Before you get started, realize that total honesty is the only answer here if you expect to have a long, lasting and loving relationship. Once you finally get up the courage to address these issues, don't hold anything back.
If you find yourself biting your lip or tucking away a little piece of information or two, you're creating a relationship of mistrust.
Expect some disagreement and don't expect to answer these questions immediately. Often, fundamental decisions aren't made in an afternoon. If something seems like it's building to a serious disagreement and you're not making any progress, let a few weeks pass before talking about it again.
Things to Talk About
· Where do you see us being in five years?
Ten years? Twenty-five years? Try to flesh out as much as you can here but realize that the future isn't set in stone. The reason for discussing this is so that you have some idea what your dreams and the goals look like for each other.
· What does your complete financial state look like? Lay everything out. Every debt. Every drop of income. Everything. Don't hide that $4,000 credit card statement or you're just building a foundation on top of a lie.
· Should we share our money or maintain separate accounts? Who should be the primary caretaker of the accounts? Talk it out and figure out what's right for you.
· When do we intend to make major shared purchases, like a house? How much do we intend to spend on such a purchase (roughly)? This is one area where people often just assume that their partner sees things the same way that they do. It's not true. My wife and I had very different views on when a house purchase was appropriate.
· Are children a possibility? Make sure you're on the same page when it comes to children, because while having a child is a deeply fulfilling endeavor it's also an expensive one, often more of a commitment than people without children even realize.
· Are we both committed to our career path? Sometimes the support of a spouse provides a strong situation for one member of a marriage to make a career leap they wouldn't have otherwise considered.
· Are we both saving for retirement? When's the retirement target? Make sure that you're both aware of what the other is doing and that you realize that without putting money away for that inevitable day you'll likely never retire.
· Do we want an urban, suburban or rural life? You might think the answer is self-evident, but it's often not.
· What's our financial risk tolerance? Can we tolerate short-term losses to aim for long-term gains? For some, losing some money in the short run is completely fine if it means some years of 20 percent returns down the road. For others, watching the balance of their investments drop like a rock over years is just too painful.
· What's the balance between work and leisure? There are problems when one person's expectations completely miss the behavior of the other partner.
· Is a prenuptial agreement appropriate? Is one of you bringing far more into the marriage than the other or expecting to earn far more than the other during the marriage?
· Are there any known burdens that will likely crop up in the future? For example, does one of you have an ailing parent who might need special care? What about dependent, pre-existing children? Do one of you have a major illness that might start showing symptoms?
I strongly encourage any couple considering spending their lives together to take the time and each read Your Money or Your Life and Smart Couples Finish Rich, but do it together.
One technique my wife and I found useful was reading a chapter of such a book aloud on long car trips, with the passenger reading and then both partners discussing the topics. We would just stop and start talking whenever an important point came up, and we wound up discovering a lot about each other.
No matter what you do, don't put off these conversations. They can be the key to establishing a strong foundation for your relationship and building a much stronger understanding of each other.
In fact, if you've never opened such a door with your partner, today is the best day to do it -- tomorrow it's very easy to find a reason to put this off.