) and this post hit a lot of major points in my mind. I tend to over think things and getting married was definitely one of them. Spending the rest of your life with someone is no small commitment so I wanted to make sure we were ready. After 3 years we’ve come to terms on our finances (she’s now out of debt), our family (hers is huge, mine is tiny) and luckily we were both on the same with religion.

    Marriage will be quite the journey, I don’t think you can ever be fully prepared but I would like to say that we’ve done our homework ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. All of these are very important conversations to have. I think the biggest ones are financial decisions and career aspirations. If you can’t agree on those – or compromise so you both are happy – it’s a red flag for a difficult relationship to come.

    I’m not married yet but after almost 9 years with the same guy, we’ve definitely talked about all of these things.

  3. Mike says:

    I almost got married once, my fiance had huge debt that I never knew about. I guess I dodged a bullet on that one.

    • Andy says:

      The debt isn’t a terrible thing and I wouldn’t avoid marriage just to avoid going into debt by association…that is as long as the issues have been talked about and going forward you both have the same view of spending money and setting goals/priorities.

  4. Thank you for the article Andy! Very good points.
    I think it’s useful not only to discuss them before the marriage but also review where you both stand from time to time, as opinions tend to change through life.

    • Andy says:

      That is a very good point Alona! We certainly do change over time and it’s always important to be on the same page – regardless of you’re newlyweds or have been married for 20 years.

  5. Cassie says:

    I’m thinking I should bookmark this post. I’m one of those 27 year olds whose parents are still together (30 years this year). Everything you wrote here was bang on the money.

    • Andy says:

      Hopefully you didn’t just think to do so, but did instead! ๐Ÿ™‚

      I’m a 27 too but my parents were divorced by the time I was 4 and my dad has been remarried 2 times (on his 3rd). It’s so important to be on the same page and I have little doubt that couples that have been together for 30 years (like your parents) talked about some of these issues and also learned to sacrifice and compromise along the way.

      It’s just hard to remember to have these important conversations when we’re “so madly in love.”

  6. Jacob says:

    Great post! Defnitely one thing that has paid 100-fold in my marraige was pre-marraige counseling. Mostly because it brought up all of these questions. I’d go even further as to say you should discuss the implications of your career motivations, such as “if your wife desires to be a stay-at-home mother, should she invest in a college degree if it means going into debt?”. Definitely something we discussed a lot before my wife finished out her college degree.

  7. Smarty says:

    Hi Andy,
    that’s nice points here. I’ll better check before it’s too late, lol.

  8. Andy says:

    Good for you, Paul! I’m impressed that you have talked about all 6…that is RARE! It has to be nice to know that you’re doing the best you can to set the relationship up for success.

  9. “It is possible that you can exist together for the majority of your marriage, you might just want a large enough house to separate once every 4 years.”

    HAHA! Love that. The biggest fights me and the boyfriend have are around political ideology. It starts out innocent enough, and then blossoms into something insane and rageful.

    On the other fronts we’re pretty good. While we may not completely agree with each other on each area, we are aware of the other one’s position.

    This is SUCH an important topic for every couple to be on top of.

    • Andy says:

      That’s hilarious you say that! I don’t think the political thing is a big deal for a majority of people (simply for the unfortunate fact that not enough people care about it), but for those that it does apply to, I would imagine they’re some of the biggest fights out of all of the topics.

      lol. You can’t mess with peoples’ political beliefs…

  10. SB @ FPR says:

    Too late, I am married. very good points.

    • Andy says:

      I wouldn’t say that! You could have some important conversations still BEFORE they lead to major conflicts down the road. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Jefferson says:

    You got all of the big ones, Andy.. Nice post.

    I know lots of couples who disagree entirely on politics, parenting, finances, *AND* even sometimes religion.
    Those couples tend to have more conflict, in my opinion.

    I think historically, money is the number 1 thing that people fight about.
    In addition to talking about finances before you get married.. it is just as important to be OPEN and HONEST with each other from day one of your marriage.

    • Andy says:

      I agree completely Jefferson. I don’t know how people can survive when they disagree and fight constantly. My wife and I found that being open, honest, and being on the same page has lead to hardly any fights.

      It’s so nice. I hate fighting.

  12. Karunesh@chase-a-dream.com says:

    Marriage is about mutual understanding and adjustment. Its very important to have certain compatibility with each other and the points you have mentioned form the foundation of that compatibility. Very good article

    • Andy says:

      I think a key word there was “adjustment.” Hopefully you and your spouse are continuing to change and become different/better people. As that happens over time, changing with one another and adjusting is a very important thing!

  13. Modest Money says:

    Not only should you talk about these things before getting married, but you should also address them in any long term relationship. You don’t have to be married for these issues to cause tension and resentment. Some of these things played a part in my recent break-up. Our problem was that we didn’t communicate well enough to really address these kinds of things. We were happy enough on a daily basis, but whenever either of us started thinking about the future problems would arise.

    • Andy says:

      It’s good you’ve learned that though. Hopefully it will help you in your next relationship, Jeremy! ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. This is an excellent post Andy!

    From my past experience opposites do attract but that doesn’t mean it is going to turn out to be a good fit.

    In the 90’s I was married for 5 years after dating the man for 3 years. We were definitely opposites in every way including general interests and hobbies. We joked about it all the time. But eventually our differences (and his love of alcohol) caught up with us and I knew that we would both be happier if we parted ways.

    Now I have been married another 4 years to a man that I first lived with for 4 years. We have soooo much in common. Same religion, our parents share the same heritage from the old country, my Father thinks my husband is wonderful, and sometimes we even joke that we could be very distant cousins.

    Along with talking about all of the points that you discuss above, I found that for me it was important to be with someone that simply enjoyed the same things. And no that didn’t mean that he changed his ways for me. It means that right from day one we liked the same things. I find that marriage is so much easier and happier when you are both on the same page.

    • Andy says:

      Sicorra,

      That is certainly another great point to add!

      It’s crazy to think you dated him for 3 years and that still didn’t help you make the realization that you were really different and shouldn’t get married because of that.

      It goes to show that even if you date somebody for a long time, and even talk about some of these topics, that things could still end in divorce.

  15. Oh my gosh I can’t even tell you how much I agree with this post. So so so important to discuss all of these, and at length those that are important to you. Unfortunately these are 6 things that SHOULD stop a marriage before it starts, but it doesn’t always happen that way.

    The timing “before popping the question” is key. Engagements are incredibly difficult to derail. You should be very confident in your choice of spouse before an engagement is in place, and use the engagement period to fine-tune your marriage preparation.

    2. When my husband and I started dating, I was an atheist and he was a Christian. We went along OK because it was just dating and we were quite young, but religion (or lack of it) was important enough to both of us that we wouldn’t consider marriage. A couple years into our relationship I converted to Christianity and it was like starting our relationship over in many ways. We had to learn how to relate to one another in this area that became even more important to both of us. Now our shared faith is at the core of our marriage and we are able to encourage each other’s relationship with God.

    I don’t think a couple can have full intimacy if they don’t agree on their religious views, and to a lesser extent their religiosity. I recently attended the wedding of an atheist friend to a Christian. We had gently discouraged him from proposing but supported him when he decided to go forward. I don’t know if they will necessarily get divorced, but there is no way they can fully understand each other. This type of relationship completely does not compute to me, even though I used to be in one. If both partners are wishy-washy/vague/not very devoted I think the marriage can be OK, but in the case of my friend both of them are firm in their views. It just totally baffles me.

    5. On the flip side, politics is not really important to my husband or me. We do have similar views and talk about it from time to time but it’s not a big issue if we disagree. I know people who are very politically charged and they would definitely have to marry a similarly-minded person.

    1. The timing of children has been on my mind the last couple weeks. When we got married at 24 we knew we wanted to have kids at some later point but were vague on exactly when (“near graduation.”) Now that my husband is getting closer to finishing his PhD we are talking about our future family more. He’s advocating to start trying when I’m finishing up my Phd or even a bit earlier and I’m advocating for a year or two after I finish. It’s a disagreement that we’ll obviously work through but it would have been nice to be on the same page from the start.

    There is so much more I could say about this but I’ve already gone on too long! I’m really passionate about marriage and read/listen/think about it a lot. ๐Ÿ™‚ My best advice for engaged couples is to complete a good premarital counseling course (like, not just meeting with your officiant once or twice). I hope your post inspires some conversations among dating couples!

    • Andy says:

      Thanks for all of the great insight and thoughts, Emily! I appreciate that!

      Regarding your point about #2: I agree with you 100%. I’ve seen “Christians” get married to somebody from another (or no) religion and completely abandon their beliefs. It’s sad to me because as you watch that person over time you begin to see parts of them die as they’re lacking in an area that once was what made them whole.

  16. I agree with each of these. Mrs. MMD and I are approaching our 10 year mark, and I can guarantee that any of these topics could have easily been deal breakers if they were not addressed somewhere early on. I think the most important thing is to remember what is more important – your love for the other person or your stance on each of these topics? I’m not saying we should compromise all our beliefs, but be ready to meet someone half way if you REALLY plan to make it work. It’s funny how over time your position on each of these things will align themselves naturally.

    • Andy says:

      MMD, I do agree that your position does change overtime and begins to coincide with your spouses’.

      I don’t know if I’d say that I’d completely look past my stance on certain things though…that might lead to disaster. For instance, if you have a spouse that believes that it’s okay to go massively into debt, then I don’t think you can really “meet in the middle.” Furthermore the religion and children topics are also things that I don’t think you can simply look past and hope they eventually “align” with one another’s beliefs.

      With that said, I think you can on the rest of them.

  17. This is a very nice argument, and hits home on some many levels for so many married couples. You’re so right that many couples marry without considering some or any of these important familial factors, which often results in marital problems and long-term emotional pain. What’s even worse is when children are involved, which you pointed out in the beginning. Thank you for posting this.

  18. Daisy says:

    I love this , because it’s so true. Luckily, me and the boy are on the same page on almost all of these, except for family. his mother is intolerable, rude, demanding, and not even a nice person. She’s said all sorts of horrible things to me; her daughter won’t even talk to her. Because of that, my boyfriend feels responsible for her and tries to make up for his sister, so we fight about that sometimes. Other than that, being with somebody for 5 years without getting married definitely opens up these topics for discussion.

    • Andy says:

      It is important to date for awhile simply for the fact that time does force you to address many of these topics. My wife and I dated for four years and it really helped us out!

  19. Michelle says:

    I agree all of these definitely need to be discussed. We have talked about all of these but we need to talk about the kid subject more.

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