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.