With Valentine’s Day around the corner, relationships are on many people’s minds. Valentine’s Day is also a popular day for engagements and celebrating taking the relationship to a different level. Whether it’s because of Bollywood movies, fairy tales we grow up hearing or just plain hope, we tend to believe that getting married will make life simpler and easier, that any differences we have as a couple prior to marriage will resolve themselves once we’re legally committed to one another. In addition, young South Asian couples have a tendency to assume that if their partner is also from the same culture, they must share the same values and vision for a future life together.
These misconceptions, along with getting caught up in all of the details of planning a South Asian wedding, couples tend to de-prioritize what the wedding is all about: starting a marriage. Research has shown that without addressing some of the most crucial differences that a couple may have prior to marriage, those differences tend to cause great difficulty and can be the source of high conflict, unhealthy relationship pattern and even divorce.
While you pick out your flowers, choose your wedding colors and plan your honeymoon, be sure to set aside time to have honest conversations about the following topics.
“Because I love him/her” is not a sufficient answer since love alone will not make your marriage a success. A healthy marriage comes from, mutual respect, as well as compatibility, among other things. Be specific about what about this person makes him/her different from anyone else. Saying things like, “She is very compassionate” or “He is generous” speaks to each other’s qualities and your values.
2. What is your financial situation at the present? Do you want to blend finances?
It is important that you share your financial strategy with your partner, even if you are not going to combine assets, so that your partner knows where your money is and what your priorities are. Examples include your experience with the stock market, any current investments, how often do you balance your checkbook, where you donate money on a regular basis, etc. If you will be combining assets, it is essential that you are both honest about any debts as well as your spending history so that you both know what the situation looks like from the beginning. Not discussing finances prior to marriage is starting a marriage on shaky ground, which can only lead to more conflict and unhealthy patterns.
3. Do you want to have children? If so, do you have a timeline in mind and how many children do you want?
Do not assume that everyone wishes to have children. Try to understand your partner’s view point and value regarding children. This is also an important time to discuss whether there are any health concerns that might affect your ability to have children. For some people, the answer to this question can be a deal breaker for the relationship so it is crucial to talk about prior to a serious commitment.
4. What is your relationship like with your family?
This can help you understand how to best fit in with your future in-laws and also identify any potential sources of conflict with in-laws. For some South Asian men, choosing between their mother and their wife can be a source of serious conflict with newlywed couples. It is important to discuss how the relationship with each of your families will change after marriage.
5. What will your lives look like 5, 10, 20 years down the road?
This can be a great way to bond with each other as you look into the future toward your joint life together. It’s also a way to see what you both expect and hope from your marriage and to see if how closely those visions match.
6. What are your similarities and common values?
Be specific when you answer this. Instead of saying, “We both value family”, try to identify in what way you show that you value them. Examples include, “I believe that we should spend time with family once per week” or “We should never lie to family” etc.
7. How do each of you approach talking about serious or uncomfortable topics?
If you have been dating for a while, you may know a little about how your partner communicates. But asking this question forces you both to have a direct conversation about what you both need to talk about serious topics. For example, one of you may need to hold hands while you talk so you are reassured that the other still cares or one of you may prefer to talk while you’re engaged in an activity such as walking or hiking. Do your relationship a favor by talking about it so that you don’t have to learn as much by trial and error.
8. How do you both prioritize career? Will both of you work outside the home?
Some people need to have a career outside of the marriage and family life and others would prefer otherwise. Some couples require both partners to work to maintain a certain level of finances. This will also come up if you have children in terms of identifying which parent will stay home with the children (and for how long) and who will continue to make money.
9. What religion or faith do you identify with? How do you want to raise your children, with regard to faith and spirituality?
One of the biggest mistakes young South Asian couples make is assuming that the other is of the same spiritual or religious upbringing. South Asian culture and religion is usually intertwined and thus many will celebrate South Asian holidays but may not necessarily be very religious (e.g. they celebrate Diwali but they don’t pray on a daily basis or they don’t believe in God). I Identify your religious or spiritual identity and then have a basic idea of both of your values regarding how to raise your children.
10. When your parents experienced conflict with each other, how did they handle it?
This is a very important question, as we tend to act more like our parents than we would like to admit. Thus, the strengths and weaknesses that came from their communication style will most likely appear in your new marriage. Identify what your model was like growing up to help identify what your default communication style might be.
11. What are your opinions about premarital sex, birth control, abortion and divorce?
These hot topics are often ones that often get ignored but have serious and day-to-day implications for your marriage. Be sure you understand each other’s values about these important issues without judgment.
12. Are you comfortable with the way your partner expresses feelings?
Do you feel safe with the way your partner expresses anger? Do you feel satisfied with the way your partner expresses his/her needs? Couples must to develop a common language to communicate how they feel, what they think and what they need. If you ever have felt unsafe around your partner when they’ve expressed any emotion, it is crucial that you seek professional help immediately so you both learn how to express feelings in a healthy manner.
13. Do you believe that there are roles a person has in a marriage because of their gender?
Although we are in the 21st century, South Asian men and women can still have some traditional values when it comes to gender roles. Know what your partner expects of you and work out any differences by compromising on how roles will be split.
14. What is your medical history? Have you had surgery? Do you have any chronic medical illnesses?
To some people, caring for a person with chronic illness is not something that they want to do at so early in marriage. Others may also want to know what kind of genes their future children might have. Talk about your health, how you take care of yourself and see if you can combine both of your healthy life habits to encourage each other to live healthier.
15. Where do you imagine spending the bulk of our money?
Some people prioritize vacations or eating out, others wish to invest in property, and yet others may be very low spenders and would prefer to save as much as possible. Be sure you have a common vision about where most of your money will go, even if you decide not to combine finances.
These are just a few questions to get the conversation started. Regardless of whether your marriage is arranged or you have been dating for several years, many of these questions are essential to know before you enter into a lifelong commitment. South Asian couples take marriage very seriously and rarely get divorces. Before you enter into a marriage, ensure that the foundation will be strong and that the patterns you start with are healthy. If you did not discuss this prior to marriage, take time out tonight or this weekend and have these conversations. Do not waste any more time avoiding these topics.
A marriage certificate, walking around the fire or waiting for time to go by do not magically cure any problems that already exist in a relationship. In fact, the common saying is that whatever differences and unhealthy patterns you have prior to marriage will only get worse after if they are addressed early on.
Some of these topics can hit on hot buttons so take the conversation slowly. Show empathy for each other and be sure you are hearing what the other is saying and not interpreting it as something else. Take breaks if you need and always remember that no couple is exactly the same and that you will have to compromise on many of these issues. If possible, consider pre-marital counseling with a South Asian mental health professional who can guide you through similar questions and help you learn how to talk about differences without getting into a fight.
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