Sunday, March 14, 2010

Questions to ask when preparing for marriage

Here is part of an email I received from a new reader a couple of days ago. I'm publishing it anonymously, with her kind permission:

"My boyfriend and I have been considering marriage, lately, and we want to take serious steps in that direction. Our pastor's wife suggested that, as a preliminary task, I talk to married women that I look up to and ask them what questions they think a young couple considering engagement should be asking themselves-- or even what questions they, themselves, wish they'd asked before getting married. They can be shallow or deep, vague or specific-- anything is valuable to us, right now!"

I'm always very hesitant about offering any advice regarding marriage - please understand that I'm a new wife myself; we've only been married for two years, and we're both imperfect human beings with our failings and faults. But, from the limited experience I do have, I'll try to share a few points. 

I assume that you and your young man have already been seeing each other for a while, feel comfortable around each other, and respect and trust each other - otherwise you probably wouldn't be thinking of marriage at all. 

I think the first, and very important question to be asked, is whether the two of you have the same long-term goals regarding how both of you view your future life, and in particular marriage and family. How does each of you define the roles of husband and wife in marriage? How do you imagine children entering your family, and how would you like to raise them? 

There are couples who feel they are very well-suited when they are dating, but later their marriages fall apart because one of the spouses believes in a husband's leadership and the other doesn't, or because one of the spouses is open to the gift of life and children, and the other isn't. I know a couple where the husband bore a deep emotional wound because his wife was not ready to have another child, however he asked. I realize people change as years go by, and what seems acceptable now may look different in, say, five years, but if you're on the same page now that's still saying something.

What sort of lifestyle do you envision for your future family? Do you want to live in the city, suburbs, country, near to one or both sets of your parents? Do you think you might wish to homeschool your children? My husband expressed his interest in homeschooling on something like our third or fourth date, and just so you understand, this is generally very unacceptable in Israel so it helped to know that at least in theory, we're both comfortable with the idea of being "those weirdos" wherever our family happens to live. 

How do you like your future in-laws? It may not seem that significant right now, but the fact is, the two of you will not just be starting a new family, you will also be marrying into existing families. I've been blessed with the most wonderful in-laws you can imagine. My husband's parents have open hearts and had immediately accepted me as one of their own daughters. All his siblings are very special, precious people whom I admire and love to be around. But I also know of marriages where great strain was placed on the couple because of tactless interference, nosing around, poisoning the husband and wife against each other, all done by the people who are supposed to love them both. I believe it's very important to put some distance between your parents and your new family, and make it clear from the start that you are paving your own way. If you and your future husband don't see eye to eye regarding his and your family issues, it may be a problem. 

How would you handle finances? Do you agree on what you consider basic necessities for your family, and what you consider luxuries you can do without? Are both of you financially responsible, are you ready to live frugally if need be? Money may become a huge stress-maker if one of the spouses is sensibly frugal and the other is more of a spender. 

Is your boyfriend happy with the idea of his future wife being a homemaker? Does he see the importance of a wife and/or mother at home? Are both of you willing to make sacrifices to make this possible, if need be, and to withstand social pressure? Does he realize the responsibility of a husband as a leader of his family and a role model for his children? 

These are just a few questions I believe you should ponder, and also discuss with your young man. Some of these, of course, you may have thought of already. Above all, I believe you should pray for Godly providence and guidance in this very crucial matter of tying your life together with the life of your husband. 

To wives who have more experience than myself: your thoughts and input on this matter will be welcome and very much appreciated!


Lady Anne said...

The only advice my dad ever gave me about marriage was, "Never consider a man who doesn't like cats. People who don't like cats generally insist on having their own way. When some one issues an ultimatum, they always lose. If you refuse, there's trouble, and if you go along grudgingly, eventually you will rebel." I know it sounds frivolous, but it's worked for thirty-five years!

Rachel said...

Congratulations on returning home, btw!

I think the thing that has been the most important in the formation of my marriage has been our willingness to grow together. Marriage isn't just the combination of two one-person households--it's the combination of two people! That's one of the reasons I favor marrying young.

While this really isn't a question to ask yourself or your spouse, I think it's important to discuss in detail the implications of combining your lives. If the two people have been living alone for several years (two professionals in their thirties, perhaps, as is common in the US), the process of learning to live together will be difficult, and both sides will have to compromise about their space and stuff. If the couple is young and at least one partner has not lived outside the family home before, they need to discuss how they want their lives to look in five years.

I know it seems awfully unromantic, but it may be useful to take a more business-minded approach to the situation. Do you have a 5-year plan? A 10-year plan? Part of an individual personality is how we deal with stuff and social status and class. Do you and your partner come from a similar background? Two hundred years ago, would your relationship be considered an "advantageous match" by both families? Today, we dislike looking at relationships in economic terms, but finance is one of the top causes of divorce. Don't marry for money, but make sure that the two of you are economically compatible (how you deal with money and emergency expenses, how you think about household finance, how you value business and the home, etc.).

I hope this helps.

Nea said...

Great questions, Anna.

I would add one more: does your boyfriend feel at home with your friends and vice versa?

Walters Inc said...

Anna, all of these are excellent questions and thoughts for this young woman Anna! I would also add something else... depending on the young woman's religious outlook (I am coming from a christian perspective so I will share that advice.) Ask questions about how he would lead his family at church etc. Making sure your ideas of family ministry, hospitality and church ministry are in harmony are so important. I had always felt God calling me to work at church. My husband and I found out early on in our "dating time" that he too felt the same and that is the direction he wanted to lead our family. He now preaches at a small community church and leads us here.
Making sure you are both on the same page in this area is so important that way you are ready to support and follow your husband where-ever he chooses to lead your family in a religious/ministry area. For example.... Do you want to teach Sunday School? Does he want you to teach Sunday School? Does he want to be in a authority position at the church? Etc
I have been married for 7 years and that would be my young married advice :)
Thank you Anna for your blog!

Double Drudgery said...

These are all important questions.
But truthfully, as someone married almost twenty years, I'd say most couples change drastically over the years. Unless both spouses are staunchly religious and bound by those rules - and hey, even that changes.

Of all the questions you posed, I'd say the most important refer to HOW decisions are made. Is the husband the leader? Or are both husband and wife given equal value/weight in decision making? Because trust me, the decisions themselves will change. You may both want 10 children now, but he may change his mind once he realizes how much work one child is. You may both want to be frugal now, but you may want a nice big house once your husband lands a great job. The point is not necessarily what you both want - though of course you should be APPROXIMATELY on the same page- but how you will decide future issues. Because life is fluid and you never know what's around the corner.

And - COMPROMISE. COMPROMISE. COMPROMISE. The magic three words.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Tammy, of course people change. However, if from the start one of spouses wants a large family and the other doesn't want any children at all, I'd say there's a very good chance conflicts will arise later on.

Jiabaoyu said...

From an observation I've made regarding other people's marriage, finances seem to be a major blind spot for women looking for potential mates, esp if the woman wants to stay home. She needs to ask herself, does he have the ability to provide for me when I stay home?

I personally would be happy whether a man is able to provide for a family on one family or two. I have no plans to stay home, as neither my mother, nor most of my aunties, nor my grandmother ever did. However, my preference is that he be able to provide all by himself "just in case"---because options are always nice.

I've come to this conclusion after watching a few friends who wanted to stay home badly but due to poor financial decisions (some of which begins with making sure their husbands have stable, well paying jobs), they were not able to get the arrangement they wanted. Both are doing well now, but I think the financial hardships of their husband's situation created an extra bump in the road that is limiting their family size. Even though both thought they had husbands that could provide well, a more prudent path may have prevented problems later down the road. One became the family breadwinner b/c her husband could not find work (and was laid off twice in their short marriage draining their family income). This coupled with a sick child meant the family saw a dangerous drainage of funds in a short time. The other was just wasteful with money. She along with her husband did not give foresight to saving towards future children. Even though her husband had the ability to provide, he could not retain that money b/c he and his wife were both big spenders. Providing for a family isn't just about producing an income, it also includes keeping that money in the house.

No one can predict the future, but I find there are girls who want to live the "fairy tale" dream as a wife aren't realistic about their financial situation and end up in places they do not want to be. Just food for thought.

may said...

I'm not married but I saw this list in the New York Times a while back ( and thought that most of these are what I would consider if I were thinking of taking such a serious step.

One at least is just plain odd (no. 7? - truly, is that a dealbreaker?) but the others seemed sensible, and entirely predictable, to me. I'd be interested to hear whether those readers who did discuss issues like these believed that it helped them build a better foundation for marriage. Did any of you ignore, or at least disregard for the moment, the answers you got in the hopes that things might change?

Angelique said...

Good things to look at so far. I'll add: Is there any outstanding debt? How does the partner deal with failure, imperfections, commitments? Can you picture yourself brushing his teeth and caring for him in all the other personal ways if he was to become disabled ill etc? I can see myself and my DH as being old together and I couldn't do that with any other guy I dated.

How do you view each others families? I'm seeing how much my DH is like his parents and he sees I am like mine in little habits and foibles more so that I was before. 5 years ago I didn't see too much of my mother in me and now do and he sees the same re: his father and him.

Goldnrod said...

No one has said anything about compatibility & I think that is because incompatibility is an excuse often used to get divorced. However, I go think a couple should be compatible, marriage is hard enough w/out always having to explain yourself to your partner. I know a couple who just see things so differently it really puts a strain on the marriage. So, if your are getting comments from friends & especially parents saying they can't understand why you're together, because you are so different, listen carefully! Especially if they're saying they don't think you're a good fit. A perfectly nice, even wonderful person can still be wrong for YOU!

Angela said...

Another important question that you and your future husband should ask yourselves is "Am I able to love this person every day, even when he/she is being unlovable?" I think many marriages fail b/c when their spouse is not making them happy, they want to go elsewhere for that happiness. We are all very unlovable at times and that is when you must choose to love your spouse the most. That is probably when they need to be loved the most. The other question I would ask is Can I put this persons needs and wants before my own. If you both put each other before yourself, you will always feel cherished and you will come to appreciate each other more every day.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say that I would agree with all your points, Anna, looking back! Now, those were questions we really didn't ask, for the most part...but the grace of God has proven abundant in our marriage and brought us together in unity on these issues (plus, never underestimate the power of a praying wife! *smile*). However, praying for a person to change going into the marriage, would not be the wise thing to do. You ideally want to see a person for who they are, right now--not who you want them to be.

Anyway, I can truly say all of those points are vital, as I read through each one of them nodding because my husband and I have faced every single one (and so far it's been almost 3 years, and first baby due next month). =) Not a whole lot of experience, but enough to show that all those things DO matter and are very worth considering!! Thanks for the post.

Jo said...

Couldn't agree more with you Anna - your words of advice are spot on, I only wish that someone had said these things to me when I got married.

Anonymous said...

Many good questions and comments. While money has been covered, I would add that a wife-to-be and her potential husband should talk about charity and the role that charity and generosity will play in their lives. Do they want to use their money to help others, their time, or a combination of the two? When parents get older, what does the potential husband want to do? This, of course, depends on the parents, but it's good to know before it's needed that you want help your parents with money, but your husband-to-be does not. I would also ask what role the potential husband sees for physical intimacy in their lives; the couple may not really know this or how to ask, but it's good to have a starting ground (ie - one partner does not believe in intimacy while pregnant).
Hope this helps.

Katy M. said...

It definitely think that discussing what your roles in the family will be is monumentally important. Is your husband to be more egalitarian or traditional in his views when it comes to home and raising children? If you are to work outside the home (for whatever reason) will he be willing to do chores around the house, cook, etc.? The way he saw things done in his own home will affect the way he will want things done in his own marriage to be sure...but it is also important to make sure he is willing to grow and find your own way as a couple.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anna,
I've been married 40 years very happily. The two questions I asked myself were: is he a man you would be willing to sacrifice for and is he a man of good character,(honest, upright, kind and loving, hard-working)? And of course it goes without saying that we loved each other deeply.
Also I have told my daughters not to marry a man who does not treat you like a queen, because if he doesn't before, he certainly won't later!

messy bessy said...

All of the above are good advice. Here are my additions:
Don't marry outside your faith. Certainly some have done so and had good marriages, but the chances are not as good as if you marry someone who actively assents to the same foundational beliefs you do. In my opinion, prayer and worship are indispensible for a strong marriage.

Ask yourself: is this man likely to be a good father? Does he know how to be kind to the weak, the annoying? Does he have a desire to be a father? Is he eager to see you as a mother?

One thing that is incredibly important: that you both make a decision that once the vows have been spoken, the word "divorce" no longer has any meaning for you, that it is simply not a part of your vocabulary. That you both can say, "If we end up having troubles in our marriage, we'll suffer the unhappiness rather than quit."

Are you good companions? Can you be together without having to constantly talk about every thought that comes into your head? (My experience is that men find that sort of verbal processing tiring after a while.) Do you respect the leisure pursuits he has? Can you share them to some degree? Can he share yours to some degree?

Jen said...

One thing I think is very helpful to look at is how does he treat/talk about his mother? Guaranteed, how he treats this woman, will be how he treats you.

Also, remember that that giddy, heady feeling of being in love won't ALWAYS be there. It will ebb and flow. Sometimes life is hard. So many people divorce because they think they have fallen out of love, when, in reality, they've just "gotten used" to being in love. Divorcing during a down period is like cutting off your foot because you have an ingrown toe nail ;) Studies have shown that it takes about two years for your body to get used to the endorphins and other stuff in your body from first falling in love. Coincidence that the average Hollywood marriage lasts a little over 2 years?

And, I think the one thing that has gotten my husband and I through some really, really hard challenges over the last 13 years has been LAUGHTER. Can you laugh TOGETHER? Life (for me) with someone without a sense of humour would be... well... miserable!

R- said...

The advice my father gave us girls is see how he treats his mother. Up until the point of marriage, she has ideally been the most important woman in his life. Does he respect her? How does he talk to about about her? etc. Because many of those attitudes will carry over.

Double Drudgery said...

I will have to disagree with the 'see how he treats his mother' advice given by several posters above. I think it's a common fallacy.

In my experience, men VERY often treat their wives and mothers very differently. Some are 'mama's boys', and their mother is and always will be number one. I know quite a few men from traditional cultures like that. These men's wives will never get the same adoration, compliance and eager help reserved for their mothers.
The mother has a matriarch role, the wife doesn't even come close.

On the other hand, lots of men treat their mothers indifferently but are very affectionate and close to their wives.
Just like you can't infer a daughter will treat her husband like she treated her father--you can't make assumptions about men and mothers. Relationships with parents are totally different than the ones we have with our spouses.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Messy Bessy, excellent point about not marrying outside your faith. I overlooked this one here because this young couple of obviously of the same faith. However, some people do commit the reckless act of marrying out of their faith, and when it comes to Jews, it's a downright tragedy leading to assimilation and extinction of whole communities.

Tammy, certainly how a man treats his mother may not be how he treats his wife. However, if a man is disrespectful towards his parents, I think that's saying something. Actually I'd say it's a big red flag.