The narrative of the fairy-tale wedding usually ends with the phrase ‘they lived happily ever after’. So, when boy meets girl, their hearts are racing, and they hardly think through what a huge and risky decision they are about to make. He pops the question on a bent knee and then the frantic preparation for a lavish wedding celebration and a memorable honeymoon begins.

“Assumption is usually the beginning of conflicts.The only way you can be sure your spouse is on the same page with you is by asking questions and listening to their feedback.”

When the dust settles and they wake up to reality, they realize too late that they had no plans for their marriage. if you had a choice between a big wedding and a small honeymoon or a small wedding and a big honeymoon, don’t choose any, don’t settle for any when you can negotiate for a big marriage. The wedding and the honeymoon will be over in a few hours or days and you will be stuck with the consequence of having no vision for your marriage.

The courtship period shouldn’t be fast tracked or truncated and should not be too long but just adequate time to write a vision for your marriage. Don’t spend all that time hopping from one events planner to another or trying out new restaurants and posting your pictures online, it’s time to ask the hard questions, think through all the possible scenarios and plan ahead.

“If you had a choice between a big wedding and a small honeymoon or a small wedding and a big honeymoon, don’t choose any, don’t settle for any when you can negotiate for a big Marriage.”

These discussions may not go as planned as our background, ideologies and exposure will come to the fore as we discuss these pertinent issues. It shouldn’t end even after the wedding but as often as possible, couples should continue to plan and review the state of their union. This shortlist of questions is not exhaustive, but here are a few discussion starters every couple seriously considering marriage should have:

Outlook On Life: Just because someone claims to love us doesn’t imply or guarantee that they share our perspectives on a number of issues. Assumption is usually the beginning of conflicts. The only way you can be sure your spouse is on the same page with you is by asking questions and listening to their feedback and acknowledging or discussing any conflict areas.

Many couples today woke to the shock that their spouse didn’t share their values and priorities. Have a series of unhurried discussion about a wide range of topics and listen to how different your prospective spouse processes the same experience and information you’ve shared. Our differences should be a win for us and not tear us apart.

Rules & Roles: When couples are ‘still in love’, they never think that anything could go wrong, assumptions are made, everyone seems sacrificial and selfless. But the reality is that many couples don’t remain in this state for more than two years at the most. Even with all the automated systems we enjoy in the 21st century, someone needs to get things going to avoid a catastrophe.

Healthy relationships must thrive on boundaries defined as the unwritten rules of the family, not assumed roles but what’s clearly defined so no one is in doubt about who is to do what and when. Couples need to discuss the stereotypes around traditional roles for husbands and wives and agree to do what works specifically for them as a couple.

In-laws: Even though you get married to your spouse, they are not aliens from another planet but members of others families that will inadvertently become part of your family. Some in-laws are great, others are horrible. We have no clue who our in-laws will be and whether we will be warmly welcomed or endure an estranged relationship for a lifetime.

Talk about your future relationships with them: Will they move in with you at some point? Will their influence control your marriage? Where do you draw the line in respecting them even when you disagree with them? Sadly, many parents have a mental image of who their children should get married to and if you don’t fit, the battle line is drawn.

Kids: Children are a blessing from the Lord, but God doesn’t want us popping more kids than we can cater for physically, spiritually and emotionally. Won’t it be better if these babies remained in heaven than come to this world to suffer because two people were not intentional and committed to nurturing and caring for them. It will be great to have conversation about how many children you want to have and what the back up plan is if both of you are uncomfortable with birth control options.

How you will discipline your kids, how you will spend quality time with them? Would one of you read a bedtime story each night to them? Nobody gets married hoping they will have infertility issues or decides to raise a child with special learning, behavioral or emotional needs but talk about that as well. What if … what will we do?

Money: One of the biggest issues when marriages breakdown is money. Sometimes, it’s too much money, other times, it’s not enough money. Financial planning shouldn’t be restricted to just planning a lavish wedding and a honeymoon. It should include short-term planning (upkeep of the family, paying bills), mid-term (buying a house, going back to school, giving to a cause) and long-term (retirement and estate planning).

It will be great to live below and not even within your means. Your discussion should include debts, wills, joint accounts, retirement plans, just to name a few. Don’t forget to talk about what would you do when there is a windfall or one of you is out of work.

When To Ask For Help: Many times, counselling gets a bad reputation because many feel stigmatized if they’re struggling in their relationships or ashamed to see one so the news doesn’t get to town. You don’t need to see a counselor only when there’s a problem, you can come in for great counsel and uncommon wisdom to take your marriage from ‘good’ to ‘great’.

Ask your prospective spouse what they will do if and when marriage gets boring and if they will be willing or have any reservations with seeing a counselor. It will be great to identify mentor couples or counselors you both will be willing to meet if the need arises. Don’t join the staggering statistics of unhappy couples sliding down to a divorce who could have got a lifeline from counselling.

Secrets: I strongly believe and will encourage all intending couples to disclose and share all secrets: the good, bad and ugly. You don’t want to feel awful after you’ve  stumbled on some strange and devastating news after you’ve sign on the dotted lines. If you ask your prospective question about their past and they are unwilling to share, that’s a huge problem going ahead with an unknown variable in your relationship.

If you claim to love someone but you can’t be vulnerable and honest with them about any and every secret, then, that’s an issue. If there have been previous partners, abortions, a struggle with pornography or masturbation, any fears about marriage, underlying medical issues, bring them all on and discuss their potential impact and conflict points for your marriage.

Divorce: No one plans for a divorce but many couples end up divorced leaving children afraid, confused and uncertain of the future. Find out what your prospective spouse thinks of a divorce and why they would or would not consider one. Then, make a commitment to each other that divorce won’t be an option come what may as you both will keep fighting for your marriage.

Discuss what you both will do when staying married becomes a nightmare or one of you needs some space apart for a while. The decision to get a divorce doesn’t happen overnight but you both need to talk about how to identify the signs of a crumbling marriage and what to do. Failing to plan always results in an unintentional plan to fail.

Purpose: When the purpose of a thing is unknown, abuse, neglect and abandonment are inevitable. When we don’t know what God’s purpose for us, we will be ill-equipped to fulfill His purpose for our marriage. After the lavish wedding celebrations and honeymoon are over, we all need to wake up each day to pursue with full focus God’s purpose for our lives or we will end up abusing, neglecting and abandoning our spouses.

So, before you make any commitment to sign away your freedom or get stuck with just anyone, discuss in detail what assignment God is entrusting to you as a couple and come up with practical steps to commit to pursuing it with full focus. If your marriage has no vision and no focus, it won’t be long before the enemy takes over.

Relationship With God: You can’t afford to get married to someone who ‘goes’ to church but someone who is under the absolute control of God’s Spirit. And just because someone claims to love and fear God, we must be attentive in ensuring that their words match their talk, that they have a character that isn’t dependent on which situation they are in.

Talk about how you both will nurture your relationship with God. It’s great for one spouse to connect with God but you want to connect with God together. Agree about the opportunities to pray for each other, the grace required to rebuke and speak out if one of you begins to fall out of line.

Love Languages: None of us are mind readers and so the urgent need to speak out is so vital for a healthy relationship. Gary Chapman in The Five Love Languages say we all give and receive love differently. Every couple should be vulnerable and honest to disclose what language they feel comfortable with.

Never be afraid or ashamed to ask for what you want and don’t beat up your spouse for anything they have no clue about. Great marriages don’t fall from the sky but it’s usually a result of spouses who understand their spouse’s love language and are intentional about going the extra mile for the other.

Anger Management: We have no clue if we or our spouse struggles with anger till we are in a crisis and watch them lose control of their emotions. Discuss any previous experiences either of you may have had where you were ashamed of what happened when you were angry and lost control of your emotions. Don’t feel ashamed to talk about if any of you were exposed to angry parents growing up and how that made you feel.

Take time to discuss your conflict resolution styles: Flight, Fight, Freeze, Resolve. What do we do when one of you is angry? How do we resolve conflicts? Can we go to bed each night with an unresolved issue on our minds? Will violence or silent treatment be employed at any time? Then make a commitments never to raise your hands or an object to inflict pain on anyone.

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