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Marriage

8 Semi-Uncomfortable Things That MUST Be Discussed Before Marriage

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s a saying that virtually all of us have heard before, and yet, isn’t it interesting that, when it comes to things like marriage, far too many people are reactive instead of proactive? Take premarital counseling, for example. If folks are doing it at all (and not nearly enough are, trust me), they tend to wait until after they have gotten engaged and even set a date.


Yeah, I’m not a fan of that because, once you’ve already “locked in” on that level, going to see a marriage counselor or life coach is pretty much only seen as a mere formality. In other words, you’re not really looking to dive deep to see if there are some potential red, orange, or even yellow flags — you’re just going to a couple of sessions because it sounds like the right thing to do.

And because of that mindset, far too many people go into marriage totally blindsided and/or thinking that they can deal with things later and/or believing that love (which usually is some emotional version, not the biblical one — I Corinthians 13) will conquer all — and because of that, divorce court ends up becoming their reality. If not semi-immediately…eventually.

That’s why I write articles like this. Wisdom says that if you want to get into something as serious as marriage and you’re going to look someone in their eyes and vow to be with them for the rest of your lives, you both should know as much as possible about what you’re getting yourselves into…beforehand.

The following eight questions can help to lead the way when it comes to this…

1. Childhood Issues

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A few nights ago, I found myself getting caught up in a movie on HBO Max calledOn Chesil Beach. It drags, so I’m not (necessarily) recommending it. However, it does help to drive home this first point that I’m trying to make because it’s all about the purely excruciating wedding “night” of a couple who waited to (attempt to) consummate their marriage. Although for a lot of it, the wife was pretty annoying, you do get glimpses of her childhood that help to shed light on all of her excuses and hesitancy (and there was A LOT of both).

If you do happen to want to watch the film, I won’t give all of what happens away. What I will say is that one of the main reasons why going to premarital counseling is so important is you and your bae should talk about childhood issues.

Listen, as one of my favorite quotes says, “Adulthood is surviving childhood.” Meaning, a lot of times, marriages struggle because it’s not two healed adults who are in the relationship; it’s more like two wounded (on some level, at least) kids who are trying to make a valiant attempt at an adult dynamic.

I know many people who grew up in hella dysfunctional homes who simply said, “I will never be like my parents when I grow up,” only to turn around and be just like them. How did that happen? It’s because of something that I tell a lot of my clients: we tend to do what’s familiar, not what’s right. The main way to prevent that from happening is by being open and honest about where we come from, how it all affected/infected/impacted us, and then getting help, if needed, before jumping the broom.

2. Greatest Heartbreak

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Although I’m not sure that there is solid data on what I’m about to say, I stand ten toes down on the fact that I don’t think that men look to “fall in love” multiple times. If anything, they have a first love, their wife, and possibly someone in between. Why? Because contrary to what social media likes to cram down our throats about men, many men when they fall, they fall very hard and are all in. Case in point, I can’t tell you how many guys have told me how much of an influence their first love has had on them — even to this day. And when something monumental happens, it can totally change you (check out “Your Soulmate Might Be The One Who Broke You”).

That’s why I also think it’s a good idea for you and your man to discuss what your greatest heartbreak was like — past (how it affected you) and present (how you feel about the experience now). It can shed great light into how you see relationships and love and why you make some of the decisions that you now do. It can also help you both to express if there are still some unresolved issues that are dormant there because I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had who, when things got rocky in their marriage, the very first place they went to was Facebook or Instagram to see what their “long lost love” has been up to.

A writer by the name of Jodi Picoult once said, “Once you had put the pieces back together, even though you may look intact, you were never quite the same as you'd been before the fall.” Both of you discussing how this saying relates to this particular topic can, as I put it, “cover up mouseholes.” What I mean by that is, by getting it all out in the open, your partner will be able to know your wounds and weaknesses in that area and offer up some support and even protection — in ways you, he, or both may not have known was needed…until the topic was actually brought up.

3. Financial Habits

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You know, I find it very interesting how the Good Book says that the LOVE of money is the root of all evil (I Timothy 6:10), and yet, pretty much any time I tiptoe out to see what social media is yapping — sorry, I mean talking — about, “broke” comes up incessantly. Listen, should you want to be with someone who is financially savvy and stable? 1000 percent. Should you also be the kind of person who you want to be with? 10,000 percent.

That said, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a premarital session and asked both people what their credit score was, only for them to look at me like I asked them to strip naked or something. LOL. Well, I guess, in a way, it’s the same thing because nothing reveals someone’s financial stuff like their credit score and what they’ve got in their savings account. Yet if you’re thinking that your soon-to-be spouse isn’t going to find all of that out anyway, you’re caught up in some sort of delusion that I’m not sure any therapist can get you out of.

Personally, I think that engaged couples should hire a financial advisor and get a financial mentor (preferably a married couple) to comb through both of their finances so that they can see each other’s current state, areas of strengths and weaknesses, and so they can come up with a financial plan for their first, third and fifth year of marriage.

You know, although actually the top reason for divorce these days has a lot to do witha lack of support (emotionally and otherwise),financial stuff is still up there. A part of the reason for that is that there’s no way around the fact that marriage is a business contract (among other things). If you’re signing up to do business with someone, you need to know what their finances look like. That’s common sense 101.

4. Character Weaknesses

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Anyone who knows me knows that if someone tells me that they believe that they’ve met “the one,” while they are acting like that person is an angel on earth, the marriage life coach (and “Shellie”) in me is like, “Uh-huh. What are their character flaws, though?” It’s not to break their spirit or be a Debbie Downer or anything; it’s just that I have watched too many marriages crash and burn because they didn’t ask themselves questions like that before saying, “I do.”

For instance, one of my friends (who, yes, happens to be divorced now) told me that he had met who he believed was his soulmate; when I asked him about her potential character weaknesses, one of the things that he casually said was, “I mean, she has a bit of a jealousy streak but…” Umm, sir — you are handsome and an entertainer and you’re going to marry a jealous woman? Hacked emails and tons of drama later, he admits that he wished that he hadn’t underestimated that side of her personality.

Listen, no one is perfect — not by far. In fact, if you’re mature in your thinking, a part of what marriage is designed to do is give you the kind of accountability partner that will offer a safe space for you to address, refine, and improve some things about yourself.

However, in order for you and your partner to be able to do that, you need to know what those things are — and that needs to be discussed well before your wedding day, preferably in the presence of a reputable marriage therapist, counselor, or life coach who can help you to figure out what to do with the intel that the both of you are sharing.

5. Poor Boundaries

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When you sign up to become someone’s spouse, your wedding day, in part, is about declaring to everyone that you want to make them the top priority in your life under God himself. And in order to keep anything from affecting that, you need to have some solid boundaries. Boundaries, at the end of the day, are nothing more than limits — and yes, you need to have limits as far as how much your family can know about your relationship, what your friends can and cannot speak on, and what kind of decisions y’all will make that, quite frankly, is no one else’s business…including the internet’s (because A LOT of people out here like to be passive aggressive about their relationship online).

Does it take a village to “raise a marriage?” In some ways, yes. However, when it comes to the vow-taking process, that is between a husband and his wife, and if they are religious, God. No one else made those promises and that means no one else should be as involved or invested as those two (or three) parties are.

Poor boundaries are the cause of so much drama in marriages and honestly, relationships, in general. You do not want to take the approach of, “We’ll figure out what limits we should have as problems present themselves.” Uh-uh. Talk about what your limits should look like ASAP, and make sure that you mutually agree on them too. This point alone can save your marriage more than just about anything else on here.

(P.S. A great book for you to check out isBoundaries in Marriage: Understanding the Choices That Make or Break Loving Relationships. It’s by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.)

6. Perspectives on Daily Lifestyle

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Something else that I’ve observed while working with married folks (and talking to older couples in Cracker Barrel; believe it or not, the marriage advice in there is top-notch!) is marriages tend to end, not so much because of one “big” thing that happened — it’s more like it’s due to the culmination of a lot of little ones.

Take how a person lives, for instance. I’ve dealt with couples where the wife was appalled by her husband not wiping the toilet seat, and the same husband was disgusted by her dishes being left in the sink overnight. A couple of weeks of this, and it’s whatever. Oh, but let it be some years? You’d be surprised.

It can actually be quite sobering to take a moment to ponder and process that, at least when you sign up for a traditional marriage, you’re signing up to share a home, bed, and life — for the rest of your life. If there are certain things that are super “icks” for you, if there are certain chores that you absolutely hate, if there are little pet peeves like sleeping with the television on or your partner being a morning person when you aren’t — you had better bring all of this stuff up now.

Many people have assumed that love will supersede peace when it comes to daily living. Chile, the reality is that you can love a lot of people who you just can’t live with. Please don’t find that out after taking vows and filling out paperwork. Discuss as much as possible about the day-to-day of how you both move, just as soon as you possibly can.

7. Patterns in Past Relationships

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In interviews, some folks will ask me what I think about the whole “Does knowing someone’s body count really matter?” debate (check out “6 Things About The Whole 'Body Count' Debate That Should Be Discussed”). As it relates to this particular article, two things: one, check out TIME’s article, “How Previous Sexual Partners Affect Offspring,” when you get a chance. Secondly, let’s do it like this: if you were to find out that your boyfriend used to beat up on his girlfriends, but he hasn’t done it in a couple of years, would “That’s in the past” suffice as his rationale? BE HONEST.

No matter how nonchalant our culture chooses to be about sex, how we decide to move in that space is about more than recreation and experiencing orgasms. So yes, knowing about your past in this realm can shed light on your mindset, your perspective, and even some of your patterns — not just your sexual past, but your past, in general.

Anyone who wants to give pushback on that, I’ll just say this: it is human nature to brag about things that we’re proud of. When it comes to your sexual past, if you’re hiding or deflecting concerning it, why is that? And what would make you think that, eventually, the things that you are suppressing won’t somehow come out anyway? Real talk, a great sign that you’re over something or someone is when you can bring it or them up — not when you’re doing everything in your power to avoid it/them.

And when it comes to past relational patterns overall — have you always been the one to do most of the work? Do you tend to flee when things get too challenging? Do you ever stop to think about what you did wrong? Do you tend to handle things with ultimatums? Do you treat relationships as projects? Do you avoid things with sex? Do you not communicate your innermost feelings well?

A pattern is something that you do over and over, oftentimes very naturally. When it comes to the men of your past, what qualifies as a pattern for you? Getting married doesn’t miraculously make those patterns go away. Discussing them can help you to get to the root of those issues and if you need to break some of them on the front end.

8. Media Programming

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A quote that I find myself saying often is by The Doors singer, Jim Morrison: “Whoever controls the media, controls the mind.” There is no way around the fact that media influences and impacts society on some pretty monumental levels (you can read more about thathere,here, andhere) — and so to think that what you take in when it comes to television programs that you view, movies that you watch, books that you read and social media accounts that you follow aren’t affecting you? That is some serious denial that you are in.

Case in point. I have a friend who also works in mental health. Whenever his wife is watching some trash reality television (and boy, is there A TON of it), he says that she is way more touchy to the point of almost being combative than when she isn’t. One time, he instituted a two-week fast from reality television. He said that the first week was rough for her, which caused her to realize that she was way more attached to the shows than she thought. The second week, she was calmer and far more peaceful (her words, not his). Did she totally give reality television up? I mean, we’re all a work in progress, right? LOL. She does watch it less, though, and their marriage is running smoother because of it.

As we close all of this out, definitely an underestimated influence in marriage is the media. Find out what your partner likes and why. See where the two of you are in sync, where you’re not, and what you think the compromises should be. Otherwise, you could end up with someone who is making judgment calls about your relationship based on what some random on TikTok said — you’d be amazed how many people do that. And it’s a damn shame that they do.

___

There’s a reason why this article has the title that it does. Getting real — and I mean, really real — about relationships isn’t always the most comfortable thing to do; however, it is beneficial.

And what, after (genuinely) addressing things like this, you find out that you’re not as compatible as you thought? Eh. That doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Either — again, with the help of a marriage expert — figure out how to compromise or, if you ultimately can’t find enough common ground…as I oftentimes say, It’s always better to break up before marriage than divorce after it.

Words to live by. Promise you that.

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Featured image by Adene Sanchez/Getty Images

 

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