A couple of weeks ago, I ended up having an impromptu—count it—four-hour-long conversation with a newly engaged couple. Although the topics pretty much ran the gamut of marriage, one thing, in particular, took longer than just about everything else. What was it? House chores. More specifically, folding clothes.
As the soon-to-be husband went on and on about how particular he is about folding and the soon-to-be wife shared that she couldn't care less about folding at all, let alone doing it in a specific kind of way, I was like, "Let's make sure to talk this thing through, then. You don't live together yet, but you might be surprised how something as 'small' as a pile of clean laundry can cause two people to fall all the way out after six months or so."
It's them (and that convo) that has inspired this piece. Over the years of having conversations with lots of married couples who love each other, but do honestly wish that they had been better prepared for what they got themselves into prior to jumping the broom, here are 10 things that all singles should definitely discuss with their partner prior to saying "I do".
1. Their Partners Real Views on Politics and Religion
Recently, I had a conversation with a white male client of mine on the topic of politics and race relations that had me so fired up that I seriously contemplated not working with him anymore. I mean, hearing him talk about how white men are currently the most oppressed demographic in our country right now was enough to make me want to hang up and block my number. Then I had to remind myself that we see things through totally different life lenses, and he was saying that kind of stuff because he doesn't deal with people of color often (clearly). At least for the time being, he needs a "double minority" to educate him on some things. Life lessons sometimes come in the most cryptic forms.
I'm sharing that little tale because, while a lot of us were taught to never discuss politics and religion with others (I don't totally agree with that, by the way), that's not something that is going to fly with a marriage partner. I have friends who didn't make these things enough of a priority while they were dating and now, they are uncomfortable, if not totally pissed, because they are an activist while their spouse couldn't be more passive or empathetic, or they want their spouse to go to church with them while their husband or wife couldn't care less about religion.
Our views on politics and religion speak volumes to how we see and move through society. These two things are definitely something that you and yours should talk about. More than just on the surface or a couple of times too.
2. Their Partner’s Relationship with Their Parents
Sigh. I can't tell you how many mama's boys I know and yes, many of them are married. While they are disguised as men who simply have a deep love and appreciation for their mother, pay attention to things like how much the son financially contributes to his mom's life, how much of y'all's business that he tells her and/or if she's respectful towards you—both in and out of your presence. A friend of mine has been in counseling with her husband for years because he doesn't know how to establish healthy boundaries with his mother. As a result, his wife isn't his top priority; his mother is. That's not how it's supposed to be either. So yeah, you really need to pay attention to the dynamic your man has with his mom.
Something else that's important is having serious discussions about both of your upbringings. Not having one or both parents in the home affects a child. Being abused or neglected (which is a form of abuse) affects a child. Constantly moving (which sometimes teaches you to detach easily) affects a child. I could go on and on, but I think you get my point. A child's spirit is extremely fragile.
If it is broken and not healed, it can cause that child to become a fractionated adult; one with the kind of issues that you don't sometimes see until after you marry them.
3. Their Partner’s Perspectives on Leadership and Submission
Another one of my friends has a wife who loathes the word "submit". Meanwhile, it doesn't get more Alpha male than her husband. Personally, submission is not a word that bothers me; not in the least. To me, it's not about having a lack of power; it's about directing it in such a way that makes my partnership with my husband that much more effective…supernatural even.
Unfortunately, I don't think a lot of women see it that way. The thought of submitting, on any level, totally freaks them out. The reality is if you profess to be a Bible believer, it's a biblical instruction (Ephesians 5:22, Colossians 3:18). But don't miss that as you submit to your husband, he is supposed to submit to the Lord. Otherwise, he's not going to be a good leader; he's not going to value the gift of you sharing your power, in order to make him and your marriage better.
The friend that I just told you about? He had no clue that his wife treats submission like a cuss word until after they got married. I bet you can just guess how that union is going right about now. Listen, I'm not saying that you have to see submission the exact way that I do. What I am advising is most marriages do have some level of leadership/submission roles in them. Don't assume that you and yours are on the same page on this. Instead, be very upfront and honest in discussing them. As soon as possible, please.
4. How Their Partner Handled Stressful Situations
Another couple that I know, it's all good. That is, until there a stressful situation comes up. Then the husband becomes controlling and overbearing. He doesn't listen to his wife's counsel, he's patronizing and condescending, and that pushes her to the point of screaming and throwing stuff. Yep, it's a hot mess.
A part of the reason why I really like couples who were genuine friends before they became lovers is because it's easier to see someone's true colors that way. Friends tend to see one another at their best and at their worst. This means they know how they act when things are going their way and when they aren't.
A lot of folks are wonderful to be around—until they lose their job, a bill isn't paid or they receive some type of bad news. Then they reveal a totally different side of themselves. If you and your man have never gone through some bona fide hard times, wait a while before contemplating marriage. A spouse who can't handle stressful situations is a spouse that is going to make your life miserable during moments like those (moments that are bound to happen).
5. How Their Partner Prioritized Money
SMDH. Boy, the examples just keep on coming today. There are two different couples that I've worked with, who are divorced today. A big part of the cause is related to money. It's been my observation that in a lot of marital dynamics, one spouse tends to be more, "intentional" is the word that comes to mind, when it comes to things like planning, saving and responsible spending. Then there's the other who is a lot more free-spirited. The two couples that I'm referring to, the wives were all about running up thousands of dollars in credit card debt due to impulsive spending more than anything else. Here's the thing, though—they had jacked up credit, were asking their daddy for money all of the time and were putting clothes before bills when they were single. Meanwhile, the then-boyfriends figured that everything would somehow miraculously change once their then-girlfriends married them.
I don't know what makes people think that a stroll down an aisle is going to somehow miraculously break a person's lifestyle habits and patterns.
If there is something that is concerning you now about your partner's relationship with money or there's something you know you need to get better at yourself, now would be the time to address it; not after you are husband and wife. Otherwise, there's a huge chance that you could end up…just like those now four divorced people are.
6. Their Partner’s Sex Drive
I remember an engaged woman once sharing with me how excited she was to be getting married. Being that I love all things sex, and I knew that she and her fiancé were waiting until their wedding night to do-the-do, I asked her if she was looking forward to that as well. She paused and then said, "I mean, I think my husband and I are looking forward to just sharing a bed and cuddling more than anything else. Sex isn't the focal point." Girl, please. Your man has waited for years for you and copulation isn't gonna be a focal point for him?! (I should've referred her to Dr. Myles Munroe's message, "Men Don't Want Sex, They Need Sex".)
Yet, I deal with couples constantly where, while they seem to have been able to master the other rooms of their home, their bedroom is always a point of contention. One has a higher sex drive or a totally different set of expectations than the other. And when those needs aren't met, disappointment and resentment, start to creep in.
A very important staple of marriage is sex. Whether you decide to wait until marriage or not, before you partake, it needs to be talked about. Matter of fact, if you are currently sexually active with your partner, it should probably be discussed more because, as a husband once told me, "Having sex with a girlfriend is very different than having sex with your live-in business partner." He was speaking of his wife. Those are pearls of wisdom right there.
7. Their Partner's Previous Dating Patterns
One of my friends, while she was dating her now-husband, they spoke pretty freely about their past dating experiences. Some people don't think that's wise, but I think that if two individuals are comfortable enough to do that, it speaks to a level of self-confidence, comfortability and resolve that is healthy. Anyway, her husband had two serious loves before her. When she asked why they ended, he casually mentioned that they didn't like his dynamic with his mom; they thought it was extremely codependent.
At the time, my friend chalked it up to two women being potentially bitter about the break-up. Oh, but bay-bay! Ask her now if that's what she thinks! He and his mother continue to have an extremely toxic relationship but, unlike his exes, she has a daily front row seat to it.
Hopefully, if we're all paying close attention, our past relationship will help us to learn and grow. At the same time, patterns are patterns, so it never hurts to unpack what you and your man's dating patterns have been. Better to see a red flag now and work through it, than totally ignore them and end up being blindsided—or ready to file those papers—later.
8. How Important (or Not Important) Romance Was to Their Partner
There are some husbands I know who love their wives with every fiber of their being. At the same time, they don't have one romantic bone in their entire body. Birthdays consist of a gift card that may or may not be in a greeting card. Anniversaries are when their wife can expect something functional more than sentimental. Holidays? Oh, it's a practical gift all the way. Usually one that the wife isn't thrilled with either.
If your kind of personality isn't romantic either, then this is no big deal. But if you've got a chick flick collection in your house, or your future wedding has been planned out ever since you were a little girl, trust me, you're gonna be ir-ri-ta-ted if your husband isn't big on giving roses for no reason or whisking you away for a romantic weekend a few times a year.
I've sat with couples where a spouse (usually the wife) felt neglected due to the lack of romance they were experiencing. If you know that it's a priority for you, this is something else that needs to be ironed out. If your significant other couldn't care less, well, I'll just say that until death parts you is a really long time to go without something that is so important—to you.
9. How Consistent Their Partner Was/Is
Something that's a top characteristic that I desire in my future husband is consistency. When a person is consistent, they are reliable and dependable; they don't contradict themselves; they are firm in their principles and convictions; they come from a place of truth and logic. They are steady individuals.
There have been writing gigs, friends and of course, men that I have left behind, all because they were super duper inconsistent. The gigs didn't pay when they said they would (oh, but they didn't play when it came to wanting their copy on time!). The friends were there when they needed something, but were suddenly MIA whenever I did. And the men? One man told me that whatever he said to me on a random Monday, he meant and whatever he said to me on the following Saturday is also what he meant, even if they were two totally different things. He was dead serious too, chile.
If you're seeing a lot of inconsistencies now, don't simply chalk it up to moodiness or "a phase". An inconsistent person 1) shows signs of it prior to marriage and 2) typically doesn't change without wanting to, followed by some really extensive therapy, after acknowledging it.
If you get motion sick, multiply that times a thousand, and that's just the tip of the iceberg of what it's like to deal with an inconsistent individual. You've been warned.
10. If They and Their Partner Were Truly Friends—Or Not
A while back, I wrote an article about what you should absolutely expect out of your friendships—loyalty, honesty, protectiveness, support, compassion, good communication, respect, availability, selflessness and being a safe place. This is not the kind of stuff that happens overnight (so don't be trippin' if you've been dating for a year and he's not ready to pop the question yet), and it's definitely the kind of things you should expect from the person that you want to share the rest of your life with.
You know what, though? It's an epidemic, the amount of people who absolutely DO NOT make being genuine friends with their significant other a top priority. They're so focused on wanting a spouse, that a friend isn't even on their radar. Not only is that sad, it's a potential marriage-destroyer (just ask any married person that you know).
A soon-to-be divorced individual recently said to me that he wished he had taken out more time to establish a true friendship with his soon-to-be ex-wife. He said that it probably would've kept them from getting married in the first place, because the reality of their lack of true compatibility would've come out. Or, at the very least, they would've fought for their marriage more because they didn't want to hurt the friendship. #sigh
The moral to the story with all of this is, while nothing can teach you about yourself quite like marriage can, you can actually dodge a few bullets (including marrying the wrong person), if you pay close attention to stuff like what we just before jumping the broom.
Again, just ask any married person that you know. Better yet, any divorced one.
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