You love each other, sushi, and long walks on the beach—what more could you want out of coupledom? Newsflash: Marriage isn't just about hanging with the one you love, doing the things you love. "Having common interests is important, but being on the same page about lifestyle choices is critical to a successful marriage," says Lindsey Hoskins, Ph.D., licensed couple and family therapist in Bethesda, Maryland. Fortunately, you just need to have a few serious chats before you make your way down the aisle to avoid any big surprises in the future.
1. Are you keeping your name?
While it's still common for women to take their husband's name marriage; it's very much okay to stick with your own. Some couples hyphenate both names, and even adopt a completely new name. If you're not sharing a name and plan to have kids, make sure to address the last name you plan to give your children.
2. How flexible are you with your spending habits?
If one of you is a spender and the other a saver, you'll likely run into a few problems down the road. Outline a potential household budget that includes everything from rent to student loans to see where you stand as a whole. Then, take a look at your personal spending to reevaluate if you should be more thrifty, or allow an indulgence once in a while.
3. How much debt do you have?
Sure, a student loan and credit card debt rank very differently in terms of responsibility and its effect on your credit score, but debt is debt and it needs to be paid. The sooner you work out the logistics, the happier everyone will be.
4. Will you merge your finances?
A joint account isn't for everyone, so it's important to discuss where your savings and paychecks will go. Combining finances, like adding your partner to a credit card account or starting an IRA together, should be addressed early on, especially if you're planning on a big purchase, like a house. One solution: keep your accounts for minor purchases and open a joint account for day-to-day and long-term expenses.
5. Do you want to have children, how many, and when?
A surprising number of couples gloss over this important conversation, thinking that as long as they are on the same page with regard to having children or not, they're okay. But questions about how many children and when to have them are equally important. What if one partner wants to wait five years to start a family and the other wants kids right way?
6. How would you handle fertility challenges, if relevant?
You may be in-line when it comes to having kids, but what if it's not possible naturally? Fertility challenges are both emotionally and financially challenging and you both should have an idea which path to take when it comes to reproductive technology, adoption, or not having children.
7. How will you care for elderly parents?
It's great if your in-laws are in splendid health and already bought a time-share in Florida. However, that's not always the case. Your partner's parents (or yours) may have to move in or need help paying for assisted living. Broach the subject early on to avoid surprises down the line.
8. How do you envision the work-life balance in your new household?
In a perfect world, we'd all have 35-hour workweeks with plenty of vacation time and ample (as well as cheap) childcare. Sadly, that's not the case for the majority of us. Address a busy work schedule and whether one of you plans to stay home with kids, even if it's part-time.
9. What's on your bucket list?
Even if you feel that your dreams are far-fetched, talk to your partner about all the things you want to do in life. Whether it's enrolling in a culinary program, volunteering in Africa, or simply buying a home and settling down, lay it out. Discuss how you can support each other. You don't want to wake up one day bursting with regret because you never got to pet tigers in Thailand.
10. Where does religion fit in your life?
This goes beyond finding an officiant for your wedding. From baptisms to embracing Chrismukkah to personal beliefs on faith—these need to be hashed out to make sure all parties are flexible and willing to compromise when it comes to rituals and upbringing.