To learn more, we turned to Tina B. Tessina, Ph. D. (aka "Dr. Romance"), psychotherapist and author of The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again. She shares six of the most important things to discuss with your partner before deciding to get married.
One of the most important things to discuss before getting married is whether you and your partner have the same definition of commitment. “Whether you know it or not, you and your partner will define your relationship,” Tessina says. “If you don't know what your relationship means to both of you, you risk repeating past mistakes, getting stuck in uncomfortable roles or fighting about what a healthy relationship is,” she explains. Talk with your partner about what words such as relationship, commitment, love and faithfulness mean to you. You'll be amazed by what you learn.
Next to sex, money is the biggest generator of problems, arguments and resentment in long-term relationships. Couples often assume that money should be pooled, but it usually isn't always that easy. “A disparity in income can mean struggling about who pays for what or whose income determines your lifestyle,” Tessina explains. Different financial habits (one of you likes to save, the other spends more, or doesn't keep track) can become a source of argument. “For many couples, separating your money makes things run smoother; you don't wind up struggling for control. You can split expenses evenly, or work out a percentage share if your incomes are different,” she says.
If you already live together, you probably already have a handle on dividing up chores. If you're not yet living together, Tessina suggests taking a tour of each other's homes. “Drastically different decorating styles, neatness and organization levels can become sources of argument, and so can housekeeping and chores,” she says. “If you have different tastes, it may require a lot of creativity and negotiation to decorate a joint home in a way that makes both of you comfortable.”
Differing views of family and how important those ties are can have a big impact on whether you and your man are ready for marriage. “If one of you has a lot of family or friends, and the other doesn’t, find out what those relationships mean,” Tessina advises. Discuss where you’ll spend holidays and how often you’ll see each other’s parents. “If there are family members who have problems, such as addiction or mental illness, how much will that impact your relationship?”
Everyone handles stress differently and we all get upset from time to time. But how do you deal with your partner’s stress and anger? “If you are usually good at diffusing each other's anger and being supportive through times of grief or pain, your emotional bond will deepen as time goes on,” Tessina says. “If your tendency is to react to each other and make the situation more volatile and destructive, you need to correct that problem before you live together.”
Love and how to show it mean different things to different people so making this part of your pre-marriage discussion is important. “Sharing what actions and words mean love to you may be surprising. Even if it's a struggle, discussing how you give and receive love will improve your relationship,” Tessina explains. “You will understand what makes each of you feel loved, and how to express your love effectively.”
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