Before your wedding day, you need to find time to talk about things that will be crucial to your married life.
Many couples get married thinking they know everything about each other, but some topics may only come up years after tying the knot. Talking through them beforehand is the key to maintaining an emotional bond long-term.
Dr. John Gottman lists 7 principles for a happy marriage and the discussions below help partners connect through them. They’re the tools for building a marriage that lasts a lifetime.
Before we break down Gottman’s principles, these 25 things to discuss before marriage should come first.
On shared values
An engaged couple must be able to deeply talk about values they both believe in and develop an understanding, especially on opposing viewpoints. Respect should always be present in the relationship, especially once you’re married.
1. What being a partner means
Sharing values doesn’t mean agreeing on everything. It’s more like being on the same page about what things mean (i.e. the value you ascribe to behaviors, standards, ethics, etc). What you both value says a lot about where you naturally align and where potential friction may come from.
2. Religious and spiritual beliefs
Many couples don’t share a religion or spiritual background. Luckily, it’s not a requirement for a happy marriage. The goal is to understand any expectations and accommodations that may come, and how they fit into your shared lives.
3. Ambitions and personal goals
We tend to have our own ideas of the future and where we want to be in two, five, or even ten years. Getting married may mean partners have to adjust to accommodate each other’s career, personal, and life goals.
4. Time management
Do you want to have one day in the week dedicated to quality time? What about scheduling time every month to organize bills, finances, and household things? Agreeing on important dates can prevent a lot of future headaches when the time comes.
5. Why marriage?
The answer doesn’t need to be complex, but it should highlight what makes marriage a good idea for both of you. Beyond the love you share, what do each of you find compelling about this relationship structure?
On family and relationships
Being the newest family member on your spouse’s side of the family, you must discuss how to deal with family relationships, get-togethers, and maybe even annoying relatives that can put a toll on your relationship.
6. Current parental relationships
Troublesome in-laws may be a cliche, but they’re still worth talking about. Your partner’s closeness to their parents can give you an idea of the influence they may have, and vice versa. On the other hand, a partner may not have or want a close parental relationship.
7. Ideal parental relationships
The reasons your partner keeps a close or distant parental relationship can tell us more about their motivations for building yours. Think about the impact your parents had on your outlook on relationships, and what you’d want a partner to know about your approach.
8. Other family and friends
As social creatures, we need several relationships to feel supported, happy and fulfilled. You want to be able to make time for social, familial, and platonic relationships in both your lives, so talk about how they fit in.
9. Setting boundaries
This also means knowing where the boundaries of each relationship are. Which discussions do you consider private as a couple? What’s reasonable to share with others? Will you have a say when friends or family have a negative effect on your marriage?
10. Influence as a partner
Couples spend the most time together and often share their deepest thoughts. This can give partners the perspective to offer advice that others couldn’t. The ability to accept a partner’s influence comes down to trust, though, and influence needs to be equal from both parties. Is it?
On fears, conflict, and support
Difficult conversations start with fear, anger, and conflicts. You must know how to handle each other when it comes to this, and be the support your partner needs.
11. How to bring up touchy topics
How do you bring up a sensitive issue when you’re not sure how your partner will react? Often, the best way is to practice your preferred conversation starters when things are good. A soft start up is a useful way to gently raise an issue without escalating the conflict.
A soft start-up is still firm and clear. It just helps you bring up a legitimate issue without judgment or criticism, like:
“Hey, we didn’t sit down to work on our budget last Sunday. I know money is a stressful topic right now, but it’s important for our coming plans. Can we make time to work through it this week?”
12. How to express concerns
Softening your start up offers a guide on what to say, but knowing what to avoid can be just as helpful. Editing yourself doesn’t mean putting your needs aside, but expressing real emotions while maintaining kindness.
13. Conflict-resolution and repairing situations
Everyone problem-solves in their own way. Even partners working together can get frustrated when their approaches don’t align. One partner might want to talk through an issue and express their feelings first. Another may jump straight to the solution to get it done quickly. It’s worth talking about what you need before a conflict feels fully resolved.
14. Navigating trauma
Before you were partners, you were individuals with your own background, history, and even traumas. While not everyone wants to get into specifics, it does help to talk about how those experiences shape your present.
15. Minimizing stress and hurtful behavior
Knowing where the triggers are can help partners navigate them and support each other. This can be as simple as sharing a list of behaviors that increase stress, and caring acts that relieve anxiety and tension.
Discussing matters about money should be prioritized by engaged couples planning to get married. This shouldn’t be considered taboo since how you handle your finances will play a considerable role while building a life together.
16. Managing finances
Start with the practical things. Do you want a joint account? What savings and investments are you both working towards? Which financial commitments will you share when married? What are your financial goals?
17. Dealing with money stress
Money is one of the biggest stressors that can affect any happily married couple. Successful couples don’t just know how to handle money, they know how to handle not having enough of it.
18. Splitting bills
When it comes to splitting bills, here are more practical questions you should ask your future spouse: will you split bills or share them? Whose name is on which account? Does your shared income cover everything it needs to?
19. Property and assets
No one wants to think about divorce going into marriage, but some things need to be brought up. Whatever you own before marriage, you’ll want a clear written agreement on what happens to shared assets in every scenario.
20. Future planning
Money doesn’t have to be a dour topic. You can always bring it up with something optimistic. Why not start with a one-year anniversary holiday to get excited about saving and planning?
On intimacy and staying in love
Have you discovered your partner’s love language? Another one that you should talk about is how your partner can help you feel loved, and how you show love in different ways.
21. Defining happiness
There’s nothing like an existential question to get you both thinking deeply. For example: “What does the happiest version of your life look like in 10 years?” Couples start coming apart 7 years into marriage, according to Dr. Gottman, so have a vision for your bond beyond that.
22. Spending the right time together
Quality time is about how you spend it, not how much. What activities, conversations, or acts make spending time enjoyable? What’s your favorite way of sharing a Sunday afternoon or Tuesday evening? If you know what it is, you can make time for it.
You shouldn’t also take your sex life for granted. It’s important to have an honest conversation every now and then about what turns you on, what you want to experiment on, or what each of you needs to keep the flame burning.
23. Ways to keep from drifting
Drifting apart can happen for several reasons. Specific issues might do it, but so can taking a relationship for granted. Couples need to focus on strengthening the emotional bond over time. That can be anything from couples counseling or sitting down to reaffirm the positives.
24. When space is needed
In order for a healthy marriage to succeed, you also need to have boundaries. Needing space is different from drifting apart, but these two can be hard to separate if your partner isn’t sure why you want it in the first place. When you do need space from a spouse or even just an argument, talking about it first can maintain common ground.
25. Getting professional help
It’s hard to know what problems you’ll face ten years into a marriage. What you can find out now, though, is if your partner would be willing to seek professional help if required. If possible, you can also opt for pre marital counseling just to smoothen things out in your relationship before moving on to that one big step in your life. A commitment to healing is a good sign that your marriage can survive the bumps along the way.
Gottman’s 7 principles of making a marriage work
These 25 topics are here to help you and your partner prepare for married life and all that comes with it. Few people know more about building relationships on trust and intimacy than Dr. Gottman. So what do the 7 Gottman principles for improving a marriage focus on?
Seek help early
According to research from the Gottman Institute, the average couple waits 6 years before getting professional help, and half of all marriages end in the first 7 years. Couples that take a proactive approach and address issues early have the best chance of getting through them.
Editing yourself is about reflecting on yourself about working on certain things within you. For example, all the words and thoughts that don’t foster kindness. Anger and concern are valid emotions, but knowing how to bring issues up keeps the focus on resolution.
Soften your “start up”
How you start a conversation affects where it will end. Overly critical remarks can make partners defensive when they should be engaged. A soft start up encourages clarity, calmness, and collaboration when they’re most needed.
Accept influence from your partner
In heterosexual marriages, influence tends to skew in favor of the husband. In any partnership built on trust and intimacy, partners listen to each other equally and advise each other in turn. There might also be instances when couples need each other to take care of one another’s mental health.
Have high standards
High standards mean a lower tolerance for bad behavior. Sharing the same expectations and commitments to a healthy bond is key to a successful marriage.
Learn to repair and exit the argument
Conflict resolution is a skill. Practice them enough, and any argument becomes an opportunity for partners to grow closer and appreciate each other.
Focus on the positives
Happy couples don’t just know how to deal with bad times, they create an environment for affirming statements, laughter, and shared experiences worth treasuring. Dealing with the negatives is good, but focusing on the positives is enriching.