Getting engaged is one of the most exciting milestones in a person’s life. It is a time of excitement, hope, and promise. Most couples begin planning the wedding immediately as it can be a fun (albeit stressful at times) process. However, many couples do not take the time to plan for the marriage. With the divorce rate being as high as it is, one must not overlook the importance of preparing for life after the honeymoon. Premarital planning involves conversations that can be difficult but are crucial to the health and success of the relationship.
Research by Dr. John Gottman shows that all couples have a set of what he calls “perpetual issues,” meaning issues that are not solvable. In fact, an average of 69% of the problems that a couple faces are perpetual. Knowing what perpetual problems you and your fiancé will face so you can enter into the marriage with eyes wide open is crucial. Dr. Dan Wile states, “When choosing a long-term partner… you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems.” Perpetual issues are unsolvable because they are differences in personality or lifestyle needs, so they are not things people can change and still stay true to who they are.
Perhaps you and your partner have already come across some of your perpetual issues in the dating period. For example, maybe you are a very timely person (if you’re not on time, you’re late) and your partner tends to be late (15 minutes late is on time). However, other potential perpetual issues may not be things you encountered yet, such as parenting or money differences. Sit down together and talk openly about the potential areas of conflict in your relationship. It will help you determine which issues you and your partner may continue to grapple with in your marriage and help prepare you to manage those differences.
Want to learn how to keep perpetual problems from turning into gridlock? Check out the all-new Gottman Relationship Coach: Dealing with Conflict.
52 Questions to Ask Before Marriage
The Gottman Institute developed a card deck called 52 Questions to Ask Before Marriage or Moving In. In this card deck, you and your partner take turns asking and answering the questions you draw in the deck. The exercise will help you identify your perpetual problems and will also create friendship and intimacy by encouraging you to know each other deeply. The card deck cover 4 core areas: Romance, Social Life, Work, and Money. Some of the questions are as follows:
- What are your views about having children? Pets? How strong are your positions about this? What, if anything, would change your mind?
- How much of each other’s sexual histories have you shared? How do you deal with each other’s past? What aspects of sex make you uncomfortable?
- Messy or tidy, early bird or owl: How do the habits of you and your partner differ? In what ways does this affect you?
- In what ways do your religious and/or political beliefs and practices, if any, differ from your partner’s? If you have children, with what beliefs and practices will you raise them?
- How will you balance competing time demands of work and family? How will you balance who deals with home and family needs during work hours? During non-work hours?
- How will you decide who is responsible for which chores? When the workload gets lopsided, how will you address the issue? Are you willing or able to hire an outside person to help?
- What does having money mean to you? How much money is “enough?”
- If one partner makes or spends more than the other, what feelings does this bring up for you? What financial goals do you agree on?
Ask and listen
As you answer the questions, it is important that you both listen to one another and try to understand each other’s perspectives, even if you disagree. Remember, you are going to disagree on most things because you are different people. Differences are not what tears a relationship apart. It is how a couple deals with their differences that matters. Do not argue; just take in what is being said and take a break if the conversation gets too heated. You can always come back to it another time.
Once you hear from each other, you can begin to find ways to manage these differences as a team. Remember, these are issues you will grapple with throughout your relationship so slow down, take your time, and work on acceptance and understanding. You will begin to find ways to compromise so that issues don’t cause disconnect in the relationship. If you and your partner are struggling to navigate any issues, find a Gottman trained therapist who can give you tools to better manage your differences.