Singaporebrides | Weddings 101

November 2014

8 Conversations To Have Before You Get Married

Are you focusing so much on planning your wedding that you’re neglecting to prepare for your marriage? We interview 3 marriage specialists for their insight on the 8 conversations you should have with your spouse-to-be as you get ready to spend the rest of your lives together.

Instead of only focusing on the perfect wedding day, it’s important to invest time in preparing for your lifetime together by discussing big issues and marital expectations. That’s why many counsellors recommend couples to go for a marriage preparation course to discuss potential issues at different stages in a marriage, and to discover how best to meet each other’s needs. Pre-marital counselling courses help couples to enter marriage with better expectations, but if you haven’t got the time to do that, make sure you have some heart-to-heart talks before your wedding.

While many couples may think that a marriage course is hardly necessary when their love will overcome all, marriage specialist Elvira Tan, from Focus on the Family Singapore, says, “Soon-to-be-married couples tend to be idealistic. We encourage couples to recognise the importance of anticipating new issues that arise at different stages in a marriage, and to openly communicate about potential issues so that they can be better prepared, rather than be caught off-guard by situations after marriage and then instinctively react based on emotions alone which might cloud good judgment.”

To help couples start the marriage journey well prepared, the Ministry of Social and Family Development offers a $70 rebate for couples attending an approved course on this list. Religious organisations often offer pre-marital courses as well.

If it’s too late for you to attend a marriage preparation course, or if you are simply are too private to open up your relationship to strangers, do take the time to talk about these eight issues with your partner. For a meaningful and open conversation, pick a time when you’re both relaxed, and don’t spring all your questions on your other half at once!

A Lifetime With You21 A Lifetime with You, captured by BlissPhoto+Cinema

1. In-Laws and Family

When you marry someone, you’re also marrying into his or her family. For many newlyweds, adjusting to their new families is difficult. To avoid unnecessary conflict later on, talking about how you will approach your relationships with your in-laws is important. While disagreements may be common, as Ms Tan wisely says, “Each couple needs to recognise that once married, they need to work as a team when dealing with in-laws.”

Together, decide on things such as how often you will visit your parents, how you will spend holidays, or whether you will financially support your parents. Ms Tan also advises, “While it is important to honour one’s parents, it is also critical to take into consideration one’s spouse’s well-being as well. As a spouse, it would be highly beneficial to constantly keep one’s own expectations of our in-laws in check at the same time, so as not to put undue pressure on our spouse.” Your respectful consideration of your partner’s thoughts will help keep the discussion fair and fruitful.

For some couples, living with their parents is something else to discuss. If you have obligations to look after aged parents, or are temporarily living with them while you wait for your own home, it’s helpful for you discuss boundaries for yourselves and your in-laws. “The spouse whose parents the couple is living with will have to play a pivotal role in helping to communicate and enforce those boundaries,” advises Ms Tan. Talking about how you can build healthy bonds as well as setting boundaries now will help you understand each other’s expectations of time with and commitment to your families.

2. Children

You have probably already talked about whether you want children. While you may have already picked out names for your first daughter, don’t forget to also discuss when you plan to have children, how many children you want, and how you would respond to potential issues. Ms Tan suggests that couples explore the reasons behind each other’s preferences during the discussion as well. “The reasons shared might give the couple a deeper understanding of each other’s needs and the expectations they might have of family.”

Everyone’s family is different, so talking about what you expect for your new family is crucial. Do you believe in one spouse being the primary homemaker while the other focuses on providing the income? How will you raise your children? You will each have a different view on upbringing, and discussing them will help you come up with a parenting style that affirms both your beliefs on your ideal family. Of course, your ideas about parenting will evolve once the children come along, but laying out your general expectations of family will help minimise misguided assumptions later on.

Talk about the tough issues as well, such as what you would do if your child were to have special needs, or if you were to be unable to conceive. “Discussing the financial and emotional implications of such decisions will help the couple to assess if the beliefs and values they have for family are aligned with each other,” says Ms Tan. Bringing up potential issues now and having a constructive and meaningful discussion about how you would deal with them helps your partner understand your values and allows you both to attain a mutual understanding, instead of letting the emotional pressure during the actual events cloud your judgement.

3. Communication

Good communication is one of the keys to a successful relationship, and now is a great time to fine-tune your communication styles and build a more open and honest relationship. “Integrity is the first principle we impart in our marriage preparation course,” says Deputy Director Mr Arthur Ling, trainer at Family Central’s Happiness in Marriage course. The course gets couples to ask themselves whether they fulfil the promises they make to their partners, whether they are completely honest with each other, or if they tell little white lies to avoid potential conflict, such as lying about talking to an ex because they believe they have not done anything wrong. “But there might be more and more of these white lies along the way!” says Mr Ling, advising couples to be completely honest instead.

Another important type of communication is sharing your frustrations and asking for what you need from your partner. “Often, individuals don’t share what they feel when they are frustrated or angry, and hope that their partners can guess what they want or need. Negative emotions and energy get stored up and eventually may erupt,” reveals Mr Ling. Good communication involves setting aside your pride or anger to talk about what you feel and what your partner can do to resolve the issue.

Not Just a Ping-Fan Wedding9 Not Just a Ping-Fan Wedding, captured by

4. Conflict Resolution

When two different individuals come together, it’s inevitable that there will be some friction now and again. While disagreement is part and parcel of a relationship, a strong marriage is built on your ability to work past those differences and resolve conflict. Ms Tan shares what couples can do to fight better: “Open and honest sharing that seeks to understand the other spouse’s needs is the key to resolving differences.”

Make it a point to calmly explain your feelings, and try to understand your partner’s as well. As you prepare for your marriage, arm yourself with better and fairer fighting techniques that focus on reaching a mutual compromise instead of giving in to anger. Take the time to think about your fighting styles and how you can work to fight more constructively, and discuss how you will handle disagreements.

5. Expectations of Married Life

You might be surprised to find out that your partner’s understanding of married life is different from yours. Because what you grew up with is such a deep-seated part of who you are, it often doesn’t occur to couples to discuss their expectations of each other in the marriage.

Mr Calvin Ang, Marriage Mentor of Cornerstone Community Services, shares an example of such a misassumption: “For one of the couples we mentored, the man expected that the natural end result of marriage is having children of their own, but his fiancee later revealed that she never really liked children, and that having her own children was never a priority in her life.”

To avoid such a big shock when you’re married, tell each other about your families’ lifestyles and what you expect from married life. What are your views on housework, family leisure time, or careers? What are your expectations of the role of a wife or husband? Your discussions can bring to light assumptions you wouldn’t have questioned otherwise.

6. Finances

Money is one of the things couples fight most about. Talking about how you plan to spend it will help you avoid arguments later. “Many couples quarrel because they have different styles in using their money,” explains Mr Ling. “It’s important to talk about your goals and how you can agree on some common expenses and investments before you get married.” Some things to discuss include how much you plan to spend on leisure, what percentage of your income to save, what types of investment risks you are willing to take, what level of debt you are comfortable with, and what financial goals you want to set for yourselves.

Some couples decide to have joint accounts for specific purposes, and others prefer to keep track of their own money. There is no right or wrong answer to your finances, but as Mr Ang says, “It will always be helpful if couples can talk about and come to a consensus on how they would like to manage their finances before marriage.” Managing your finances with your partner involves a big level of trust, and some couples might take some time to adjust. However, for couples running repeatedly into big arguments about money, Mr Ang’s advice is to check that such fights are not symptoms of deeper issues such as communication breakdown or unresolved hurt and resentment.

The Adventures of John and Sher 78 The Greatest Adventure of John and Sher, captured by Jonathan Ong // Visual Storytelling

7. Life Goals and Dreams

You’re getting hitched for the long run, so do talk about your long term goals with your partner. Ask yourselves where you see your career going, and what your life dreams are. Share your bucket list, or your dreams of opening a business. Tell your partner if you’ve always hoped to live and work in a particular country.

“Couples talking to each other about life goals will definitely help lay out mutual expectations in a marriage,” says Mr Ang. “Intimacy requires that one person allows the other person into his or her heart, mind, soul, and body. When couples communicate about their life goals, childhood dreams, passions in life, or how they feel about different things, they are actually undergoing the process of mutual self-revelation.” Don’t be afraid to share your hopes and plans with the person who is your number-one cheerleader! As you discuss your goals, be supportive and talk about how you can help each other achieve them. Be open about adjusting your timeline expectations to include your partner’s dreams.

8. Friendships and Social Boundaries

The marriage relationship will be the most intimate one you have, and your friendships and family relationships will take on a different dynamic. One of you may enjoy hanging out with friends more than the other, but do make sure you are both comfortable with how much time you spend with friends and how much time you spend alone together.

“We teach couples the principle of setting healthy boundaries with their parents and friends so as to protect the marriage,” says Mr Ling. He explains further that couples have to give up certain things as they prepare to go into marriage, such as some aspects of their relationships with friends of the opposite sex. “We may sound conservative but this is an age-old problem! Hence we teach couples that once they are married, the comfort levels of their spouses become the indicator of the boundaries to be set, including who not to go out with and in what kind of social interactions. There is no right or wrong answer; it’s just about being committed to the marriage because you love your spouse.”

Ms Elvira Tan is a Marriage Specialist from Focus on the Family Singapore, a local charity dedicated to helping families thrive. Focus on the Family Singapore offers the Connect2 marriage preparation course.

Mr Arthur Ling is Deputy Director of Fei Yue Community Services, and is also a trainer at the Happiness in Marriage preparation course by Family Central.

Mr Calvin Ang is a Family Life Educator and Marriage Mentor at Cornerstone Community Services, which conducts marriage preparation courses.

Feature image from Charming Solemnisation in Old Chapel Garden, captured by AndroidsinBoots (Still + Motion)