After you and your partner get engaged, you'll be having lots of conversations—to nail down a wedding date, come up with an invite list, and figure out where to head for a honeymoon. But an engagement is about more than party planning; you two are starting a life together. And that means finding out if you're on the same page when it comes to some crucial topics.
These kinds of talks aren't easy. But hashing out money, career, and other important issues before you put a ring on it can strengthen your bond and give you the confidence that you're a well-matched couple, says Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author of How to Be Happy Partners: Working it Out Together.
You don’t have to feel the exact same way about every topic. "But you do need to be able to discuss them and find ways to work with your differences," says Tessina. These are the subjects to broach right now, plus the exact questions to get each conversation rolling—so you get answers as to where you both stand.
Do you want to have kids?
You probably have an idea about whether your partner wants to be a parent. "If the answer is yes, then there are many other questions to solve," says Tessina. How many children is ideal? Would you be open to adoption or surrogacy if fertility issues arise? Will one person stay home and be the primary caretaker?
While it's hard to know exactly what kind of parent you'll be until kids arrive, you should both be upfront about how you think you'll raise your family—for example, with strict discipline, or by having a more laid-back approach? Again, you can't know for sure how these things will play out. But if you have very different ideas about bringing up kids now, "you both need to find a way to agree on parenting styles, and what kind of family life you want," adds Tessina.
How will we handle ourfinances?
Money issues are a leading cause of divorce, so don't hold back on this one. "You may not think of your marriage as a business partnership, but a huge part of it is just that," says Tessina. "Just like a business, a marriage takes in income, pays expenses, and is supposed to have a little profit (think savings and equity) left over."
If you're already living together, you might already share some finances. But clarify if things will change once you say I do. Will you go in 50-50 and keep separate bank accounts or combine accounts? Be open about your incomes and whether the person who makes more should contribute more. If you have different money styles—you're a saver and your partner is a spender, lets say—work out how much you hope to sock away and what you can each keep as play money.
Finally, discuss your debts; one person's unpaid student loans or credit card debt can affect your shared financial future. Being honest about money now means you'll raise any red flags about spending and saving habits and address them before your lives are fully joined by marriage, says Tessina.
How do you see your career evolving?
Are you a workaholic and expect your partner to have the same commitment to their career? Do you want your spouse to take a break from the work world and take on a bigger role handling family issues? Find out now, so you don't encounter surprises down the road that can threaten your partnership.
You don't have to have all the answers about where you expect to work or how demanding your future job will be. But discussing your goals and where you see yourself job-wise in two, five, or 20 years "will lay the groundwork for handling actual events and decisions in the future," says Tessina. Be very open about where you are today, your dreams for the future, and any concerns you have about finances and time management.
How involved will our families be?
How you relate to your families is a surprising source of tension among wedded partners. Be honest about how frequent you plan to spend time with your own parents and siblings, and what those interactions will be like—for example, do you plan to invite your parents over for dinner every weekend, or take an annual vacation with your sister and her brood? Address how involved you hope to be with your future in-laws too.
Tessina suggests a few other specific questions: Where will you two spend holidays? If there are family members who have problems, such as financial stress, addiction, or mental illness, how much will that impact your relationship? And consider discussing how you intend to deal with aging parents who need extra need care, and how involved you want your families to be if you plan to raise kids.
What role willfaith play in our lives?
You can skip this one if you're both certain that faith isn't a concern. But as you get closer and spend more time with each other's families, religion does tend to move to the forefront, especially if you see children in your future. Discussing any differences in your religious beliefs can help begin the process of intermingling traditions, says Tessina. "New couples must learn to accept and appreciate each other's holiday celebrations and traditions," she explains.
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If you're upfront about what your religious life looked like growing up and the traditions you want to keep (plus those you can live without), compromising in the future will be easier and less unexpected.