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We Need To Talk

Counselors say couples should discuss what’s important to them, how they will share responsibilities and how they plan to handle money before tying the knot.

Before you ride off into the sunset with your beloved, remember that married life isn’t always a fairy tale. You will eventually face some tough situations, but you could avoid some of the pitfalls with a few honest discussions before  you say “I do.” Here, Winter Park-based relationship counselors Dawn Lipthrott and Carol Mikulka, M.D., guide you through some of the most important questions you and your fiancé should discuss before the big day arrives.

How can we know what we both want out of marriage?
Lipthrott: I like for couples to write out their ‘ingredients’ of what would be in an ideal marriage. That helps identify the expectations and the things that are important to each person. A lot of times, one member of a couple doesn’t realize what is important to the other—something will be a surprise. Even if it’s not a surprise, they have an opportunity to discuss how to make those ingredients part of their life.
Whenever I say, ‘We need to talk,’ my partner turns into a deer in headlights. How should I initiate an important conversation with my future spouse?
L: Tell your partner, ‘I have something important to discuss, is this a good time?’ If it is, talk about it then. If it’s not, set a time within 24 hours to come back and talk about it. Don’t say, ‘We’ll talk about it later,’ because later never happens. Once you sit down to talk, do it in private—without the TV, without the cell phones—so you’re giving full attention to each other. One person should talk; the other should listen without interrupting. Before the second person responds, he or she should sum up what he or she heard as the main points of what the first person said. Say what makes sense; whether you agree is a different story. Then the other person should respond, not in rebuttal but with his or her own point of view of what it means to them and why. When you can help your partner understand why something is important, you have more options for addressing the real problem underneath.

We’ve both managed money well on our own. Is it really important for us to talk about how we’ll manage it as a couple?
Mikulka: Full disclosure is very important in the beginning. In certain situations, a prenuptial agreement makes sense and in others it doesn’t. Prenuptials can have a positive or negative impact on the relationship. If financial problems like overspending are not disclosed and discussed early on, then they will come up.
L: I think it’s helpful to talk about what couples have learned about money in their lives, what money means to them, their hopes, how they’ll divide the responsibilities in achieving those, and how to set up the finances, bill payments, bank accounts. Couples need to discuss their attitudes toward saving and spending, and even things like what decisions are OK to make without consulting each other.
How do children change a marriage?
L: Children change the whole dynamic for the first few years, because babies require constant attention. All the time the couple had to hang out changes and more attention is going to the child, sometimes by both parents and sometimes by the primary caretaker, while the other partner feels like they’re receiving less attention. It’s even more difficult when a couple doesn’t have family or close friends to call in for a date night or time for themselves.

I’m concerned about domestic life; my fiancé doesn’t like to pitch in with chores. How can I address my frustration without starting a fight?
M: Maybe five times in your married life you have to put your foot down and say, ‘This isn’t OK with me.’ The sooner it happens in the marriage, the better, so there isn’t this fragility or fear that if I stand up for myself he’s going to leave. Set your boundaries early in the marriage and look at the relationship not as fragile but as a mutual relationship based on growth and respect. How are your needs going to be met if you can’t say, ‘If you don’t start cooking a few nights a week I’m going to kill you’? When you do that, the validation is when your partner sees the importance and says, ‘I’ll do this for you.’

Why should we think about our communication skills before we get married?
M: Most people don’t end up in therapy until there’s a problem. Listening and validating the other person’s view and feeling like you’ve been heard are critical in any relationship, whether it’s with a spouse, boss or friend. Sometimes we’re so afraid of being wrong that we have to defend ourselves. I always tell people you can either be married or you can be right; you can’t be both. You have to be prepared to be wrong half the time.

Dawn Lipthrott is a licensed clinical social worker and Carol Mikulka is a psychiatrist.  n

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