I'm 30 and have been married twice. My second marriage has truly benefited from my first experience and the lessons I learned the hard way – ending up heartbroken and divorced in my early twenties. The conversations I later understood I needed to have, the qualities to look for (and the traits to avoid) and what mattered in a life partner was much clearer to me when I knew I wanted to marry my second husband. I was much more aware of what marriage involved. Choosing each other and talking openly about life's challenges was very conscious and deliberate for us. It was a reassuring and kind of blissful feeling – feeling confident that this time, with a much stronger foundation, the partnership was going to last.
Alignment on some key values and compatibility on certain topics is crucial to an enduring marriage. You are bound to experience tests as a couple, both internal and external. Therefore there are conversations that need to take place when you know you and your fiancé are going to spend the rest of your lives together, as teammates.
How will money be handled once you are married? Assets, paychecks, inherited sums. What happens if one of you loses a job unexpectedly? Being married means you are a team and need to be on the same financial page, as this is a huge, contentious issue for many couples who divorce. If there was a single thing that separated my first husband and I, it was completely opposing views about how to spend money. Harmony on this subject is crucial for long-term unity.
Do you want them? When? How? How many? What values, ideals, and education do you want them to have? Will there be a stay home parent? "Yes, we both want children" is not enough.
This refers to all of the unpaid work at home. How will this be divided? This issue can be an unpleasant shock if you don't cohabitate before you wed, or discuss who will clean the toilets, take out the trash, or vacuum.
What is your anticipation of the involvement of in-laws, siblings, holidays/vacations with extended family? Will you see them every weekend? Once a month? Two to three times a year? This can be an especially important conversation if one or both of you is an only-child.
What will your physical and financial commitment look like? This is remarkably easy to overlook if you marry in your twenties. But, marriage is supposed to be forever, so at some point this conversation is going to become relevant. People in their 40s are now referred to as the "sandwich generation" – raising children while taking care of ageing parents. What will your roles and responsibilities be for your parents and in-laws?
Sex while dating or being engaged can be very different from sex with your husband 10 years down the road. Many couples seek therapy or counseling if one or both partners do not feel satisfied in the bedroom after many years together. It's important to stay connected physically and having a recurring date night once a week can help keep the intimacy alive.
What matters most to you both? Do you want to really nest and settle down or instead go traveling together? Go back to school? Do you want to volunteer in India? Save for a beach house? Talk about your aspirations and objectives and get comfortable with a relative timeline.
Watching sports all weekend with his friends on the couch. Coming home drunk at 1 a.m. on a work night. Working non-stop 16 hours days. Blowing cash in Vegas. Over-the-top flirtation with other people. Unnecessary jealousy. What won't you put up with over time? Repetitive behavior that upsets either of you does not bode well for a happy future together.
In difficult times we all communicate differently. My husband likes time alone and I love to talk it out. We now allow for both and understand what the other requires. Its important to voice how you need to feel loved and supported and then you ask (and provide) what your spouse needs.
These conversations can raise many other talking points and you need to remember that no matter how much ground is made, life is still dynamic and ever changing—you need to be flexible. As the old proverb goes, "we make plans and the gods laugh!"
But getting aligned before marriage is the key to making it last. The fact you can discuss and agree on central subjects (in a mature and calm way) is the most important thing. Even if in a few years life looks different or you feel different to how you did when you married. Our relationship has experienced many changes over the years as we moved to New York City from Sydney (and started over), changed jobs, had shifts in income, and decided for now to not have children.
The goal as a couple is that no topic is off the table for discussion. This means that, with your teammate beside you, almost anything can be overcome.