Let's play a quick game of word association. I'll say a couple words, and you tell me what immediately comes to mind. How do they make you feel?
Ok, ok, I can already see that this is making most people uncomfortable, so I'll stop. Most people don't want to talk about that stuff, and I can totally understand why. There are plenty of reasons for it to be an unappealing topic. It's cool, though; I want to change the subject. (All of the links for this post are going at the end. I don't want to interrupt the flow, so we can recap when we're done.)
It's like watching TV with your loved one, and then discussing what you just saw. "OMG Raymond is SO FUNNY! No wonder everybody loves him!" "Are you kidding? He's the dumbest, most annoying thing since Homer Simpson!" Great, you've got the idea.
Now, instead of watching TV, let's seek out more intellectually stimulating input. Let's go with, say, a great biography. Think of the most successful marriage you know of (the criteria is your own, so whatever you want, real or imagined). Ron and Nancy? Wesley and Buttercup? Your grandparents? Sounds great. Now think of their autobiography, written as a couple. That'll be a GREAT read, right? Especially going into your wedding. Maybe you could use some advice in dealing with your fiancee. How are you going to deal with his video game habit or her shopping habit? Do you want a joint account? Are you changing your name? What about babies? Where will you live? Whose career comes first? The experience of your ideal couple could be VERY beneficial to you.
Ok, reality. Even if the couple exists, and even if they're written that biography, they're going to miss something. An aggregation of collected advice from years and years of sources, tireless research, and centuries of experience would be nice. There are some excellent sources available.
Let's Talk About _____, Baby
Assumptions, like all things, need to come in moderation. You have to make some assumptions, otherwise having to define every word you use would literally take forever. So we assume we mean some shared meaning in words. We assume some level of consistency in each others actions. I eat ice cream probably 5 nights a week, so it's safe for SheBunny to assume that I'd like ice cream pretty much any night of the week. Simple assumptions can go bad, though. And some assumptions end up being bigger (and more wrong) than you think.
Structured conversation is the only way to prevent serious matters from catching you by surprise. If you haven't discussed the bank accounts, you can't assume you're on the same page (joint, solo, or both?) If you haven't discussed babies, you can't assume how many you'll be having. If you haven't discussed your plans for your new spouse to support you through school so you can ultimately make 3x their salary and lock 'em in the house to raise your undisclosed number of babies, there is DEFINITELY going to be some conflict.
You need to talk about it, and you need to make sure you don't miss any of the big stuff. It is important to be on the same page, and to work well together. We bunnies did this three ways, and I want to briefly discuss two of them. The third will come in the second part of this post.
Get a Book
We did some independent study to begin with. The Conscious Bride's Wedding Planner (by Sheryl Paul) has a section with a lot of great questions and conversation starters. It will guide you through the discussion of many important topics. SheBunny thought I was resistant to it, when in fact it was simple laziness that prevented me from taking initiative. We were on a road trip and had the book with us when we first started the dialogue. The details escape me, but one of us was driving, the other reading and asking questions. Both of us, through the honest sharing of our opinions, learned a great deal about each other on that trip.
Find a Retreat
We actively sought marriage counseling (Well, she actively sought it, and I continued on my mission of No Initiative, with a couple of pointless spurts of effort) for quite some time before FI eventually found the Catholic Engaged Encounter. Their motto mirrors our feelings perfectly: "A wedding is a day... a marriage is a lifetime." You should know that neither of us are Catholic. Fortunately, the good people of the Diocese of St. Augustine happily accepted our request to join them.
You may already know that the Catholic church "requires" couples to take this course. It is not a strict requirement, mind you, but participation is strongly encouraged. We Bunnies were the only non-Catholic couple there, and the only 100% voluntary attendants. We participated in every discussion, received blessings from Father Seamus, and spoke earnestly and openly with one another, the group, and the coordinators. Everyone was incredibly receptive. The worksheets were incredibly thought-provoking. The weekend was two days and two nights at their retreat, packed solid with talks, handouts, exercises, and stories. We had an amazing time, met amazing people, and benefited tremendously.
If you don't know by now, my purpose here is NOT to tell you what to do. You get enough of that from other directions. I'm just sharing what I know, feel and think. I know these discussions helped us and brought us closer. I feel that a weekend retreat (or at the very least a good book) is essential to EVERY couple, whether you're just starting out or have been together for decades. Finally, I think there is hardly anything better that you can do for yourselves, both individually and as a couple, than to put your heart and mind into dedicating a weekend to this essential topic.
I am happy to answer any questions you may have. Email me, if you know the address, or just leave a comment. Part two will be coming up before long, and will cover the last third of this weighty topic.
Until then, enjoy these fine links:
Conscious Bride's Wedding Planner
The cheat sheet that FI made from our Engaged Encounter notes
Engaged Encounter itself
Engaged Encounter of the Diocese of Saint Augustine
Even if you're coming from distant lands, I highly recommend this location. The retreat center is absolutely picturesque, and the people are amazing.