Wedding planning involves a long to-do list and planning your marriage requires equal (if not more) time as choosing your cake and centerpieces.
"Many couples don't take the time to discuss these important topics before getting married," says Dr. Paul Sago, a marriage counselor and author of Planning Your Marriage: A Workbook Guide for Engaged and Married Couples.
Addressing the topics below doesn't always lead to easy conversations, but it's essential that you discuss each of them in-depth now, rather than waiting for a rude awakening after you've said "I do."
1. Your Home. Even if you're already shacked up, you won't live in that second-floor rental unit forever and it's important to discuss the type of home you envision sharing together in the future. Do you want to live in a condo? A house with a yard and a two-car garage? Would you consider moving to a different city? Will your husband get a "man-tuary?" How many times a month will you entertain?
2. Religion. Whether you're an interfaith couple or you share the same beliefs, you have to discuss the role of religion in your relationship. While your families may try to influence the role of religion in the lives of your children, especially, it's important "that the two of you decide how you will practice your faith and train your children" before the wedding, says Dr. Sago. Will you both take the children to church (or to synagogue or the mosque)? What will you do if your child wants to experience other faiths?
3. Children. Before you even agree to marry someone, you need to make sure that you're on the same page re: offspring. Do you both want to have children? If so, how many? If you can't have biological children, would you consider adoption or in vitro fertilization? Do you share the same discipline philosophy?
4. Sex. Being intimate is an important part of a married couple's relationship. But having sex isn't enough to guarantee marital intimacy: talking about sex is also important. "You need to feel that you can trust telling your partner your sexual needs," says Dr. Sago. Do you feel comfortable sharing your desires with your partner? How many times a week do you expect to have sex in your marriage? Are you happy with your sex life? What do you love about your sex life? What do you wish was different?
5. Money. Every couple has their own way of managing their finances. While there's no right or wrong method, Dr. Sago warns against keeping separate bank accounts, unless you also have a shared one. "It's not good to have anything but 'ours' in a marriage," he says and separate bank accounts create a sense of "mine" and "yours." Will you combine all of your finances? Put a certain percentage in a joint account and keep the rest in personal accounts? Or will you keep your finances totally separate? Do you have similar spending habits? If not, how will you deal with these differences throughout your marriage? Who will be in charge of paying the bills?
6. Communication. That's right--you gotta communicate about communication! If you have communication issues now, then it's going to be very difficult to work through bumps in the road once a mortgage and children come along. "Arguments never solve a problem," says Dr. Sago. Rather than raising your voices when you disagree on something, he recommends that you sit down across from each other and discuss your feelings regarding the issue. It's important that each spouse listens to and considers the other person's feelings, rather than focusing on who is right or wrong. What are your perpetual issues? Do you have the same approaches to communication? Are there certain communication techniques that work better for you?
Want to learn more? Check out Dr. Sago's helpful workbook for more advice and important discussion topics.