‘Tying the knot,’ ‘getting hitched,’ ‘taking the plunge,’ ‘jumping the broom’ or ‘hooking on the ball and chain’ – whatever you call it the institution of marriage is alive and well. The celebration and ritual of making a formal commitment to a relationship remains important. Young adults are waiting longer before getting married, with the average age of men being 31 and women 29 (compared to 25 and 22 in the 1970s). They are also more likely to live together before marriage, and delaying this due to extended education and financial dependence on their parents. While it’s true that more people in Canada are living in common law relationships, up to 11.8% in 2011 from 3.8% in 1981, it’s also true that the increase in popularity of common law unions with those over 40 years of age, those previously married and now separated or divorced.
Despite more couples becoming separated and divorced, (41% of first marriages), it has not led to fewera decrease in marriage or common law partnerships. There are more. The number of married couples rose 19.7% over the 30-year period between 1981 and 2011, the number of common-law couples more than quadrupled.
So, if so many of us want to be married or in committed relationships, why do we have so much trouble to staying married or coupled? Is it the pressure of increasing expectations about what marriage or a relationship must provide? Is it that we neglect to work on our relationships? Is it that committed partnerships and marriages are having trouble lasting longer due to our increased life expectancy? Is it the changing gender roles, power and responsibilities of men and women?
According to Dr. Guy Grenier, a London Ontario psychologist and couples therapist, one of the reasons we are so poor at staying married is that we fail to learn enough about each other from the outset. He says that before deciding to marry, we are not asking the right questions
of each other. We are only asking the easy questions, learning about our partner on a superficial level rather than at the deeper level, required to improve marriage longevity.
In his book The 10 Conversations You Must Have Before You Get Married, Dr. Guy Grenier identifies topics that couples should discuss in depth and how to feel safe to have these difficult conversations. It is suggested that each conversation be accompanied by a film which can help you see how others struggle with the issue as a conversations starter. Questions that follow each topic can help to deepen the important conversations required to get to know each other on a deeper level.
Below are four of the nine topics, with the questions, and films to stimulate conversations. Even for those of us already in a committed long-term relationship or marriage, we can have these conversations, as well.
1. Having Kids
The choice to have children will change your life forever and there are enormous societal, cultural, religious and family expectations for married couples to have children. An objective self-evaluation is key.
- Am I, and are we, willing to dedicate twenty years or more to the care and development of another person?
- Do I, and do we enjoy the kind of things that are part of bringing up a child? (a sense of play, demonstrative affection, patience, creativity, empathy, ability to deal with intense emotions)
- How would having a child affect our careers, future plans, recreation? When would be the best time to have children?
- Have I, and have we, seriously thought about our ability to provide the resources (financial and friend and family support) for a child to flourish?
- What scares you about the thought of having a child? What scares your partner?
- Recommended film: Parenthood, (1989, Steve Martin and Mary Steenburgen).
There is often pressure to accommodate the choices of careers based on gender issues. While progress has been made in gender equality, women overall still earn less than men and do a disproportionate amount of the child care and house work. These realities are important to keep in mind when balancing your two career choices.
- If she ends up with a more lucrative career than he does, how would that make each of you feel?
- How important is a career or a job to you?
- The school calls and your child is sick, and one of you has to leave work to care for them. What assumptions guide your choice of who leaves work?
- What messages did each of you get from your parents about jobs, careers and ambition?
- Recommended film: Disclosure (1994, Michael Douglas and Demi Moore)
3. Money and Financial Styles
Money is the issue that couples fight the most about. It can represent power in a relationship. It also gives you the opportunity to make choices of lifestyle. The differences in financial styles need to be given careful consideration in your relationship. So does what money means to each of you.
- How would you use $5,000 you were just given it? Forced choice: pay off your mortgage or go on a vacation? Change the amount to anything up to $50,000 and how would you use it? Identify your financial style by taking this test. See the article: Do You Want to Stop Quarrelling About Money?
- Does the thought of a prenuptial agreement make you nervous? Would it make sense for you to put one together?
- How much debt or savings are you bringing into the relationship?
- Do you understand how a joint account works? How are you going to set up your bank accounts for shared and personal expenses?
- Do you have someone you could learn from, about your finances, managing debt and creating savings?
- Recommended film: Trading Places (1983, Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy).
The choice of where you negotiate with your partner to live is affected by many feelings, values, logical considerations such as proximity to family, or your work, a safe neighbourhood for your children, return on your investment.
- Is your first home going to be temporary or permanent?
- How do the conversations about having kids, careers, money, and extended family fit, influence your choice?
- Prepare a ‘must have’ and a ‘nice to have’ list for your home together and compare.
- Recommended film: House of Sand and Fog (Jennifer Connelly, Ben Kingsley)
Next month I will share the remaining five topics. This is only a small sample of the questions, so if you are interested in this topic, read the entire book for a more comprehensive understanding of the issues.
Whether you are about to tie the knot or have been married for many years, you will recognize the challenge of having a deep conversation on some of these topics. Many topics will require ongoing conversations throughout your marriage or common law partnership to keep it growing.
Just as important as what the topics are, is how to have the conversations. Difficult conversations require strong communications skills. If you experience difficulty with how to discuss any of the topics, you may find it helpful to review some of the articles I have written previously on how to communicate with your partner. The Rewards of Really Listening, Knowing Your Relationship Raw Spots or How to De-Escalate Conflict in Your Relationship.