Getting married is almost certainly the biggest commitment you will ever make. It is, after all, for life.
Which is why it’s absolutely vital to ensure before you tie the knot that you and your partner understand each other perfectly when it comes to a range of major issues. And we don’t mean what colour dresses the bridesmaids should wear.
Discussions about money, children, careers and your future home, among other things, should all be had ahead of you saying I do – otherwise you might end up wishing you didn’t.
Yet, in the white heat of romance and love and ensuring you’ve invited Aunt Edna to the Big Day, it can be easy to let these things take a back seat until, you know, Sometime In The Future.
These are conversations that cannot be had soon enough. And so, today, as part of our bridal special and with the help of a range of experts, including Dubai-based life coach and hypnotherapist Russell Hemmings, and city clinical psychologist Dr Roghi McCarthy, Friday looks at how to initiate talks on five key topics, what exactly needs to be addressed and how to tackle potential disagreements.
I see this so often,’ says Russell, who has his offices in Jumeirah Lake Towers. ‘All the effort at the beginning of a relationship goes into the build-up, the romance, the wedding planning and the big celebration. But so many couples fail to see beyond this point. They don’t remember the real reason they’re getting married – it’s the rest of their lives!’
As with any discussion that aims to achieve something, there are two key factors to ensuring success when sitting down and discussing a life together. The first is most simple. Listen. ‘As the saying goes, we have two ears and just one mouth, and this is for a reason,’ Russell adds. ‘Really listen to your partner. Get to know what their hopes, aspirations, dreams and wishes are for their own, and your shared future.’
The other key component is compromise. ‘Marriage is all about finding compromise so it’s worth starting early,’ he says.
‘Bending towards the other person’s point of view and hopefully finding a solution that works for both of you when problems arise can be fairly straightforward when it comes to choosing what colour to paint the living room walls – although, if it’s not, then that could be an indication that some of life’s bigger conundrums could be a tougher call. But when it comes to life-changing decisions such as kids and careers, careful negotiations are a must.
‘When it comes to compromise, there is always the danger that one person becomes the dominant partner and the other tends to cave in for an easier life. This is not compromise at all, but rather one person sacrificing their position. And, in the long-term, these are not strong foundations for a happy relationship. Instead, over time this tends to breed resentment as the implications of capitulating are fully felt by the one who has given in.’
So, with listening and compromise kept in mind as our two key foundations, let’s address the big issues one by one.
Perhaps the most problematic area of all. It may seem crude to discuss cash, but stats show that finances are the cause of more friction and fights than anything else between otherwise loving couples. Setting some clear guidelines and expectations at the outset is crucial.
‘You need to be absolutely transparent about your own personal circumstances – reveal any debts, credit issues or financial responsibilities that may eat into resources,’ says Dr McCarthy, who runs the Counselling and Development Clinic. ‘If you’re worried this will change how the other person sees you, then perhaps he or she is not the one for you. You also have to insist on the same courtesy from your partner.’
Planning for the future is key. Discussing if you’ll have a joint account, monthly budgets and future saving plans will save possible arguments down the line.
Don’t rule out prenups either. ‘The fact is you must enter a marriage with your business head on,’ says Dr McCarthy.
It seems so obvious that it should almost go without saying, but the issue of if you’ll be having children together must be made explicit. Don’t find out he doesn’t fancy a baby on your wedding night if you’re hoping to have a brood.
But the conversation must be deeper than just if.
‘Talk about how many. There’s a big difference between one partner wanting an only child and another wanting a football team’s worth,’ says Laura Jones, a London-based freelance marriage guidance counsellor. ‘If you can’t have them, are you both open to adoption?
‘What about discipline? School placements? Division of parental responsibilities? These might seem so far into the future that it’s hardly worth discussing before your vows, but the future has a habit of suddenly turning into the present. Knowing where each of you stand will give you a better idea of your compatibility before you walk down the aisle.’
‘One of the biggest causes of unhappiness I see,’ reveals Dr McCarthy, who has been based in Dubai for 16 years, ‘is women who feel frustrated and disempowered because they have given up their own careers to follow their husbands to the UAE. They don’t feel they have compromised for the sake of the relationship but that they’ve sacrificed part of themselves.’
It may be an expat-specific problem. But having varying (unspoken) ideas about how each other’s careers will develop post-wedding is a major cause of relationship stress.
All too often, the husband thinks his job will take priority. If he has to relocate, she will follow. If they have children, she shall be the one to stay at home. ‘Many women are happy to do this,’ says Dr McCarthy. ‘But many are not and it shouldn’t just be presumed. It’s almost like the old-fashioned job interview question: Where do you want to be in five or 10 years’ time? If you both ask this and have hugely different answers, it needs to be discussed. Once you’re tied together, going in different directions isn’t really an option anymore.’
Faith and values
Sharing a value system and a compatible level of faith is a glue that can bind a relationship. By contrast, having diametrically opposed beliefs and ideas of morality is a recipe for arguments and possible separation.
The good news is most couples already build up a good picture of their partners’ faith long before wedding bells are ringing. The common ground will often be part of the mutual attraction. Nonetheless, there needs to be an explicit discussion about this, and it needs to focus on the fact that if areas of disagreement do arise in the future, there is room for compromise from both parties.
‘In marriage, there will be arguments and debates that will test your relationship,’ says Russell. ‘This is normal, but the key is to keep lines of communication open and honest when talking about values. If, from the very outset, you work together to find a solution – a compromise – as opposed to working in isolation or trying to impose your values on the other person, then it’s likely that in the long term, you will develop a happy and successful partnership and home with a shared value system.’
He wants to live in a sky-high apartment in Downtown and she likes the idea of a nice villa out in Arabian Ranches – if you’re not careful, you might both end up living where you want, just not with each other. ‘It’s amazing how many married people get back to their temporary flat, start searching for a family home and realise they’re not on the same page, or even the same postal district,’ says Laura. ‘You should be happy where you live, so you need this discussion. You must find middle ground before the knot is tied.’
Here, the problem is magnified by relationships between partners from different countries. ‘It’s no good an Australian and a Brit marrying if they both have ideas that one day they’ll return to their own country to raise the family. That’s a difference of 16,000km,’ says Laura.
The key is discussing not just where you’d like to live after the wedding, but share ideas of when and where you’d like to eventually move to. If both parties have wildly different ideas, it may not be a deal breaker, but it does arm you with the facts for the long haul.