When we think about finding someone, falling in love, and settling down, we rarely like to think about one of the possible outcomes of getting married: getting divorced. Divorce is, unfortunately, a real part of some relationships. But there's a thin line between realism and scaremongering—even though divorce definitely happens, that doesn’t mean it has to happen to you. While you can’t prevent life from getting in the way (and unexpected barriers and obstacles coming up) you can make sure your relationship is as strong as possible to withstand them. And, ideally, that starts way before you even get married.
Although you might imagine that everyone has those big, important relationship conversations before they tie the knot, you’d be surprised how many issues get swept under the carpet or ignored completely. Asking the right questions can start you on the right foot for married life—and help keep divorce at bay. "A lot of people start having these conversations when they’re engaged and then feel like it’s too late," says marriage therapist Hatty J. Lee.
Meet the Expert
Hatty J. Lee, M.S., L.M.F.T, is a marriage therapist and founder of Oak and Stone Therapy based in California.
It's totally normal to disagree on some issues. The key is facilitating an open and honest conversation. Lee reminds couples that there's often "something a lot deeper" to the positions people hold. Whether it's fears surrounding being a good spouse or parent, or fears of conflict, couples need to be able to find ways to identify those fears and nurture security around them. If you still don't see eye to eye? Don't panic. "It’s very important to ask, is this a need or is this non-negotiable? Even if you disagree on a lot of it but it’s all negotiable, you can work through that," she says.
However, if the disagreements are causing pain, know that it's totally OK to hit pause on your engagement—at least until you sort things out. "If at any point you find you’re both engaging in destructive, painful relational patterns with each other, pause and take a break instead of rushing and forcing yourself to go through with the process," says Lee. "The issue is not going to go away. Anything that you don’t resolve is going to come up in full force once you're married."
And if you feel a question coming on, go ahead and ask. "You can ask any question whenever you want, because at the end of the day if you’re thinking it and if it’s something that’s important to you, you don't want to be wasting your time." Just remember to come from a place of vulnerability and explain why it's important to you.
Here are 12 questions to ask your partner before you get married, because an uncomfortable conversation now can save you so much heartache later.
What Are Your Financial Goals and How Can We Try to Reach Them?
First and foremost, you need to talk about money. Money is the number one source of relationship stress between couples, so being on the same page early on is crucial. Asking about financial goals is a lot more positive than saying, “How come you never seem to pay your bills on time but splurge on delivery three nights a week?”
"It’s definitely a big sore spot for a lot of couples," says Lee. She suggests diving into debt, spending, and saving. Ask questions like: How do you expect to share the expenses? Do you have gender-based financial expectations? Will we merge our accounts? How will we prioritize spending?
You want to start a conversation and get a sense of whether the two of you are financially compatible—not in terms of how much you earn, but in how you view and manage money.
How Can I Help You When You’re Stressed?
One of the best things you can do for your partner is to learn how to help them when they’re down. Some people need reassurance, others need space, others need a pep talk—everyone is different. But when we’re actually stressed and struggling, we may not be able to communicate these needs fully. Establishing what you need in advance means you and your partner are able to help each other and cope with stress as it arises.
Do You Want Children and What Would We Do if We Struggle to Get Pregnant?
You’d assume that everyone would touch base about children before they get married—but sometimes it doesn't happen. While you should definitely discuss whether or not you both want them, you also should have a broader conversation. Struggling to get pregnant can be devastating in a relationship, and it’s not the time you want to realize that one of you wants to go through IVF and the other thinks it’s too challenging—or one of you is open to adoption and the other isn’t. Although your opinions may change over time, when and if you’re actually in that position, talking early can make sure you’re entering the situation as a team.
What Are Your Expectations Around Childcare and Parenting?
If you're both set on wanting kids and how many, great! The next question to ask is how to raise them. Lee suggests asking the following, "If we have children, what are your expectations around child care and parenting? Do you have any gender-based expectations? Are you a feminist? Which is your ideal situation—do we both work and take care of the kids? Would you want to stay at home?" Also, discuss how each partner was raised and what you liked and didn't like about it.
What’s Your Communication Style?
Everyone hears that communication is crucial for a relationship, but it can be tricky to know how to have healthy communication if you both seem to have different communication styles. So while it seems meta, communicate about communication. Does one of you need time to think things over? Does one of you speak off the cuff and then regret it? Does one of you communicate better in writing? Unlock the communication issue and everything else gets easier.
What Are Your Deal-Breakers?
Everyone has deal-breakers. They may be about traditional issues—whether you want children, what religion you want them to be raised, what you need from a partner, but they can also look totally different. Your deal-breakers could be about where you need to live, passion projects you want to pursue, or career goals you need support to meet. Knowing these nonnegotiables will give you a good sense of the landscape of your future and whether it works for both of you. If your deal-breakers fit together, your marriage has a much stronger chance of survival.
How Much Alone Time Do You Need?
Everyone needs alone time, but some people need more than others. If you don’t know that alone time is a normal need for your partner, you may assume that they’re withdrawn, angry, or resentful when they seek space. Establishing early on that you both need alone time—and how that manifests—will not only strengthen your relationship, it will prevent confusion in the future.
What's Your Biggest Fear?
It might not be an easy question, but it’s one that can get you right to the bottom of what makes someone tick. Marriage is about understanding—and not just understanding your hopes, dreams, and ambitions. It’s also about understanding fears, regrets, and struggle—especially in relation to marriage. Make sure that you’re asking the tough questions and your marriage will have a much deeper level of understanding.
"There’s a lot of folks where they grew up in families where marriage was not a positive thing," says Lee. "Be able to have honest conversations around that. Nurture and be considerate of those fears and address them together."
How Do We Deal With our In-Laws?
When trying to create a new family, it's necessary to set boundaries regarding in-laws. "There’s a lot of people who are still attached to their family of origin in a way where they feel like they’re still a little kid trying to please their family," says Lee. Though being close to family is endearing, it may pose challenges later on, especially if you and your partner's family don't see eye to eye.
"A bigger overarching question is, if we’re married, how do you plan on prioritizing our relationship?" she says. "If your parent wants something and I want something else, how would you approach that? What are your values around prioritizing our new family as a married couple? How much time do you see us spending with your family?" are some of the questions to ask.
What Are Your Fantasies Surrounding Marriage?
"Do you have any fantasies about what you’re looking for in a marriage and in your partnership?" is a question you should also ask according to Lee. Your partner might envision having nightly home-cooked meals, weekly date nights, regular travels, or acting as a unit in social situations, but that might not be what you want. Be aware of each other's marital fantasies to avoid surprises and disappointment after the wedding.
What Are Your Expectations on Sex?
Partners may have different views on how often sex should happen within marriage and it's important to honestly explore expectations on intimacy. "That’s part of the conversation around the relationship, what the expectations and fantasies are around that, especially given it changes around the course of our relationship," says Lee. "There are seasons when it’s really hot and then there are seasons when it’s really dry." Assure each other that less sexual activity, especially during those dry seasons, doesn't mean you've lost interest in your spouse. Collaborate in exploring other ways to be intimate.
What Does Marriage Mean to You?
Marriage doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. Some people think it’s an almost all-consuming partnership, some people think it’s a legal agreement. Talking about your expectations can help make sure that neither of you has needs or expectations that aren’t being met—you can feel like you’re approaching this next chapter together.
There’s no guaranteed way to divorce-proof your marriage, but you can give it the best chance at surviving and thriving. Having conversations before you get married on these big issues and making sure that your needs, wants, and expectations all line up can ensure you’re going into married life on the strongest possible foot. When in doubt, communicate—ask questions, listen, and discuss. It’s the shortest path through any obstacle.