If you’re in a serious relationship and you’re considering getting married, experts say there are some tough questions you need to discuss with your partner first. “Before marriage, there is more levity than after marriage,” says sex therapist Holly Richmond. Prior to committing to each other for the long haul, it’s wise to talk through topics that can lead to divorce, including children, money, and monogamy.
It’s not that you need to agree on every tiny detail of how your shared life will unfold before you walk down the aisle: Compromise is possible in many cases, but compromise (not to mention happiness) is only possible with communication. Here are seven signs marriage with your partner might not work out, which you can think of as seven conversations to have before you walk down the aisle.
1. One of you wants children, but the other doesn’t.
“Do you want kids?” is one of the most important questions to ask before legally binding yourself to someone. Despite the life-changing gravity of the decision, many couples avoid the subject or believe that they’re both on the same page without confirming. “Often one partner who wants to have children just makes the assumption that the other one wants to without asking the questions,” psychologist and sexologist Denise Renye says.
At the risk of stating the obvious, having children is a big deal. You can’t just return them or stick them back inside of you, and parenthood means an undeniably different lifestyle than non-parenthood. While it’s OK to be uncertain about whether or not you want kids, or to be uncertain about how many you want, if you know one way or another and your partner feels differently, don’t expect marriage to give them a new perspective. “I would never suggest that a couple goes into a marriage thinking a partner will change their mind,” Richmond says.
2. You have opposing (and inflexible) views about how to raise kids.
If you are in a partnership in which you both want children, it’s time to consider how you’re going to raise them once they’re in the world: How are you going to handle religion, education, and discipline, to name a few areas with high potential for conflict? Perhaps you want your kids to grow up going to church, but it turns out that your partner is opposed to their children participating in organized religion. Maybe you have very different ideas about how involved your potential spouse’s mother is going to be in your children’s lives. Thankfully, Richmond says couples often find ways to compromise on these issues. “Just make sure that these things are explored,” she cautions.
3. Your approaches to money are incompatible.
For many couples, with marriage comes the merging of assets. Even if you maintain separate bank accounts, how you spend your money is inevitably going to be a topic of conversation — and possibly a fraught one. In marriage, financial habits that we once found bearable or even attractive in our partners can become points of contention. “We’re typically drawn to people who are different from us,” Richmond says. “Let’s say you have a planner who is always in control. She gets really attracted to this super energetic, present, fun, person who can’t save a dime.” When this hypothetical couple gets married and, say, starts saving for a mortgage, the partner with the “It’s only money” attitude can start to seem more irresponsible than fun-loving to their spouse.
Both Richmond and Renye say that partners with different spending habits can learn from one another and help balance each other out. However, money is a touchy subject, so you need to acknowledge such differences prior to marriage, even if it’s a hard conversation. “Talking about money is more of a taboo to some couples than sex,” Renye acknowledges. Along with different spending habits, if there is an income or wealth disparity between partners, that should be addressed as well. Do you want to split everything? If you make more than your partner, are you both OK with you paying for more? On the plus side, having these tough conversations could ultimately bring you closer together, as well as eliminate tension before it escalates.
4. You don’t want to live where your partner wants to live.
In today’s technology-driven world, many of us can work remotely or have flexibility when it comes to where we’re based, and Richmond says that she’s seeing more couples take a relaxed approach to deciding where to live. However, some people have one place in mind, be it for family reasons or career, and if their partner feels otherwise, that’s an issue. “Talk to your partner and ask, ‘Where do you think we’re going to live? Are you attached to raising your kids in one specific area, or are you open to moving your kids around? What if you get this work opportunity?'” Richmond says.
For other couples, location may be a question of lifestyle preferences more than anything else. One partner, for example, could be set on living in a big city, while the other prefers the quiet country life. The middle ground could mean finding a quiet neighborhood just outside a city, but only if you talk it out: Remember, disguising or playing down your preferences about where you end up won’t help you or your partner.
6. You’re set on a relationship format that doesn’t work for your partner.
Hopefully, a couple will have shared their thoughts on monogamy and open relationships before marriage, but unfortunately, some assume their partner will simply change their mind after they’re married. For instance, one partner in a monogamous relationship may assume they and their partner will try an open arrangement eventually. Alternately, one partner in an open relationship could think that marriage automatically means a transition to monogamy. The good news is that couples can experiment with what works for them at different points in time, as long as they’re respecting each other’s needs, preferences, and boundaries. (Do not marry someone who knows they are polyamorous with the expectation that you can manipulate them into monogamy. It will not work.)
A common misconception is that monogamy and polyamory, or sleeping with and dating more than one person, are the only two options. In reality, there are as many ways to enjoy an open relationship as there are couples. If you and your partner aren’t entirely on the same page or your desires change over time, there’s a good chance you’ll find a compromise in a relationship format that works for you. “There are so many options,” Renye says. “You could have a compromise that might not include emotional intimacy but just having sex with other people. Have an understanding that there is a middle ground to be compromised and met on. I think that’s how the institution of marriage is even changing and broadening.” As in any relationship, you and your partner get to write the rules of your marriage.
7. You have conflicting views of what it means to be married.
“The word ‘marriage’ might mean different things to totally different people,” Renye says. What’s more, marriage also means different things in the context of different religions and cultures. Whether or not you’re in a relationship with someone who has a different cultural or religious background than you, it’s important to talk about what marriage means to you both and why you want to be married in the first place. Maybe your potential spouse assumes that getting married means one of you will stay home to care for your future kids, but you don’t share this vision. Maybe you assume that marriage involves monogamy or a joint bank account, but your partner doesn’t agree.
So, how do you understand and adjust to differences in opinion? Once again, the answer is communication — both before and after the wedding. Call in a professional if you need extra assistance talking through thorny issues: A couples therapist or relationship counselor can help you find productive ways of communicating with your partner. Finally, Renye offers this evergreen piece of advice: “Don’t make assumptions in any area.”