Whether you've been dating for six months or six years, ensuring you're on the same page before you get engaged is crucial. That's why premarital counselors Marilynn F. Nereo, Reverend Brian K. Oltman, and Michael L. Chafin, who are all accredited by The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, recommend asking the following questions before popping the big one. They spark conversations—and answers—that you need to have before you decide to be husband and wife.
What are your core beliefs?
"Core beliefs are concepts that are deeply held by an individual and almost automatic in nature—done without thinking," says Oltman. "Many couples run into trouble after they are married because they discover something about their own core beliefs that come into conflict with their spouse." These ideals can be nonverbal expectations, like, 'I believe that the toilet seat should be lowered after use, and if that doesn't happen, my spouse doesn't love me.' Find a way to discuss these beliefs and to come to an understanding with your partner.
What will never change about you?
"This is a challenging question because we like to think we are flexible enough to adapt to most situations," explains Oltman. "But there is usually something we are stubborn about that just isn't going to change, even something as small as the brand of shampoo we use." Rethink the idea that you can change something about your partner after you marry. Most real change takes a long time.
Who are the important people in your life, and how will they impact our marriage?
"If you have a special family member or friend who will be involved in your life regularly (whether it's a Tuesday evening bowling commitment or a daily 20-minute phone call), then it is important to discuss the relationship with your significant other," cautions Oltman—even if your partner jives well with this person.
Do you plan to have children?
"Believe it or not, many couples walk down the aisle without having this discussion. Even couples who decide at the beginning of their relationship that they do not want children can change their mind, creating an impasse in the relationship unless they are on the same page," cautions Chafin.
Will we have a religious household?
Nereo suggests having a thorough discussion with your future spouse about your personal religious and spiritual beliefs. Afterward, come to an agreement about whether or not religion will be incorporated into your children's lives, too, and in what context, from private schooling to weekly church attendance.
How do you perceive the division of responsibilities in the relationship, and do you like how they are divided?
"Everyone has his or her own style," explains Nereo. "Perhaps important decisions are left to the man, while home-keeping and child-raising are left to the woman, or vice versa. Find out what each of you expects, so there won't be any surprises later."
Do you feel confident that we understand each other's love language?
Most people attempt to love someone the way they like to be loved, such as by gift-giving or chirping words of affirmation. "When a spouse does this, they very often miss the boat," explains Chafin. Couples in long-lasting relationships have not only identified each other's love language but also willingly demonstrate affection with their partner's preference in mind.
How do you plan to keep the spark alive?
"The seven-year itch really does exist, meaning the 'in love' feeling at the beginning of any relationship will wane over time," says Chafin. "Couples who know how to manage the transition from being 'in love' to a more mature way of 'loving' are couples who have more longevity."
Can you effectively resolve conflict?
Sometimes partners prefer to be right than to be happy. "Is your goal to win the argument and to change your spouse, or to compromise and to have a happy marriage?" asks Oltman.
How do you see us five years from now?
"This question tests the values, ethics, and goals of a person," says Nereo. "Look for things that are 'deal breakers,' which are decisions that will impair a relationship," like a difference in opinion about one of the following: Will both of us be working? Will we be involved in community life? Will we live in an urban or suburban environment? Do we want a pet?
Marilynn F. Nereo is director of the Upper West Side Marriage and Family Therapy Group in New York City and the president of The Nereo Group located in Ridgewood, New Jersey. Reverend Brian K. Oltman is a licensed marriage and family therapist and psychotherapist. Michael L. Chafin is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice at The Brookwood Center for Psychotherapy in Atlanta, Georgia.