Friday, December 22, 2006

Do You Agree with the New York Times?

Paul was kind enough to let me know about a recent New York Times article entitled Questions Couples Should Ask (Or Wish They Had) Before Marrying. This article was their most frequent download for a week or two after it was published. I would love to hear your comments on these questions. Here are a few of my thoughts:

1) Have we discussed whether or not to have children, and if the answer is yes, who is going to be the primary care giver?

3) Have we discussed our expectations for how the household will be maintained, and are we in agreement on who will manage the chores?

Ah yes, sharing the domestic workload. Where have we heard that before? (Maybe here...) I think it's a great idea to open the dialogue on these issues before getting married. A word of caution, though; I have heard from many women whose husbands said they would help out, but then failed to follow through when the time came. The idea of sharing the workload might sound great in theory, but old-fashioned, stereotypical gender expectations often rear up and cause havoc at crunch time. Sure, talk about these issues as early as possible, but don't be surprised if it still takes some time to hash out how things will really work between the two of you.

Also, both of those questions are worded in a way that implies one partner should be expected to shoulder the bulk of the child care and housework burden. It may work that way in many households, but I also know of several where neither spouse is considered the primary parent nor the one who "owns" the chores. I'd prefer a question like: "Can we agree that we will share the chores as equally as possible? (allowing of course for the realities of life)"

2) Do we have a clear idea of each other’s financial obligations and goals, and do our ideas about spending and saving mesh?

How many young people are likely to know how shared finances will work when they haven't ever tried to do so? And how many have yet to arrive at a mature understanding of how they should manage their personal finances? (Or, for that matter, how many older people have yet to do so?) It's easy to say, "Oh, yes, we should save forty percent of every paycheck in a fund we'll never ever touch." That's easy to say but often harder to live up to. Agreeing on a financial plan before you marry doesn't mean you are done wrangling about the issue. Many times it only means you can say, "But you agreed we would do it this way!"

I don't mean to sound pessimistic. Certainly talk about these issues before getting married. Just be realistic and know there will still be work to do later.

4) Have we fully disclosed our health histories, both physical and mental?

Agreed. Anything but complete honesty here should be a deal breaker.

5) Is my partner affectionate to the degree that I expect

What if they aren't? Does that mean you should cancel or postpone the wedding? Maybe yes, maybe no; that's up to you to decide. Simply talking about this may not prompt the cold fish partner to warm up. On the other hand, such discussions can uncover underlying issues that can then be cleared up, thus relieving tension and opening the door to more spontaneous affection.

6) Can we comfortably and openly discuss our sexual needs, preferences and fears?

In my experience many young couples would answer this question with a "no," and not because they are dysfunctional. Young folks (heck, many older folks) often take a while to find their personal comfort zones when it comes to sex. Many issues still loom when they get married, such as the need to avoid pregnancy (at least for a while), the "chased versus chaser" mentality, the "sex is bad" messages that many people are bombarded with during their teens, and so on. A healthy dollop of tension around sex is common and should not be considered a reason to give up on a fledgling relationship.

7) Will there be a television in the bedroom?

I've never had one in my bedroom. Does anybody want to comment on this one?

8) Do we truly listen to each other and fairly consider one another’s ideas and complaints?

This is huge. The two people who truly respect each other, listen, and do their best to help each other (including a willingness to accept constructive criticism) -- this is a marriage with a good chance to flourish.

9) Have we reached a clear understanding of each other’s spiritual beliefs and needs, and have we discussed when and how our children will be exposed to religious/moral education?

Unlike the housework and sex issues, this is one where I would expect many people to have strong self awareness, even at a young age. And it's definitely a good idea to understand any sensitivities in this area.

10) Do we like and respect each other’s friends?

11) Do we value and respect each other’s parents, and is either of us concerned about whether the parents will interfere with the relationship?

12) What does my family do that annoys you?

How someone reacts to and gets along with others -- that tells you a great deal about that person. Beware the potential partner who has problems with everyone else in your life, or who wants to keep you all to themselves. If they have problems with everyone, remember they are the common factor in all those problems.

13) Are there some things that you and I are NOT prepared to give up in the marriage?

Come on, fella, she's right. That brown Naugahyde armchair is downright ugly. Pitch the chair and give her free rein to decorate the new place however she wants.

14) If one of us were to be offered a career opportunity in a location far from the other’s family, are we prepared to move?

I can see how this would be good to discuss, to have a general understand of the importance of extended family to each of you. I suspect, though, that such issues evolve over time and the answer depends on many factors, such as how juicy is the job opportunity, which of your family members still live in your home town by then, and so on.

15) Does each of us feel fully confident in the other’s commitment to the marriage and believe that the bond can survive whatever challenges we may face?

In other words, do we both feel good about doing this? Are we both optimistic? Please, if you answer no to this one, don't feel like it is too late to postpone or back out. It is much easier to have second thoughts beforehand than it is to undo things once you are married, especially once children are involved.

Now if you have a few moments in the midst of your holiday shopping and celebrating, I'd love to hear what you think.

Oh, and as an early Christmas present for all you grammar lovers out there, I gave in to the requests and added the serial comma in the banner at the top of this site.


  1. Anonymous11:56 AM

    my personal opinion: before even thinking about marriage, two people involved in a serious relationship should move in together. if they've lived together for at least a year (we could i suppose reduce it to six months, but a year is the safe period), shared everything (including finances, chores, etc.) and haven't come up with a major problem (something they can't get over and can't compromise about) then they can be pretty sure marriage will be pretty much the same (without a major problem - yet, anyway, you can't anticipate EVERYTHING).

    i am well aware that there's the whole 'sex before marriage' problem and the whole 'living in sin' thing. however, people have to understand that you're supposed to live with this person for the rest of your life and that you can't afford to be in the dark about absolutely anything. trusting him on his word won't do: there's always something. he either doesn't pack his socks, he doesn't brush his teeth at night, there must be some faults that you can't see even if you go on dates with him every night. unless you've lived with him you can't know all his faults (and you can bet that it's his faults that you don't know, i'm sure he was eager to show you his qualities). and some of these might be intolerable to you. the best way to know is to live with the guy.

    after that all these questions (maybe except the children issue, but if he agrees to share house chores i don't think he won't agree to share children chores) will pretty much answer themselves.

  2. All are good questions as were your respenses but there was one question I was looking for and didn't see and that was "Why get married"?

    I don't beleive in marriage personally, mostly because I don't beleive in divorce.
    Why go through all the trouble of getting married if there is a possibility of it someday falling apart and going through all the BS of getting divorced.
    I have seen some ugly messes with people getting divorced but those who just lived together packed up and left.
    If there were kids they dealt with that in court.
    Or do require the "pink slip" to our partner to keep them in line and others at bay.

    I think it doesn't matter if you are dating or getting married a good undedrstanding of what the future may hold is required before you commit yourself to anyone.

  3. okay #7 is really put in there with everything else? Why does that matter? It's like saying "are you okay with your mate snoring or picking their fingers etc"...very trivial things that may get on your nerves but still it's not up there with the top discussions you have in my book.

    okay i have to disagree with anonymous. You are going to have struggles about housework/bills/family with ANYONE. Married or living together. Are you saying those are reasons to leave them if you just live together? It's that whole greener pastures. You should ask all those questions before you move in together as well.

    Family is a big one and religion too. You really have to be on the same page. I find that I learned the bulk of the family history AFTER I married my husband. After that it was too late i was stuck lol.

  4. These are great questions to think about and should be discussed at some point prior to making any kind of commitment. Observations are great, but the issues need to be talked about to know what kind of things would be "deal breakers". You also need to know what to expect and plan for, in way of goals and lifestyle choices.

    Like Anonymous (11:56am), I lean toward living with someone before making the larger commitment of marriage. However, living together doesn't necessary need to be the first step as there are usually indications during the courtship of whether or not the other person lives by what answers they respond with, we simply have to pay attention.

  5. Anonymous7:41 PM

    I have to agree with anonymous up there.
    If I had not lived with my husband before we were married (for about a year) I don't think that we would still be married.
    Yes, we talked about all that, but how do you know those ideas will work unless you put them into action?
    Things definitely changed in that year together. He was on his best behaviour for a while, then we got comfortable. Yeah, comfortable sometimes meant new issues, but I knew practically everything about him before we were married. I wouldn't be comfortable signing the dotted line on a car without test driving it first. And that's not forever!!
    And with the faith part, I agree also. It was hard knowing what we were doing was wrong in my faith, but I don't like surprises, and to me, living together was the best way to eliminate 99% of that.

  6. Anonymous9:35 PM

    I love this one. There is a single problem with this questionnaire. Simply, these are not questions to be answered by a couple. These are personal issues that should be asked of ourselves. When I coach couples I find that these types of concepts have them pointing fingers and making excuses as to why it is the spouses fault. I take them aside and have them answer a similar questionnaire, all about themselves. When they are done, they read them to one another in a consequence free and defense free environment. Amazing how it comes to be that the issues that is fired at the other are really a personal doubt that has to be reconciled with themselves. My wife and I lived together for five years before we married and the moment we said “I do” our entire dynamic shifted. We were no longer a couple living together, we were married and now the little things that were nothing became big things that were something. Why? Because now it was forever. Before the rings and paper that define permanency, all was temporary, even if you own property together. When it’s official, then it’s serious. When I coach couples before marriage, I do not ask them to evaluate their partner’s communication dynamic, but their own. If I am okay with me and see that your list is manageable as well, we can make this work. If all I focus on is you, well, were probably doomed.
    Thomas K. Matthews

  7. I'm approaching my 18th anniversary and I may be in a different generation than the others posting comments, but I don't think living together prior to marriage is a huge help. Aren't there stats that say a greater % of couples who lived together will divorce than couples who did not cohabitate before marriage? (I'd track it down, but I'm lazy tonight. Sorry!)

    We went through manditory marriage counseling at our church for 3 months before the wedding. Minus the TV question (we have one--it has the Tivo and we can see what the children are recording), we were asked to consider all of these questions.

    One that I've come to believe was missing is this: "What celebrations and ceremonies from your childhood/past are important to you and will you be able to support those that are important to your spouse?" Some of our most frustrating disagreements have centered around birthdays, funerals, family reunions, etc. It may seem trivial, but becomes an issue when children arrive!

    I wish that annual "well-visits" were available at no cost for couples counseling.

  8. #7: TV in the bedroom?

    By all means discuss this issue! I can't tell you how many problems over the last 24 years in my own marriage have been caused by this seemingly insignificant matter. None serious enough to end the relationship, obviously, but serious enough to notice!

    While I sleep, I must have absolute blackness and near-total silence. My husband can ONLY sleep with the TV on. And what does he like to watch, you ask? long as there is lots of screaming, machine-gunfire, and crashing automobiles!

    We started sleeping apart a couple of year ago, and we get along SO much better! We never admit this to anyone--they look at us funny.

    Recently, we had to start sleeping in the same room again, due to family circumstances (our daughter came home for Christmas). We have BOTH been miserable ever since. This arrangement will last until the middle of January, when our daughter goes back to her apartment before she starts the Spring semester at college.

    So, talk this one out. It could have ramifications far down the line for anyone!

  9. I think if the couple agrees about children, there should be more talk about how to raise them. I have seen many a happy narriage fall into divorce just because the parents could not agree on how to raise the kids. Questions such as, "Is it OK if your son wears pink?" "Do you plan to homeschool or public school?" "Spanking or non-violence?" Should be asked prior to marriage and children.
    These can be real issues when the parents disagree!

  10. I cannot really answer this since I've never been married, but, while I agree that most of these questions cannot be answered without trying them first, I think that anything that requires spouses-to-be to at least consider that a conflict might arise isn't a bad thing. No, you may not be able to predict in advance how shared finances might work, but you can at least be aware that things will probably not continue as they are and that you may need to be flexible. Housework may not be carried out equitably but if it's been discussed ahead of time, nobody can say they were blindsided after the wedding.

    As far as living together or not, I think it depends on the couple. My parents lived together for three years before they got married and are still cruising along very contentedly toward their 31st anniversary. I think there are statistics that say that couples who lived together are more likely to divorce, but statistics are never as straightforward as they look on paper. Both the living together and the divorce rate might be symptoms of something else, not cause and effect of one another.

  11. All these things should be discussed. However, as others have said, discussing them does not guarantee that the problems won't arise.

    You have to be willing to compromise.

    As a single person, I always slept with a TV in my room. My husband needs quiet to sleep. He also falls asleep within 5 minutes. I stay awake longer. I'f I'm still awake 20 minutes after I lie down, I just get up and watch TV or get on the computer for a while. Yes, I do fall asleep on the couch occasionally, but that's no big deal.

    He has been willing to accept my somewhat eccentric family, so I can accept his sleeping habits.

    I love him. We share core values--family, ethics, religion--the rest is negotiable.