The idea of marriage scares me. One person? For the rest of your life? It takes me three hours to figure out what to watch on Netflix, and I cry routinely when looking at large menus and ordering dinner, so how am I supposed to settle on a soulmate?
Recently, a couple I know, who have only been dating for a few months, asked me if I thought they were ready to get engaged. And I had no way of gauging that. Other than the emotional feelings that exist between the couple — which are totally personal — how can you tell if you and your partner are ready to walk down the aisle?
Well, apparently, there are some major issues a couple should agree upon first, and I guess that makes sense. Susan Winter, relationship expert, laid out the things you and your partner should probably agree about before you get hitched and commit to each other for life.
1. Family And Children
Want kids? Don't want kids? Yeah, that's kind of a big deal. Discuss it first.
"One assumes these days that the reason for marriage is to create a family (as there are so many other options to partnering in a meaningful way)," says Winter. "Marriage indicates tradition. Those planning on having children favor tradition." So, if you're going the traditional route, you need to agree on a few things first.
She continues, "How many children do you want? If you want one child and your partner wants five, you'll have a problem. Being in agreement on the number of children and having the same vision of family life is important for your relationship's success." Additionally, if you don't want any children at all, that could be a relationship deal breaker for some that you should probably talk about on your very first date.
My dad is Jewish, and my mom is Christian. I am a spiritual, Jewish new-ager, and my last boyfriend was Muslim. For many, Religion doesn't matter. But for some, it does.
"Religion seems less important nowadays. However, in traditional cultures, conversion [may be] mandatory," explains Winter. "You, or your partner, may be expected to embrace a new religion in order to have a family. This must be an upfront agreement done long before either of you agree to an engagement."
Religion can also play an important role in raising kids in the future, whether you want to get them baptized or have a Bar Mitzvah. And sometimes, even if it isn't important to you, it can be critical to your in-laws.
Regardless of whether the discussion with your partner is as simple as saying "I don't care," make sure you and your SO are on the same page when it comes to the role religion plays or doesn't play in your life.
Career equilibrium can be important for a relationship, or at least a mutual understanding about how your professions will play into your personal life. Winter says to ask yourself, "Whose career is dominant? Is one of you clearly the breadwinner? If so, make sure that you're both happy maintaining those positions."
One of my good friends is the breadwinner in her family, while her husband stays home with their kids. While unconventional, she loves her job and didn't ever want to give it up. They both discussed this before marriage, and now, they have a beautiful and functional dynamic flowing.
"If you're the breadwinner, is your partner willing to take a greater responsibility with the children? Hammer out these details before you choose to become engaged," says Winter. "If you've decided you want children, which one of you will take the financial lead? Do you want to be a stay-at-home mom? This isn't a topic to thrust upon your mate after the child is born."
Additionally, Winter says having to move if one of you gets a promotion or a new job is a potentially tricky topic that should be discussed as well.
Career relocation is a real possibility. The entire family moves. And one of you would have to move your job as well. Look at every aspect that may occur and take time to discuss these possibilities now. If you and your partner are on the same page, you have a solid foundation from which to consider engagement. Don't assume that just because you get a great job your partner will be willing to give up theirs.
Figuring out where you want to live or where you are willing to live and/or commute to is something that needs to be discussed before you commit to getting engaged and married. Remember the last season of The Bachelor, when Nick and Vanessa (who's Canadian) got engaged without knowing where they were going to live yet? Yikes.
Winter says you need to ask yourself if "you two on the same page as far as lifestyle and where you'd like to raise a family." She continues, "If you're a city girl who likes getting away to the country for the weekends, be careful about a mate who yearns to live in the country and occasionally visit the city."
She says that your choice of where to live will be pretty telling of the type of life you live, including things like "finances, free time, to what degree you accelerate your careers, and in what environment you place yourself for stimulation and creativity." If you and your partner can agree on this topic, that's another green light for getting engaged.
Finances can easily doom a relationship if you don't talk about them openly and without resentment.
Winter explains, "Finances are an important part of any couple's relationship. Most of the fighting occurs around money, and being of the same mind as far spending and saving is of the utmost importance."
She says to figure out if you and your partner are compatible in this area, ask yourself some questions:
Are you a spender and your mate is the saver? Is this a continual conversation of annoyance? If it's been problematic in living together, it will not get any better once you're married.
She's right. Few things get better once you're married, so it's always important to work things out beforehand. According to Winter, coming up with a pre-engagement "game plan for money and finances" will help in this area:
How much are you both willing to put away for your savings? How important is money and the choice of your careers? Are you both willing to sacrifice for your long-term goals?
Money can make or break a relationship. So don't let a few dollars (or a lot of dollars) be the thing that breaks you.
When it comes to getting engaged, honest, open communication about the important topics is key. Things we might glaze over on the first date — religion, politics, family, and finances — become vitally important once you're ready to walk down the aisle. Make sure you're on the same page before you commit to your partner for life. (And if not, at least make sure you have a prenup.)
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