When we are thinking about getting married to someone we are often looking through the rose-colored glasses that come from being shot by cupid’s arrow. Every culture values marriage differently, an issue that can cause some tension in a multicultural relationship. Abhi and I met online and got married three short months after our first meeting in person. Should we have waited longer? Probably. Were there things about him that I didn’t know that I wish I had known before marriage? Absolutely. Because of this I have racked my own brain and scoured the web to compile a list of questions to discuss before marriage. This list is by no means comprehensive nor is it in any particular order. Simply use this list as a springboard to having some sometimes tough but important conversations.
How do you handle stress individually and collectively?
Marriage is full of ups and downs and you will inevitably experience hard seasons. How does your spouse react to being under pressure? This isn’t a question that has to be asked directly but can be observed. How does each of you respond to different stressors in your life such as traffic, job stress, when plans go awry, etc.?
How do you handle conflict and how could it be better?
Knowing how each of you argues helps prepare you for any of the disagreements that you will experience in marriage (and let me assure you, you will have them). Do you go without speaking for some time before discussing what the issue is? Do you retreat until your partner apologizes? Do you talk it out right away and resolve the issue? Do you go to bed angry? Do you shout at each other? Do you give your partner the silent treatment? Are you defensive first before you’ve had time to process? Do you ignore the little things until they turn into big things? How can you work together so that conflict can be resolved swiftly and you can back to living in bliss?
How does each of you communicate best?
Everyone has their own communication styles. What is important is that you find a communication style that works for the both of you. Do you prefer to get your feelings out in writing? Do you prefer talking directly with the other person? Make sure you understand how each of you prefers to communicate (which may vary depending upon the situation at hand).
How much do you discuss your relationship with others?
Some people are private while others are an open book and ready to give all the juicy details. You need to discuss what works for your relationship. Is your partner comfortable with you giving details of your relationship to your family members and friends? Their family and friends? Random strangers on the internet? You need to have a discussion on what both of you find acceptable and come to an agreement.
Do you expect your partner to change?
This is a big one. Many times people think that their partner will change once they are married. Marriage isn’t some magical event that transforms people. It is very likely, no almost guaranteed, that the person you are dating will be the same person after marriage. Marriage is not going to fix whatever you want to change. If you do want your partner to change you should discuss this with them and reflect on your own as to whether you love the person you are dating for who they are or who you think they will become. Change in life is inevitable but there is no certainty which way it will go. It’s better to just determine what you want your partner to change and why before marriage.
How will finances be handled once married?
Every couple approaches finances in their own way. Some couples are fine with having joint checking accounts and contributing equally. Others prefer to keep everything separate and divvy up expenses between each other. Couples may even decide to do a combination of the two—having a joint account and their own accounts as well. Decide what you are comfortable with and talk to your partner.
How will housework be divided?
This can be a touchy topic once married. This can be especially important if your partner comes from a patriarchal society. A discussion as to who is going to do dishes, take out the trash, wash the laundry, etc. can certainly mitigate future disagreements and ensures that you are both on the same page.
Where do you expect to live geographically? Are you flexible on this?
Where to live is a BIG question for multicultural couples with family in different countries. This is one that we hadn’t discussed before marriage (which in retrospect was really naïve). Luckily in our case, it hasn’t been such a big issue although it is still a major part of our discussion as a couple to this day. It is important to discuss where you each want to live, the reasons why, and any situations where this may change. It is also important to understand how flexible each partner is on this issue. If you are adamant that you do NOT want to live in your partner’s country, then it may be a deal breaker. This discussion is essential for multicultural couples.
What is each other’s relationship to religion?
Is either of you religious or spiritual? How important is religion to you? Do you attend services regularly? How do you celebrate the holidays? Does your religious expression change around family? What happens if one of your starts becoming more or less religious? Interfaith relationships work, but they are rooted in strong communication and understanding of each partner’s position on religion. Make sure you talk about it.
How did your parents show you love?
What were the expressions of love in each of your families? Do your parents show love by buying things on special occasions or doing something special for one another? Are your parents reserved at showing love and affection in front of others? This will give you insight into how your partner was raised and what they may consider “norms” for showing affection.
Do you know each other’s love language?
Everyone feels love in a distinct way. Some people may feel love when they receive a gift from someone while someone else may feel love when their partner actively listens to them. Love languages are the theme of Gary Chapman’s series that define the ways in which individuals experience love. Understanding how each of you feels love can help you feel more connected with one another and lead to a happier relationship/marriage.
How will decisions be made together?
Will you discuss big purchases and do research together before making a decision? Will decisions be made based on who is contributing the most money? Will each partner make decisions on their own without consulting with one another or would you prefer a discussion first? Understanding how decisions such as purchasing a car can help each partner understand what the other expects.
How much alone time do you each need?
While being together is great, we all need time to ourselves. Some people need more alone time than others. This is a good time to discuss this with your partner. For instance, does your partner prefer to have alone time after coming home from work so they can decompress before spending time together? Would they rather have a round of golf with their friends on the weekend to recharge their batteries? It’s all about laying expectations out before plunging into marriage.
How do you each feel about socialization?
Just like with spending alone time, some of us like socialization while the rest of us prefer to stay at home and hang out with the family. Does your partner plan on continuing his bowling league on Wednesday nights (is that still a thing?)? Do you expect your partner to spend Sundays with the family? Open discussion is needed to know where you both stand in regards to spending time with friends and spending time with family.
Do you have shared common interests? Are you willing to learn about your partner’s interest?
What interests do you have that you both share? Do you each have hobbies and interests that are not shared? Would you be willing to share these interests with your partner? Are you willing to learn about your partner’s interests that are different from your own?
How do you feel about your partner interacting with the opposite sex and what boundaries should there be?
Let’s face of it, some of us are jealous creatures. Are you a jealous person? Is your partner? Laying out the expectations of your partner in terms of interacting with the opposite sex (such as being friends, dealing with co-workers outside of work, etc.) puts you both on the same page. It also allows you to establish any boundaries that you would like to be established in this regard. Having these boundaries in place will allow each partner to know what the other’s expectation of them.
Do we have enough deep conversations to connect emotionally?
While two partners may be good together physically, it is important to ensure that that is not the only way you connect with one another. Take some time and evaluate the type of conversations you have with your partner. Are you able to have a deep conversation with them? Do you talk about the “hard” stuff? Do you truly feel connected with them on a deep emotional level?
How will we ensure quality time with one another?
Quality time with one another helps you stay connected with each other. In the early days of marriage this may not be such an issue, but if you decide to have kids quality time with just the two of you is likely to be affected. Discuss with your partner how you would like to make sure you are getting quality time with each other. Do you want to establish a weekly/monthly date night? Do you want to have a couples retreat every year for a weekend? Make a plan that works for both of you (and can withstand the changing tides that every marriage goes through).
What are each other’s financial goals?
Financial goals vary for each person. It is important to know what your partner finds important. Is your partner more concerned with building his savings rather than getting a new car? Does your partner prefer to find things on the cheap so that they can maximize their savings? Would they rather forego a vacation so that they have a larger bank balance? How do you each feel about taking out loans? What about credit card use? Differences in financial goals can cause major issues down the line so it is important to understand each other’s perspectives when it comes to finances.
What debt do we each hold?
In addition to financial goals, ask your partner if they have any debt that they need to pay off. This can be a major point especially if finances are shared once married. If you lose your job is your partner willing to help you continue to pay your debts until the additional funding is replaced? Don’t forget to tell your partner if you have any credit card debt or student loan debt and how you approach paying the debt back. This will save a lot of headaches in the long run, even if it may be a difficult conversation right now.
Are we comfortable to openly discuss with each other?
Good communication is essential in any marriage but is extremely important in a multicultural relationship where there may be cultural nuances and easy misunderstandings. Take some time and evaluate how comfortable you feel to discuss issues with your partner, be it small issues like forgetting to take out the trash to big issues like changing careers. If you do not feel comfortable to openly discuss with each other take some time and evaluate why you don’t feel comfortable, then discuss with your partner. If you still don’t feel comfortable discussing with them then you may want to reconsider getting married.
Children—Do you want them? How certain are you?
This is a well-known question that should be discussed before marriage. Do you and your partner want to have children? If you are unable to have children are you willing to adopt? How strongly do you feel about having or not having children? This is one of those things that people think will change after marriage (and it may) and ends up leading to resentment or disappointment. An open discussion is needed to determine how each of you feel about raising a family.
If you want children: How do you think they should be raised?
Assuming you both want children, get your partner’s thoughts on how they should be raised. Did your partner grow up in a home that was a “tough love” environment? Do they want to send their kids to boarding school? Do they think the kids should go live in another country with their grandparents and other family during the summer? Talk to your partner and figure out how they approach the topic of raising children and evaluate on whether it aligns with your own.
If you want children: What values do you think are important to give to children?
Again, assuming you both decide you want children what are the values you and your partner want to instill in your children? Is your partner focused on children being studious and academic? Would you prefer to put emphasis on kindness and empathy? Try to gauge the values that your partner will pass on to your children and make sure there is some alignment with your own.
What is your relationship with each other’s families?
Have you met your partner’s family? Does your partner’s family know about you? Have you spoken with them? What kind of relationship do you have with your partner’s family? What kind of relationship do they want you to have? What kind of relationship does your partner have with your family? Is this acceptable to you or do you wish it was different?
How will we balance holidays and special occasions with each other’s families?
What holidays does your partner feel are the most important? Which special occasions? Is your partner willing to spend the holidays you feel are most important with your family? Are you willing to spend the holidays that you feel are the most important with their family? Have a discussion and determine what balance works for both of you.
What type of living situation are you both expecting?
Do you plan on living with your partner by yourselves? What about your partner? Are they planning on living by themselves or do they plan on living in a joint family situation? Are you wanting to get a house in the suburbs or are you satisfied with an apartment in the city? What kind of living situation does your partner want?
What role will family play in our life together? Where will parents live once they get elderly?
What role do you expect your family to play in your life with your partner? What role does your partner expect their family to play in your life? Will your partner’s in-laws have a say in making major decisions? What about your own parents? What about siblings? What are your expectations for when your parents get older? What about your partner’s expectations? Will elderly parents move into your home to be taken care of or will they be sent to a home where they can receive medical attention as needed? While this may be far off from when you are planning to get married, it is always good to know what each partner is expecting down the line.
Can you each deal with changing priorities?
Will you be able to cope if your partner changes their mind about something that you have discussed after marriage? For instance, what if your partner decides they can no longer live in your country and wants to go back to their home country? Would you be willing to make the move with them and accept that they have changing priorities? What about if your partner was initially ready to live in a joint living situation but no longer is comfortable? Changes happen in life, are you and your partner both willing to accept and deal with them as they come?
Are you already married, engaged, or promised to another partner?
This seems like a silly question, but may still be relevant. In cultures where there are arranged marriages and working/studying abroad, there are instances where a partner may already have a wife or be engaged to someone back home. Please make sure you talk to your partner about this if your partner comes from a region in South East Asia where arranged marriages are common.
What is your family’s view towards love marriages?
Again, this question is important for those couples where a partner comes from a culture where arranged marriages are common. What is your partner’s view towards love marriages? What about his parent’s and siblings’ views towards love marriages? Knowing how they view love marriages will give you some insight into how difficult the road ahead will be. If your partner’s family is against a love marriage you will know that you will have challenges ahead related to convincing them to allow the marriage to happen and you can discuss with your partner how you will both approach overcoming these challenges.
Are you willing to stand up and fight for each other?
This leads to another important question to talk about before marriage. Is your partner willing to fight for you and your relationship? If his parents are against the relationship is your partner’s love strong enough to weather through the fight that will happen to keep you together? While you may ask your partner this question directly, you can also find the answer to this question throughout your relationship. Whenever you have hit a rough patch in your relationship did your partner fight to keep you? Did they make the effort to keep the relationship going and resolve the issue? Or did they simply begin to move on or give in when the going go rough? This is a question that requires some reflection of your experiences with your partner.
What is each other’s priority after marriage?
Will your partner always do what their parents say? Will they pick their parents over you? Does your partner think that children come before anyone else? Will your partner put emphasis on supporting you? What about you? Who do you think is the most important- parents, children or your partner?
What are each other’s deal breakers?
What will you absolutely NOT tolerate in marriage? We all have those things that we simply cannot deal with nor do we want to deal with in our relationships. Think about what your deal breakers are and discuss with your partner. Make sure you find out what their deal breakers are as well. It helps in establishing boundaries and determining whether you are actually compatible in the long run.
Obviously not all of these questions are applicable in every situation. The goal is to have open and honest conversations with your partner to ensure you know them as well as you can before entering into marriage. If you feel triggered by any responses your partner gives you I would urge you to think about why you felt triggered and discuss it with them later. I am a strong believer in going with your gut instinct. If in discussing these questions you feel that it is too good to be true, it may in fact be. I urge everyone going into marriage to tread with caution. Yes, the heart wants what the heart wants, but make sure that you value yourself and don’t settle. We all deserve to be with someone who is truly compatible with us and is willing to stand and fight to be with you.
What important questions have I missed that should be added to the list?