By DOUGLAS CHAY
When planning your wedding, don’t forget to plan your marriage. Pre-marital planning includes, but goes beyond, figuring out the mechanics of the marriage. It involves developing a deeper level of personal insight, a better understanding of your finances and of the relationship itself. You can avoid nasty surprises later on by learning about and addressing discrepancies in your and your partner’s expectations for the future before tying the knot. Make sure you discuss the following:
1. Communication: Give yourself and your fiancé permission to discuss concerns even if you’re afraid it will hurt the other’s feelings or result in an argument. Conflict is good. It gives us the opportunity to practice problem solving. Agree on rules for arguing which should include no name-calling, threats or idle ultimatums. When you argue, be honest with yourself about whether your goal is to resolve an issue or win an argument. Avoid mind reading. No matter how convinced you are that you know what your partner is feeling or thinking, you may be wrong. Ask before you react.
2. Intimacy. Determine what combination of emotional and physical intimacy works the best. Develop your friendship and make time for each other. Discuss your expectations of your sexual relationship, including whether both of you want to experiment with new sexual behaviors and if so which ones. Find out how frequently your partner wants sexual contact and what kind (do not base this on how often they ask for it). How about you? Can you reach a compromise if there is a significant discrepancy? Is masturbation OK? Is porn OK? Is leaving your profile on Grindr or Pink Book OK?
3. The Semantics of Marriage. Do you want an “open” relationship? If so, what are the rules? Does marriage=monogamy? What does monogamy mean? I have worked with clients whose definition of monogamy was avoidance of anal or vaginal sex outside of the marriage. Others felt that watching porn was akin to having a full-blown affair. Don’t assume that your partner means the same thing you do when you use these terms. Talk.
4. Outness. Being in the closet while you are married carries different implications than being closeted while single. If you are married, your level of “outness” affects not only your spouse, but also the two families and networks of friends that you married into. You no longer can claim that your sexual orientation is nobody else’s business. If you plan to remain closeted indefinitely, you are implicitly asking your spouse to step back into the closet with you.
5. Tasks. Marriages involve a significant amount of grunt work. Paying bills, mowing the lawn, vacuuming, cooking, chopping wood, etc. Identify the tasks and agree to a fair distribution. Be flexible in changing who does what as circumstances change.
6. Finances. Would it matter to you if your spouse wanted a separate bank account? Do you want a prenuptial agreement? Would it work better to have multiple accounts or one? Discuss how decisions will be made for large purchases, who manages the money and how to deal with income disparities. What is a “fair” financial split between a spouse whose earns 50 percent less than the other? Does one feel guilty or resentful for earning less or more money? What happens if one becomes unemployed?
7. Emotional Baggage: While growing up many of us learn to hide certain emotions, and/or limit their expression. As adults, if we continue to suppress or compartmentalize them, they come out unexpectedly, usually directed at the “safest” person in our lives: our spouse. Not coincidentally, this is the person you least want to hurt. If this sounds familiar, discuss it, take responsibility, and get help to fix it. As long as your spouse sees you making an effort, she/he will be more likely to be patient and recognize these behaviors for what they are: part of the baggage that we all bring to our relationships.
Douglas Chay is director of the Pride Counseling Center in Columbia, Md. He is a member of the American Association of Sexuality Educators. Reach him at pridecounseling.net or firstname.lastname@example.org, 410-744-4867.