Wedding Guide

Part I, 15 Fights to Have Before You Get Engaged

If you’re the couple that never fights, now’s your chance. Vent now, or forever hold your peace.

Welcome to the first installment of The Morning News Wedding Guide. In this ongoing series, we’ll help you make the biggest decision of your life: Do you want financial security, or a traditional wedding? This week’s article is about the fights every couple should have before trading expensive jewelry.

Marriage is not just spiritual communion, it is also remembering to take out the trash.
—Joyce Brothers

All of us know we’re supposed to ask questions before we have sex with someone: How many people have you slept with? Were any of them diseased? What kind of birth control should we use?

Why doesn’t anyone tell us what questions to ask before we get married? Your first argument shouldn’t be about where to register for wedding gifts. In that spirit, here are some healthy pre-engagement fights to pick. May the best man and wife win.

1. Must you chew so loudly?

This fight should also encompass all of a typical couple’s petty beefs: Please replace the lid on the toothpaste. Will you pick your clothes up off the floor? Did you drink all the scotch again? I wish you’d stop having your ex-girlfriend over when I’m at work. And so on.

2. You may want kids, but I want time to bathe regularly.

Whether to have kids is the most important decision you’ll make, because it means involving innocent bystanders in your potential dysfunction. Maybe you think parenthood is the most fulfilling human experience. Maybe he thinks children are a wildly expensive hobby for people who don’t have much else going. This is a conversation you should have over strong cocktails.

3. Honey, I was watching this Oprah show about a beautiful family with 40 foster children…

What if you agree that you want kids, three to be exact, and then one of you changes your mind about the number midway through the festivities? Or what if both of you agree that you’d rather travel than raise kids, but one of you reconsiders later on? Backup plans are in order.

4. I’m almost 30. Can I use your sperm, or what?

When should you toss the birth control and get in the game? Reports are all over the place on age-related infertility and birth defects. The general guidelines seem to be that it’s more difficult to get pregnant after age 30, harder still after 35, and—if you do get pregnant—the risk of birth defects increases quite a bit when mom is over age 40. So how do your life plans fit in with your biology?

5. No, we are not moving to a kibbutz.

How will you raise the kids? Do you know how much time your partner plans to spend with the kids each day? You won’t until you ask. And while you’re at it:

  • Is breast-feeding important?
  • Are both of us comfortable with daycare?
  • If not, who will stay home with the kids and for how long?
  • Are we happy with how we were raised?
  • How big a role will grandparents and other relatives play?
  • What will we tell your kids about sex?
  • Are we both spankers?
  • Are we both Buddhist?

Substitute your preferred religion for that last question, and advance to the next fight.

6. I think I want to be a Jedi.

If you don’t share religious/spiritual beliefs, don’t expect that your partner will eventually come around, no matter how many times you explain that yoga isn’t technically a religion. If one of you is an atheist and the other wants to take the kids to church, who wins?

7. Why don’t we just put your Star of David on top of the Christmas tree?

If your religious or cultural backgrounds differ, decide how you’ll combine holidays, pick and choose between them, or secularize your celebrations. In any case, find out whether she’ll smack you when you suggest decorating the tree with dreidels.

8. How many wives is too many?

How will you accommodate spiritual growth? If one of you decides to further explore a given religion, will it bug the other one? How will you create an atmosphere of mutual respect for one another’s beliefs? How many wives is too many, no matter what the community elders say?

9. Should we hire help?

If your libidos don’t match up, discuss how you’ll cope with the discrepancy.

10. Handcuffs, again?

What’s the love/lust balance? Do you feel like your partner is loving enough during sex? Does your partner make you feel sexy and wanted? What do you want more of? Less of? How do you expect the sex to evolve as your relationship continues?

11. You can’t possibly wear those pants.

Don’t marry someone expecting to change his or her habits. Focus on the stuff that has to change for the relationship to work and then let the little stuff (wardrobe, toilet seat position) slide.

If you want him to quit smoking, change eating patterns, or make some other health-related switch, now’s the time to ask. Let’s face it, you won’t have nearly as much leverage after the wedding.

12. Twinkies are not a breakfast pastry.

How will each other’s bodies change over time? Everyone gains a few pounds and a few wrinkles. It’s reasonable to expect that your spouse will maintain a similar level of physical activity, but unreasonable to expect that they’ll always maintain their current weight and elasticity.

That said, marriage isn’t an excuse to let your body go to hell. It’s not fair to use the comfort of your relationship as an excuse to avoid the gym.

13. We don’t need a plasma-screen TV.

What is your total debt as a couple? I know some of us were raised not to talk about money. We find it vulgar, uncomfortable, and certainly unromantic. But how romantic is it gonna be when you find out your groom is $30,000 in debt, and you’re wearing about $10,000 of that on your left ring finger? In the interest of full disclosure:

  • Who will be responsible for which debts?
  • Is there anything (house, car, travel) for which we’re willing to go into debt?
  • How much do each of us take home, after taxes, with each paycheck?
  • How much do we have in the bank—savings and checking?
  • How much do we have in investments?
  • How much do we want to save and how?
  • When do we want to retire?

14. I make more than you, and I want a damn plasma-screen TV.

Will you combine incomes once you’re married? If so, how? Does the person who earns more money get more of a say in where it goes?

15. You want me to sign what?

Does either one of you want a pre-nuptial agreement? Perhaps you’ve been burned before and you “just don’t trust your own judgment.” That being the case, why the hell should a potential spouse trust your judgment? If you don’t have enough faith in your relationship to refrain from preparing for its eventual decline, why would you consider taking any kind of vows? A highly paid therapist is a more productive way to deplete your fortune than a series of failed marriages.

’Till Death Do Us Part

Marriage is a solemn endeavor. People greater than you have tried and failed; some of them may be your parents. For a moment, though, let’s remember that all of us get married expecting it to last forever.

It is a loving and life-affirming act to vow that you’ll to stick with a relationship for better or worse. All of us should do what we can to increase the “better” part of the deal for our spouses and ourselves. The first step is to choose your mate wisely.