What young people need to know before marriage

Spinoff from this thread about marriage:

Originally Posted by sunacres

*The curious thing about marriage is that it is a contract, the most profoundly serious contract you can enter into. Yet, we very meticulously avoid educating people (particularly youths) about the specific legal realities of this contract. Why? I think the answer is that if we did, few people would marry. And for some reason we want people to marry, and apparently as naively as possible.

As a society, I think we’re being unethical. Don’t get me wrong, if you are smart, lucky, warmly open-hearted and generous, marriage can be a fabulous, wonderful way to spend your life. But why do we lure the unqualified?*

Antigen replied:

Well, then, why not start on the SDMB? There are a bunch of young unmarrieds here (myself included) who could probably benefit from some education on the topic. What do we poor innocent youths need to know before we’re led blindly to an altar?

I’ll start.

The beginnings of a relationship are fun, heady, exciting, and it’s easy to imagine spending your life with THAT person. You don’t need to see your partner at his/her best…you need to see the person at his/her WORST.

E.g. there was a woman I dated. We talked about living together and we talked about marriage.

The initial glow of a relationship lasts 3-4 months, with feel good hormones coursing through your body. There’s lots of infatuation and hope. You don’t want to rock the boat because “this could be the one.” You bring your A game.

Unfortunately you often find it’s a mirage.

  1. Some people act nice just to get what they want and drop the act once they get it. The woman in my example had been alone for awhile and frankly, wanted to get laid.

  2. Some people have history/baggage that they haven’t overcome. They can sweep it under the carpet for awhile but eventually, as you get close to them, they feel threatened because they fear getting hurt again. The woman in my example had been nearly bankrupted by her ex’s frivolous investment. I was struggling financially and she wanted more security than I could give her.

  3. People start getting real. Fairy tales and fantasies are all nice, but when you get serious about taking that big step, everything gets the microscope and x-ray treatment. Stuff that was no big deal, not a deal-breaker, gets revisited and examined closely.
    Moral to the story: you need to date someone at least two years before living together or marriage so that you can get past the initial 3-4 months of infatuation and see if there’s something solid to base a relationship on.

Which sadder-but-wiser doper would like to contribute next?

Mr. K and I knew each other for over 10 years before we became an item. We lived together for 9 years before getting married. We’ve been together as man and wife for 11 years.

Rushing into things is rarely a good idea. I love stories of people who stay together for lightyears after whirlwind relationships, but they are rare instances, indeed. Whether it lasts or not, we both went into it knowing what we were getting into.

The thing I meant to mention in the OP: it went from 3-4 months of lovey-dovey communication to her basically screaming her demands at me until I had enough and broke it off.

Movie recommendation: “Singles” with Matt Dillon, Bridget Fonda, et al.

A prenuptial agreement doesn’t mean s/he doesn’t love or trust you.

People change. But the things that drive you batty, that you *hope *will change if you give it enough time and trust? Those never do.

Getting married means that, unless you have other written legal arrangements, you’re accepting the financial debt of that person. They’re not just his loans anymore. Irresponsible spending habits? Sorry, you owe the money, even if you weren’t the one who bought the handbag on a credit card.

It’s a lot easier to live with your mess than someone else’s. Even if you’re both slobs, your partner’s mess might still drive you to loathe them.

A few questions, then, from a single (but living with a boyfriend) girl.

Obviously each relationship is different, and “take time to get to know each other at your worst” will vary hugely depending on the people and the circumstances of the relationship. But…

What sort of experiences are good to have before taking that step into marriage? By that, I mean, what’s the best way to learn whether our real selves can live with each other? A long vacation together? A move? Large joint purchases? Or is it more the mundane day-to-day that usually grinds on a marriage, and not the crises?

You say that we should discuss our plans for the marriage, which I agree is a good idea. I’m still pretty far from getting married - he’s not ready yet :stuck_out_tongue: - but I picked up one of those “questions to ask before getting married” books and we’ve been discussing the chapters slowly. Things like what luxuries we could cut out if times were tough, what our plans are for children, from how many to how to discipline them to what sorts of schools we want for them. Is there any real value to doing this, or is it all just hypothetical until it happens?

Yes. Yes, there is real value to doing this, and yes, it’s all just hypothetical until it happens.

What you get out of talking about these things is not so much the obvious surface answers. Much like in talk therapy, what you talk about is often less illuminating than how you talk about it. What you really get is a sense of whether you’re on the same page fundamentally. Are all the answers from one of you really conventional conservative ones and the other’s not? More importantly, are you each open minded and interested in hearing the other’s point of view, or are you going in certain that your way is the right one and all you try to do is convince the other of that?

Here’s a list of questions I often ask couples to discuss when I’m doing pre-wedding counseling, cut and pasted from an email I sent yesterday on exactly this topic:

What I’ve observed is that the healthy relationships may not be the ones where people have the most in common (opposites attract, and all that) but the ones where both parties respect the other, and are interesting in working solutions to problems out together, NOT convincing the other one that s/he’s wrong.

As for what activities you can try to test this compatibility? I recommend hanging wallpaper together. :smiley:

I’m gonna attempt to veer away from the impending trainwreck of hatred this could become. :wink:

My experiences:
I was engaged to a trust fund baby. A bi-polar, neurotic, trust-fund baby. At the time I thought ‘well, maybe this is as good as it gets, perhaps this whole compromise thing I’m hearing about means giveing up everything that makes me me for the sake of the relationship.’

Whew. Glad I dodged THAT bullet.

The woman I did end up marrying was exactly the opposite. I’d known her for awhile already and we didn’t go through the usual steps in discovering the other person. Communication was effortless, the sex was great, the parents all got along. Puppies, sunshine and rainbows.

We got married, had a great honeymoon, and went through the transition from being a couple living together to a couple living together with a paper that says “Marriage License”.

Boy, what a difference THAT made! The OP is right, you let down your guard a little, and you get to see the other person as they really are. Which isn’t that big a deal if you were truly honest with each other in the first place. In my mind, the year of engagement was a GREAT way to see how a couple functions under pressure. With Bachelorette number one, it was horrific. Stressful. Arguing. Fights. Not fun.

With the woman I married, the engagement period was a non_issue. In that year, her Mom got a restraining order on Dad, left him, and started an amazingly hurtful divorce. We had to un-invite both her parents from the wedding as we weren’t going to choose favorites in a divorce. If that wouldn’t scare away to folks lookin’ to get married, I don’t know what would.

In 12 years of marriage, have we had problems? Yeah. We nearly got divorced once. It was a two-three year period where life just wouldn’t stop shitting on us. Death, unemployment, kids being born, the sense of loss of freedom when you become a parent. Know what caused the near divorce?

We stopped working together as a team. We stopped talking. We started thinking we were alone in the stuff we, individually, were dealing with.

I’m greatly simplifying here, but once we discovered there was medication (and therapy) to help deal with the crap, we realized that the only thing in life that WASN’T ganging up on us was OUR RELATIONSHIP TOGETHER.

Big Bulletpoints in life:

  1. Your libidos will differ. That doesn’t make either party WRONG. It just is. find a middleground through masturbation or medical science. But talk about it, and try not to get defensive or blame the other party.

  2. Even when you’re right, you’re wrong. Marriage is a relationship where both people they’re working harder than the other. They’re both right.

  3. Learn communication skills. Talking, really talking, isn’t about ‘winning the fight’. That’s a short way ticket to a bigger fight. When you have an issue, talk about it. Now. If you let it fester it will be worse than it needs to be.

  4. Everybody will have trite suggestions that may or may not work in your case. My trite suggestion: Three checking accounts. If the money comes out of your account, he/she can’t complain. It’s your money. Ditto if it comes out of their account. Savings, bills, everything else comes out of the other account. Reguardless of WHO wears the pants in the family. the money in that account belongs to both of you. For things that are negotiated. (I never understood folks that have issues with a spouse that makes more or less than they do.)

  5. The most important team you’ll ever be a part of is your marriage. Don’t take it for granted. Don’t coast. Don’t just assume it’ll always be there. Work, Kids, Church, Clubs, Housework, Hobbies, all will conspire to take away the time necessary to maintain your marriage. If you understand that, great. If not, you’ll wake up 10 years later and discover you’re not married, you’re just co-habitating with a stranger.

  6. People change. If you don’t involve each other in that change, #5 will happen.

  7. All this aside, everybody’s marriage is different. I’ve see relationships I didn’t think would last the week go forever. Likewise, the most outwardly matched people fly apart and go their different ways. It happens. At least it’s not a stigma anymore.
    Lastly: There are folks out there that have good marriages. They’re worth having_. They end up being greater than the sum of their parts. They provide a stable, balanced, environment to raise balanced children. (If I were the only parent, I guarantee my kids would grow up screwed up…likewise if they were only raised by my wife.) Marriage gets a bad rap because it’s easy to slam the negative sides of the institution. I don’t think enough time is spent lauding the positive aspects.

Both the big and the little things are good experiences to have under your belt. So yes, the long vacation/move/etc, AND the day-to-day stuff are important. You’ll be going through everything together someday, and how that person responds in times of crisis and calm are going to be a regular part of your life.

And I think the hypotheticals are very important! Even if you change your mids later on what you would do in X situation, knowing that you can discuss the Big Things like kids and finances without having a screaming match and finding out whether you have any major differences in basic values is going to be really helpful down the line.

I would say that three things have made us work:

  1. We dated for 5+ years before our wedding day.
  2. Our basic values are not in conflict.
  3. We love and care for each other very, very much.

Of course, there are more nuances that that, but it’s a good foundation. I like this thread idea!

My advice, FWIW, after nearly 18 years of happy marriage (and counting):

My wife and I lived together for almost a year before I popped the question, and we found it very useful as a “practice marriage.” You learn things about your significant other by living with her for awhile that you won’t know just from dating. That said, there have been studies showing that couples which live together before marrying have just as high divorce rates as those that didn’t live together.

Get premarital counseling from your house of worship, if available or appropriate, or from some other trained professional.

Don’t be determined to win every argument with your SO. Learn when to gracefully yield when, in good conscience, you can do so. Be obliging without being a doormat.

Talk - really talk! - about the Big Issues of marriage. How many kids, if any, do you think you’ll want to have? In what faith, if any, will they be raised? Do you expect to have separate finances, or fully intermingled funds? What career goals do you each have? Where do you see yourselves living in a year, five years, a decade, etc.? How frequently will you want to see the in-laws? Some of this is unknowable, but you should at least get a sense of your SO’s thinking to see where you agree and where you’re far apart. Then talk until you can close the gap, or acknowledge that the gap will remain, but resolve to work around it to the extent possible.

My then-girlfriend and I found it very illuminating and fun to have my young nieces visit us for several entire weekends, so that we could have at least a sense of what parenting was like.

Let your SO have time by herself when she wants it, as she should for you. Don’t think your relationship is a failure just because you don’t want to be together 24/7/365. Some separate interests can help keep a relationship fresh, and make it all the more pleasing to get back together at the end of, say, a poker weekend with the guys or a spa getaway with the girls.

Before getting married, you should be pretty sure (absolute certainty is always elusive) that this really is the person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life. If you’re not pretty sure, ask yourself why not, and be brutally honest. Don’t make a serious commitment until you’re truly comfortable with it. Divorce is certainly easier now than it was 50 years ago, but no life is improved by it if there should never have been a wedding in the first place.

Passion may not last forever, but true love can, if you make an effort and do what you can to preserve a happy marriage.

If the two of you can learn to navigate a foreign city, with a paper map, and still remain an item. You may have the Right Stuff™. :smiley:

Communication is the key.

If your SO does something that bugs you, say something about it. Don’t let it fester. Don’t nitpick someone to death, though.

I agree about seeing the other person at their worst. If you can handle that, the rest should be easy.

Be truthful. You won’t be able to keep major problems a secret for long.


My advice. People in healthy marriage argue. If they don’t, someone’s holding stuff in and that’s gonna blow up in your face eventually. But fighting with your spouse requires perspective. Whether you resolve the issue or not, don’t brutalize each other with personal attacks. Fight about the subject of disagreement, not the person. Know when to seek outside professional assistance to get past the really serious disagreements. Make every attempt to recognize and understand where your spouse is coming from. And also know that sometimes you can’t tidy everything up in one sitting. Sometimes, it takes a lot longer, but don’t keep stomping around because the problem isn’t yet resolved. Cooler heads generally prevail.

And never, ever, under any circumstances hold grudges. I like the classic advice to never go to bed angry at each. Although, sometimes we do, we don’t stay angry for long because our relationship does not revolve around our arguments. As mad as we get, we still love each other.

The divorce statistics of marriages are often flouted and debated. Some say that there is a 50% chance of divorce. Others say that it may be as low as 40% to sound optimistic. However, that is far from the whole story. I started a thread on this subject once. Just because a couple doesn’t get divorced doesn’t mean that they have a generally happy relationship. People in unhappy relationships stay together for all kinds of reasons whether it is financial, because of the kids, co-dependency, or simple inertia. I and many other people that participated in the thread believe the chance of a long-term, happy and healthy relationship is fairly low. All couples in divorces have one unhappy partner and the remaining couples have some percentage that are generally unhappy in their relationship. I can’t say whether the remaining couples consist of 25% unhappy or 50% unhappy but the odds are bad across the population.


  1. Marriage is a legal contract as stated and not a declaration of love. You can have plenty of love without marriage. People need to understand this and bridezillas need to be killed off just like their namesake. A wedding has nothing to do with marriage and never has.

  2. You can never trust your spouse fully even if you think you can. It simply isn’t prudent. Anyone that reads the news whether it was about Bill Clinton, your favorite celebrity, or even your next door neighbor should understand that completely yet most people think it will never happen to them. It could be an affair or a substance addiction but bad things happen to good people and they often get blind-sided by secret behavior.

  3. As related to #2 above, never fully co-mingle your finances. There is no down-side to this so the motivation that compels this behavior seems to come from Disney cartoons as a stunt. In particular, make sure you take care of your own retirement. If you and your spouse live in peaceful bliss throughout your lives, there is absolutely no problem with this strategy. If your spouse hooks up with high-priced call-girls as a hobby, you still have your own money and you are safe.

One of the things young people need to know about marriage is that it involves commitments, and it can be difficult to understand each other’s behavior towards commitments unless you actually make some.

Before getting married, try writing down some of your agreements and signing them. Things like “I agree to take out the garbage every Saturday morning unless alternate plans have been arranged and consented to in advance.” It sounds pretty anal-retentive but it can be surprising what a difference there is between saying you’ll do something and committing to do it. And it can provoke some pretty remarkable hidden childishness and rebellion in some folks. You need to know that about each other before entering the kind of commitments that you automatically make when you are legally married.

My creds: I’m a married person coming up on our 5th wedding anniversary, 11 years total living together.

1¢: There will be times in even a fantastic marriage that you can’t stand your spouse and can’t imagine another day with him/her. The marriage contract is a promise to work it out anyway.

2¢: If you can’t treat your spouse with the moment-to-moment respect and consideration you would give an admired friend, you’re probably going to have trouble. That’s not to say you can’t argue, because of course you should argue when there’s something that needs to be argued about; rather, that you should be able to argue fairly even when you’re completely pissed off and it really matters to you to be right.

This just in…

10 minutes ago I got an email from a friend. 1 minute ago I started breathing again.

This friend and I are in a social group together…some in the group date, some just want a group for dancing, bowling, etc. Well, the friend sends a link about a guy who was pretty visible in the group and seemed like a good guy. This guy just made the registered sex offenders board of a local PD recently…worse, it’s for two offenses instead of one. I mean, if it were one you might guess he got railroaded somehow, got an unfriendly jury, whatever and try to advance some benefit of a doubt. No wonder we havent’ seen him in the group for a few months now.

So add that to the caveats. So many of us now live hundreds of miles from our hometown and we think we know who people are. A lot of times we’re right but sometimes this lesson bonks us in the head AGAIN.

We backpacked and youth-hosteled through Europe about a month after we met, using a guidebook, paper maps from tourist offices, and a little compass keychain. :slight_smile: Think we’re set?

This is all some really good advice, and I’ll save this thread for the future, just in case.

Another question for you all:

What exactly are you committing to, really, when you’re signing the official papers? Besides acquiring your spouse’s debt, which I already know about. I can understand how sunacres’ suggestion of having written agreements about household stuff can bring laziness and uncooperativeness to the light, but that’s not what a marriage contract is. How does one really prepare you for the other?

It protects any children you have (hopefully). And suppose as your husband he dies…you inherit the wealth so you can take care of yourself, kids, etc. And it’s your call on pulling the life-support. Tax break…stuff like that. IANAL YMMV.

But mainly I think it gives you due process before one decides the marriage isn’t working. When I was first married I thought the paper should be the least of the reasons we’re together. But when the marriage was failing, I knew it was a damn good thing…that piece of paper will (hopefully) force you to do some work and soul-searching before ending it.

Whoops. I forgot to add: …in a moving car. to that. Walking with a map’s no big deal. Speed and foreign street signals and how the two of you react to mis-communication and missed turns…THAT’S a good litmus test.

Hey, my sister married a guy from our hometown who had been in my class since I was nine years old. My husband and I sang at their wedding. Hometown boy turns out to be a predatory pedophile. (They’re divorced now, and she helped put him in prison.) Your lesson goes no matter how well you think you know someone or for how long, sadly. Thank Og that such successful deceivers are unusual.