Conversations to have before getting married (or re-married)

That first moment your eyes meet, that first kiss, that first “I love you” – all of it leads … to some very tough but very necessary conversations about your future.

After an incredible, magical love story, but before a romantic, whimsical wedding, couples need to sit down together and talk through many of the topics that don’t come up when you’re too busy deciding which type of champagne you’ll serve at your wedding reception.

“Research tells us the biggest predictor of divorce is the habitual avoidance of conflict. Sweeping things under the carpet doesn’t work. Issues just fester there,” explains relationship therapist Elly Taylor.

From finances to family, debt to deal breakers, here are six essential conversations to have with your partner before getting married, rather than avoiding them and the potential conflict they might represent.

Keep in mind, the goal isn’t to agree on every single topic, but at least to discuss it, understand the needs and expectations of the other, and find some kind of middle ground that works for you both.

Finances

This is one of the big ones, as it can tell you a lot about your partner that you otherwise might not learn about for years without a dedicated conversation.

Shared accounts

Start by discussing your expectations for sharing a bank account. Will it be an account shared just to pay for a mortgage or rent fees and utilities, will you both put all your income in this account and take what you need, or something in the middle?

Prenups

Let’s preface this by highlighting that there were just 8.6 divorces for every 1,000 estimated existing marriages and civil unions in New Zealand in 2019. That’s down from a peak of 17.1 in 1982, so the number of people untying the knot, so to speak, is well down.

Obviously, no one goes into a marriage expecting to break up, but as they say, plan for the best but prepare for the worst. Historically, pre-nups haven’t been all that popular in New Zealand, but as couples get married later in life, they often arrive with more assets each, so have more to protect should things go topsy turvy.

Without a prenuptial agreement, you would likely need to split everything down the middle (and fight over the dog), so an agreement may be beneficial if you each bring things to the marriage that you wouldn’t want to split in case of a divorce, such as a family heirloom or a property purchased prior to the marriage.

Debt

You’ll also need to chat about debt. How much do you each bring to the marriage, including credit card debt, and mortgages.

Discuss how you would continue to pay off those debts and whether that would be each person’s own responsibility, or if you would work together to pay them off.

Also discuss how you feel about debt – one of you may be the type to sacrifice now to eradicate debt ASAP, while the other might be happy to pay the minimum repayment for years to come.

Goals

Lastly, discuss where you’d like to be financially in the long-term. If you’re not retired already, when are you hoping to retire? What does the ideal retirement look like to you – do you hope to spend it travelling the world, or pottering around New Zealand in a motorhome?

Family and children

You may be bringing an existing brood of kids to the marriage, or you might be bringing a horde of pets and zero kids at all. Just because you might have already had kids (and left behind nappy changes years ago), doesn’t make this conversation any less important.

Discuss how you will merge your families, if any kids will be living with you, and what you expect of one another in terms of family commitments, such as spending Christmas with the in-laws every other year.

Careers

Careers can be deeply personal, and both parties in a relationship must respect the career and work of the other. 

Talk about your goals over the coming years. Are you happy in your current role or are you looking to make a change? Do you hope to move down to four days a week, or are you actively planning your retirement? Will you take on charity-driven work or are you still passionate about the corporate world? 

You might find that one of you is extremely driven and wishes to work hard with full-time hours until retirement, whereas the other is happy with a part-time role with no grand career goals so long as it pays the bills. Be sure to have the answers to these questions before you tie the knot. 

Living situations

These days, there’s a good chance you’re already living together by the time you get married. Unlike our poor ancestors who had to wait until after they were wed to discover their partner’s awful habit of leaving the milk out, modern generations tend to spend some time doing a test run first.

However, it doesn’t hurt to have a conversation about your expectations and goals around your living situation for the years to come.

Will you move into their place or yours? Do either or both of you have mortgages left to pay, and if so, will you continue to pay them off separately or merge them? Will you sell both of your existing homes and purchase a property together?

How do you plan to split your living expenses, especially if you have kids and one of you forgoes work for a time. 

Now’s also the time to discuss shared responsibilities around the house. You might both pitch in with whatever needs doing, or you might find it simpler to allocate chores.

Deal breakers

Deal breakers is often a topic that comes up early on in a relationship, but if you haven’t had this chat yet, now is the time.

This could be anything, from being rude to waitstaff, to littering, smoking, religion (or lack thereof), their willingness to merge your families together, or which Super 15 team they support. Infidelity is a common deal breaker that many relationships don’t survive, while one party never cleaning up after themselves or doing any housework could be just as damaging.

Even if neither of you break any deals at the moment, it’s good to share these potential relationship enders so each party knows never to cross those lines.

Bucket lists

After all of those difficult conversations, it’s time to end on a positive note – bucket lists.

What are the things you have always wanted to do? Does your partner have some bucket list items that you had never thought to do, but would be keen to try?

How many of those items can you tick off together – and how many are you going to encourage them to try solo while you cheer on for the sidelines? This is always something to think about.

It’s all about setting up a glorious life together, while doing everything you can to avoid or minimise the speed bumps with a few tricky conversations now. And one more (somewhat uncomfortable) thing you should discuss before getting married? What about insurance policies such as Funeral insurance? This will help to cover some or all of the costs of a fitting goodbye should the worst happen to one of you, and give you peace of mind that neither of you would be left with the bill as well as the grief.