If only there was a simple key to a successful marriage—or one single conversation you could have with your partner to set you up for a successful marriage. Think of how happy everyone (but divorce lawyers!) would be. But unfortunately, there’s no single rule or law to follow in order to ensure long-lasting, wedded bliss. If only everyone knew exactly what to do, we wouldn’t be bombarded with unsolicited advice from aging relatives leading up to our nuptials or read about shocking celebrity divorces. As couples get caught up in the wedding planning process, some may lose perspective on working to build a strong marriage and not just a beautiful day. And while taking a break from the chaos may help, there are other things that couples can do to ensure they are setting themselves up for a successful partnership long after they say their vows.
Since the answer of what exactly everyone needs to do isn’t that simple, we consulted experts from various areas — from finances to sex and intimacy — to share “the one thing” they believe every single couple should do or talk about before getting married. And although the fact that nobody shared the same exact tip just proves that there isn’t an easy answer to this, by considering working on each of these eight “must-dos,” you’ll be heading into your marriage with a well-rounded foundation that many wish they had. Check out these eight conversations to have before getting married.
1. Outline “sex values”.
Nicole Prause, a sex therapist and licensed psychologist, says that the most important conversations couples can have before marriage is about sexual values. However, she notes that it’s important to understand there’s a difference between sexual values and preferences — you can negotiate those more easily later should they not match up. But when it comes to sexual vales, she explains that couples should discuss questions around these issues:
- How do we feel about masturbation given that we are in a relationship?
- How do we feel about pornography?
- What are we comfortable with regarding our intimacy (emotional and physical) boundaries with other people?“ Couples very often run into trouble later when they hide issues they become afraid to discuss or violate a boundary that they did not realize was a boundary,” she added.
2. Invest in premarital counseling.
As a licensed counselor, Brent Crowson strongly believes going through pre-marriage counseling is the most beneficial thing they can do. “It seems people put more time into choosing a car or a pet than choosing a spouse,” he said. “Unfortunately, when we are in love, our brain is hijacked by endorphins that cloud our thinking and we fail to see the red flags or we make even worse mistakes by believing we can learn to love our spouse's annoyances or even try to change our spouse into something more acceptable to us.” Pre-marriage counseling allows a trained therapist to help the couple identify and resolve their own issues so it's not contaminating the marriage, he explained. It also will teach conflict resolution and communication methods, as well as ultimately help the couple visualize and negotiate their marriage goals so that the blending of their two separate lives into one marriage becomes a firm partnership.
3. Get specific with “core values”.
Although you hopefully feel like you know your partner before agreeing to spend your lives together, you may have overlooked some big picture topics while falling madly in love with each other — without even realizing it. Before exchanging vows, Stephanie Danielle, a professional relationship coach, firmly believes that a couple should have an honest conversation about what their future life together looks like in each of these specific areas of life:
- Household responsibilities
- Familial relationships
- Energy Levels
“Not only should their beliefs and values align and complement one another in these core areas but this conversation should create an excitement about a shared future together,” she said.
Having an intentional conversation on these specific topics “also result in deeper feelings of respect and admiration for your soon to be spouse because both partners will experience being seen, heard, understood, accepted and loved,” she added. “It’s important to remember, joining two lives requires compromise, but should never require either person to sacrifice a core value.
4. Ditch the “golden rule”.
According to Susan Bratton, a sex and relationship expert, The Golden Rule says, “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you” and when it comes to relationships, many couples believe they should treat their partner the way they want to be treated. “But this ‘Golden Rule’ can ruin relationships and muck up marriages,” she said. Instead, she believes it’s better to follow the “Platinum Rule” and treat your partner the way THEY want to be treated. “Each individual seeks different feelings and experiences from their marriage,” she said. For example: one person might value security, freedom, honesty, and family focus. But the other might prioritize passion, fun and adventure, growth and respect. “When you explain the way you want to be in relationship with your partner and how they can make you feel safe or engender a passionate relationship with specific examples,” she explains, “then you are able to create the marriage that fulfills the unique needs of each of you as individuals.”
5. Get real, very real, about finances.
As a financial coach, Emily Blain knows the importance of engaged couples getting on the same financial page, specifically when it comes to spending priorities, before getting married. The second most common cause of financial disagreements among married and cohabiting Americans is spending priorities, she explained and that can be avoided with an upfront chat early on. “Knowing what your partner values can help you avoid that conflict. Something that seems frivolous (or cheap!) to one person might be what the other grew up with and is comfortable with,” she said. “If you know that one person wants to visit all-inclusive resorts every year and the other wants to go tent camping in state parks, you bring a completely different mindset to the casual conversation of ‘Where do you want to go on vacation this year?’ Having the conversations before marriage helps either reduce or even eliminate the tension altogether.”
6. Try “marriage designing”.
Marriage Designing is THE most important thing a couple can do to get their marriage on the right footing, according to Annmarie Kelly, author of The Five-Year Marriage: Shifting the Marriage Paradigm. Specifically, that means figuring out how you'll live your life together once you've tied the knot. “Even if you are living together before the wedding, marriage changes things (I was, it did, and it surprised me),” she said.
For marriage designing, couples start with a list of five shared values that will frame how they will treat each other and will also guide decision-making. For example:
- Fairness: Am I being treated fairly and am I treating my spouse fairly? “Many women don’t feel they are, especially after having children,” she said.
- Respect: Define what this means first, live by it second.
- Honesty: Telling the truth, not half-truths or omitting inconvenient facts.
- Dependability: Doing what I say I’ll do and being there when needed – we have each other’s back.
- Loyalty. Putting my spouse and marriage first, then children/family/friends next, in proper order. “Other pieces of marriage planning include, two couple goals (like buy a house, have a child, travel EU, visit Alaska), and two personal goals (like get an MBA, learn to water ski, a company or business goal),” she added. “These will shape critical parts of the partnership, like budgets and where you live. Once done, put your decision in writing to each other. Revisit, redesign, and reset in five years. I wish more couples would spend as much time on marriage planning as they do on wedding planning.”
7. Address the 5 topics that are “more important than love”.
There are five topics that are more important than the feeling of love when it comes to a successful marriage, Laurel House, a relationship expert for eharmony. Ahead of the wedding, couples need to have an open and honest conversation before marriage about these five things:
- Core values
- Life direction
- Communication style
- Love language.
“There are no wrong answers here, but they need to be honest,” she added.
8. Don’t gloss over childhood trauma.
One of the most important conversations couples can have before marriage is to discuss and understand each other’s childhood wounds, explained Laura Parry, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in couples counseling. “Knowing the ways you felt unseen or invalidated in childhood is important because you may be expecting your partner to either repeat that pattern, and wound you in the same way, or perfectly fulfill those unmet childhood needs,” she said. “Sometimes this is a subconscious process so bringing it to your awareness as early as you can in your relationship is helpful.”