Nora Zelevansky is the author of the novel Semi-Charmed Life and has written for Vanity Fair, Elle, and T magazine. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Andrew, her one-year-old daughter, Estella, and a big-boned cat named Waldo.
Tons of couples are opting to sign up for pre-marital counseling before the big day, whether or not it's asked of them. If your officiant doesn't require counseling (your Universal Life Church-ordained sister may not be making demands), but you're still interested in the idea, you can book a few sessions with a couples counselor or coach or just take an hour once a week to bounce these subjects around with your fiancé.
Your vision for the future
"People tend to assume they're on the same page without checking in," explains L.A.-based therapist Ali Goldstein. "Do you want to live in an apartment or a house? In the city or the suburbs? If the relationship becomes strained, what steps do you agree to take?" Unless you ask these questions now, you may be in for surprises later.
Your fighting style.
How you argue is just as important as what you argue about. "Problems arise when a couple is mismatched in fighting style," explains Anita A. Chlipala, a Chicago-based marriage and family therapist. To get in sync, Goldstein suggests that you each ask yourselves, How do I deal with a change or crisis? What's my communication style? You may react to stress differently (e.g., on of you clams up and plays video games while the other rants and eats French fries). But if you examine your habits, then ask yourself, Would I rather be right or be loved? and Is my reaction helpful? when disagreements arise, you'll be able to make headway instead of spinning your wheels.
How you deal with money.
It's not romantic, but it's a fact: You can't survive on love; you need money. But how much, and how will it be coming in? Are you a saver or a spender? What's your long-term financial goal? These are things you must talk about. Rosove recommends that couples talk to a financial counselor before the wedding "to help set up long- and short-term goals," he says.
What family means to you.
By now, you've likely discussed whether you want kids. But the questions don't end there, says Reverend Julie Hoplamazian of Grace Episcopal Church in Brooklyn. "You bring your past with you to the table," she says. "For example, if one person comes from a small nuclear family and the other from a large one, the couple might argue about the 'right way' to celebrate Christmas without realizing it's because their experiences were different."
What you believe in.
This isn't about whether you think Tupac is alive or Beyoncé carried her own baby; this is about spirituality. Maybe religion is cultural for you, maybe faith gives meaning to your life, or maybe you find organized worship of any kind intolerable. Talk about it. Anne Bohner of Villanova, Pennsylvania, attended Pre-Cana sessions with her husband, and they were eye opening. "We had different religions; it helped to discuss our expectations. Did we hope deep down tha the other would convert? How would the kids be raised? Would we attend one church or both? Pre-Cana put it all on the table," she says.
Your sex life.
This is among the most awkward subjects to discuss — and the most important. "Talk about what your romantic expectations are," recommends Goldstein. "Are they fair? Are they realistic?" The key is being open and honest. "I ask couples, do they view their sexual relationships as a reflection of trust and faith?" says Rosove. "Do they share secrets?" That's a crucial part of intimacy.
Why you love each other.
Once you've answered the tough questions, it's time for the lovefest. Rosove, as part of the counseling process, gave us an exercise: "I have couples write what they love about the other person and why they want to get married," he says. "Then, at the ceremony, I repeat parts of what they said. It's a statement of who they are — personal and cosmic at the same time." Whether you're from Mars or Venus or Kalamazoo, doing the work up front doesn't mean marriage will always be easy, but it will give you more time after the wedding to enjoy what you've created together, through love and hard work.