[COMMUNITY] Questions Couples Should Ask Before Marriage
- Questions Couples Should Ask (Or Wish They Had) Before Marrying
Relationship experts report that too many couples fail to ask each
other critical questions before marrying. Here are a few key ones
that couples should consider asking:
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?
2) Do we have a clear idea of each other's financial obligations and
goals, and do our ideas about spending and saving mesh?
3) Have we discussed our expectations for how the household will be
maintained, and are we in agreement on who will manage the chores?
4) Have we fully disclosed our health histories, both physical and
5) Is my partner affectionate to the degree that I expect?
6) Can we comfortably and openly discuss our sexual needs,
preferences and fears?
7) Will there be a television in the bedroom?
8) Do we truly listen to each other and fairly consider one another's
ideas and complaints?
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?
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
12) What does my family do that annoys you?
13) Are there some things that you and I are NOT prepared to give up
in the marriage?
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?
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?
Marriage Is Not Built on Surprises
By ERIC V. COPAGE
IN love, as in other matters, what you don't know may hurt you.
Amanda Campo and Todd Johnson realized that last April, when the two
28-year-olds participated in Catholic Engaged Encounter, a retreat
with 44 other couples who were planning to marry in the Roman
Catholic Church. They remembered being surprised that so many of the
couples seemed so seriously out of sync.
For instance, when the couples were asked whether they would start a
family within a year of their marriage, nearly three-quarters said
they hadn't discussed the timing and were in disagreement on that
point, recalled Ms. Campo, a graphic designer in San Francisco for
the Banana Republic Web site.
"That's a big thing to talk about," said Ms. Campo, adding that she
and Mr. Johnson had decided around the time of their engagement to
wait three to four years after the marriage before having children.
Even so, Ms. Campo and Mr. Johnson, who had known each other for six
years and were raised in the same cultural and religious traditions,
had obvious issues that they hadn't addressed. For instance, who
would manage the money in their marriage?
"She automatically thought, `You're in finance, you should do all
that,' " said Mr. Johnson, a financial manager at Genentech, the
biotechnology company in South San Francisco, Calif. He told her that
the way she handled her own finances was impressive and that she
should handle theirs. "For us, out of all the questions, we were 85
percent the same," said Ms. Campo, who married Mr. Johnson in
October. "But a lot of couples were 85 percent different."
For too many couples, the spouses-to-be assume that they know each
other and the ground rules for their marriages, experts say. And
sometimes those heading to the altar dodge important questions
because they don't want to rock the boat.
A commitment to fidelity, for example, is a crucial issue, but one
that is rarely addressed, said Robert Scuka, the executive director
of the National Institute of Relationship Enhancement in Bethesda,
Md. "It's important to make those implicit assumptions about fidelity
explicit," he said. "Once the commitment to faithfulness is made
explicit, it becomes more difficult psychologically to engage
Seth Eisenberg leads classes for new instructors at an independent
marriage-education organization based in Weston, Fla., called Pairs,
which stands for Practical Application of Intimate Relationship
Skills. He uncovered more basic questions. He recounted a recent
class that his organization held in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "A young
man, a newlywed, thought his role was to be responsible for all the
decision-making for the couple," Mr. Eisenberg said. "However, the
couple had never discussed those issues, and his assumptions came as
a surprise to her."
Debt is another important issue. Gary N. Skoloff, a partner in
Skoloff & Wolfe, a matrimonial law firm in Livingston, N.J., recalled
one divorce case his firm handled. Only after the couple married did
the husband learn that his new wife had $230,000 in college debt. And
because she went on to become a legal aid lawyer, Mr. Skoloff
said, "her ability to pay back the debt was nil."
Although a husband or wife is not automatically liable for the
spouse's debt, Mr. Skoloff noted that in a case like this one, "She
could argue that he promised that he would help pay it when they got
married, or that she was spending all her income after marriage on
the family, rather than paying off the debt." Either of those
scenarios can trigger a legal nightmare.
It often helps to have a forum for those sensitive discussions. A
wide range of premarital counseling options have cropped up to meet
the need. Many couples seek counseling through their religious
institutions, the best-known source being the Roman Catholic program
But it is difficult for any person or institution to prescribe a
single set of questions that every couple should ask each other
before marrying. Something of vital importance to one couple may be a
nonissue to another.
A good place to start would be for a couple to ask why they should
not get married, suggests Corey Donaldson of Salt Lake City, the
author of "Don't You Dare Get Married Until You Read This!" (Three
Rivers Press, 2001). "It's the reasons that people should not get
married that are going to cause trouble down the line," he said.
Tony Hileman, the senior leader of the New York Society for Ethical
Culture, said couples often fail to talk about religion not whether
they will go to a church, mosque or synagogue together, he said, but
what role faith will play in a time of crisis. "If you have somebody
who is even nominally religious in a traditional sense with someone
who is an agnostic humanist, have they really discussed that?" he
Asking these tough questions in a rat-a-tat fashion about a
potential life partner's sexual orientation, or medical history,
including sexual or mental illness is unlikely to nurture the
Dr. Derek H. Suite, the chief executive of Full Circle Health, a
counseling center in the Bronx, recommends a gentle "teachable
moments" approach if asking those questions without benefit of a
"Wait for your opportunities and share from your own background
first," he suggested. "You might be in the car with somebody, and the
person says, `I'm investing in a stock,' and you can say, `Oh, are
you're into stocks? Do you have your own savings plan? I know I do,'
and that should open up a dialogue. Timing is everything. If you go
with a checklist, you're just going to turn that person off."
Mr. Skoloff, the lawyer, also recommends lots of "hand holding" while
making those inquiries although it is difficult to imagine how
intertwined fingers could take the edge off one question he
suggested: if either the potential spouse or his or her family has a
history of mental illness.
Couples should remember that the responses to premarital questions,
whether asked bluntly or gently, aren't necessarily going to cause
doubt, acrimony or anxiety. "Ninety percent of the time the problems
that come up are about a breakdown in communication," Mr. Eisenberg
said. In the case of the newlyweds in Fort Lauderdale, he said, the
wife didn't disagree with the decisions her husband was making, she
just wanted to be part of the process.