People generally get married banking on the idea that it’s going to be forever. You likely caught the whole “‘til death do us part” line folded into most vows. And while not every marriage tackles conflict perfectly, there are a few things you need to address before you jump into this whole “binding lifetime social contract” thing. If you want kids and your partner doesn’t, for example, it doesn’t mean that your marriage is doomed to fail; you just have to go into it understanding that you disagree on something big (and if they change their mind, great). Here are some less-obvious arguments you need to have before you tie the knot.
1. A fight about a chore one of you does better than the other. For argument’s sake, say you are vastly superior at dish-washing than your partner. Naturally, you feel obligated to re-wash your soap scum speckled plates, even when it’s his day to do dishes. Nothing causes problems like feeling as if you’re doing all the work. But if you’re unhappy with the amount of work you’re doing around the house, or if your partner can tolerate clutter much more than you can, talk about it. Will you divorce your spouse just because they’re a bit messy? No, probably not (it depends on how messy). But will that cause problems and arguments and built-up resentment? That’s certainly plausible. Get into good habits about understanding what a “job well done” actually is, for both of you.
2. A screaming match while sprinting towards your gate and dragging your rolling luggage sideways in the middle of the airport. You’re late for your holiday flight to go visit family. You’re sweaty, you’re stressed, your inner monologue is just wordless screaming. This is definitely someone’s fault. The question becomes: what are you going to do about it? Did your partner oversleep and almost cost you the flight? Were you in charge of itinerary and screwed up the travel times? You’ve got two options here: carry the burgeoning resentment throughout the entirety of your vacation, or get it all out and then have make-up sex in the airplane bathroom. It’s fine to point out when a major mistake gets made, even if it means a fight because you’re both stressed.
3. A fight about lending a family member money. If network sitcoms have taught us anything, it’s that you probably have a few minor but hilarious issues with your (future) family-in-law. But if you have serious concerns with the way his family operates — like say, controlling parents or the aforementioned sibling constantly borrowing money — get it out in the open now. Your partner will likely (and understandably) go on the defensive, and the sooner you understand how to approach the situation, the better. You’re not wrong to not want your money thrown towards someone else instead of saving it, but they’re not wrong for wanting to help family. Fighting about how to prioritize these things will show you a lot about where you each stand on these values. That makes it sound like marriage is a cult, when it really just means “do you want to be lending money out we might never get back or save up to buy a house?”
4. A freak out about working 70 hours a week and barely being able to spend time together. There’s nothing wrong with putting time and effort into your professional life and getting a sense of pride from it. But if you or your partner feel like one of you isn’t paying enough attention to the other and focusing too much on work, talk about it. It’ll almost guarantee a fight. Everyone has seen at least one family movie about a big shot executive learning that love is more important than money, but that doesn’t necessarily make you right. It’s better to hash it out now than to get married, start a family, and have everything continue the same way.
5. A disagreement about where you should live. And not in the “should we get an exposed brick apartment in the city or the quaint house with a credenza”* a few miles out in the suburbs. You’ll find your dream home. But if one of you wants to move thousands of miles away, don’t neglect that. This might not sound so important if one of you just always wanted to live in Denver because it seems nice. But if your partner is from another country, they might get homesick… and expect you to move back with them. If location is important to you both, address it sooner rather than later.
*FUN FACT: I’m not entirely positive on what a credenza is, but I’m confident it’s something married couples searching for a house discuss at least once.
6. Or about how often you’re having (or not having) sex. People have different sex drives… sometimes wildly different. That’s OK, and sex drives can change over time, too. Maybe you feel like your needs aren’t being met, or your partner thinks you only care about sex. It might feel shallow to bring up sex, but if it’s important to you, do it. By the time you’re married, you should be comfortable talking about each other’s physical and emotional needs openly.
7. Have a fight about not having enough fights. Getting into arguments is good for your long-term relationship (as long as you don’t fight too much). Hell, you both might even love to argue. But if one of you is walking away or shutting down when it comes to important topics (like the ones mentioned here), you’ll never get anywhere. Address your communication issues now. Realistically, you both probably have bad communication habits that can make it hard when things get heated. The better you develop your communication skills and openness now, the better off you’ll be later.
8. Bicker about a social media interaction between your partner and someone else. At some point in the relationship, you’re either going to get very jealous or discover you don’t possess the genome to actually experience jealousy. You’ll see them like a bunch of Instagram posts or notice a suspicious DM. Confront them. Either they didn’t do anything wrong (in which case you’ll fight) or they did (in which case you’ll fight). What’s important here is that you both have a healthy conversation about jealousy, and about which types of interactions might hurt someone’s feelings.
9. Clash over decorating your new apartment (bonus points if you decide to build furniture together). God help you. The optimist would say this experience is teaching you compromise and teamwork. The realist would say this experience is teaching you how to physically restrain yourself from murdering your life partner.
10. Getting in a fight over missing an anniversary. A missed birthday? Reasonable fight. Forgetting the three year anniversary of your first date? Pretty understandable. Fighting over that means one of you is angry the other doesn’t care enough, while the opposing argument is that it’s caring too much. It won’t be a fun fight to have, but by the end of it, you’ll be able to determine the exact right amount of caring.