Want to marry? We need to talk.

Hidden in the romance and feelings leading a couple to marry there are important issues that can determine the success or failure of the relationship. We may want to believe that “love conquers all,” and certainly love is an important ingredient in a happy marriage. However, several other less romantic factors will affect the durability and success of the relationship. So “You need to talk” and answer eight critical questions before deciding to tie the knot.

Communication: Am I willing to be open with my spouse? Are there secrets and promises I have not shared with her/him? Do they know my family history? What models for verbal behavior do I follow? How will we deal with conflicts? What topics are hard for me? Is language or culture an issue in understanding my partner? What is my style of non-verbal communication? Are there heritable health issues? Can we agree to disagree? How do I give and receive love?

Finances: What does my partner bring to our relationship in assets and debts? Many a new marriage has been tarnished by surprises over money. Am I taking on my partner’s past living on credit? Can I support unexpected debt? Do I want to feel beholden to him or her about finances? Do I wonder if he or she likes me for my money? Do I want to control all the finances? Who will balance the books, review the credit card receipts and write the checks?

Lifestyle: Are we well matched in our buying and saving preferences? Is one satisfied with the essentials and the other wanting ‘the finer things of life’? Do I want to ignore the price and he or she wants to stay within a budget? Does one want to save for the future and the other spend what they have? Do I want to eat out evenings and my partner likes home cooking? Do I need a new car or computer every two years?

In-laws: When and how we interact with the other’s family can present some difficult situations. Do we want them to come over whenever they want? Will one of us spend hours talking with a parent or sibling while the other feels neglected? Can we maintain the primacy of the marriage and establish clear boundaries with family members? Do I get along with my spouse’s family? Do they like me more than they like my partner?

Religion: As has been said, “Many a marriage has died on the cross of religion.” Differences in church background may seem trivial when choosing a mate, but can lead to irreconcilable conflicts, especially when rearing children. Even subtle contrasts between ‘flavors’ of the same religious group can lead to serious conflicts. Have we agreed which faith system, or none, we will teach our children? Do we understand and respect the other’s beliefs?

Children: Do we agree on the number and spacing of children, if any? Will our parenting styles mesh? Will there be a stay-at-home parent? Am I emotionally ready to take on any stepchildren? Is it realistic for me to become a parent and continue my profession? How will we decide on division of labor as parents? Is having a child more important than being married?

Sex and affection: Are we matched in our needs for physical expression? Can we let our future spouse know what we like and need? Can I regard my partner’s needs as important as my own? Are we willing to compromise when we have differences? Are we physically at ease with each other? Is my main attraction to him or her sexual?

Friendship: Are we best friends? Do I treat my partner as well as I treat anyone? Do we tell others about our relationship in ‘we’ language rather than ‘I’ terms? Am I more critical or rude to my future spouse than I am to my close friends? Do I want to spend more time with my buddies than with my partner? Do we like each other in addition to loving each other?

The way we deal with these difficult questions can determine ones chances for a compatible and lasting marriage.

Relationship Repair: Calming Down

As John Gottman says in his book, The Science of Trust, “Every couple, in their daily life together, messes up communication, and every relationship has a potential ‘dark side.’ ”

It’s too much to expect that we can always have good communication with our partner. There are always misunderstandings, stress, distractions, hurt or angry feelings, and sometimes even just not hearing what was said. Even in stable, happy relationships, bad things sometimes happen, such as coldness, criticism, stonewalling, etc. Fights are inevitable.

But what Gottman found out in his research is that the thing that matters most for couples is their ability to repair things when they go wrong.

This involves your ability to remain physiologically calm during conflict, that is, your heart doesn’t race, you don’t start yelling, your palms don’t sweat, your eyes don’t dilate. In order to listen well and be understanding with your partner, as well as express your own thoughts and feelings in a way that they can be heard, you need to remain calm.

Can you take a deep breath or two and exhale slowly to calm yourself down? Can you soothe yourself by thinking positive thoughts, like “We will get through this,” or “I know he loves me,” or “I may have hurt her, but I am a good person and I mean well,” and, maybe, above all, “It is OK to make mistakes”? Can you quietly say to your partner, “Please don’t come at me like that,” or “I’m not trying to blame you”? As Gottman says, “The ability to create peace and the ability to self-soothe and soothe one’s partner are central to relationship happiness.

Can you do this? If not, what seems to get in the way? What are you feeling and thinking when you want to calm down but can’t?