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Many of us have been dreaming about our love story since we were young. But now that we’re grown and dating living, breathing men, we realize that our beaus are just as flawed and complex as we are. When faced with the possibility of marriage, we can rightfully start to worry that we don’t have all the answers to the mystery of sharing a life with someone forever.

We don’t necessarily need every future detail precisely pinned down and organized when we walk down the aisle—in fact, it’s probably more helpful to accept the fact that some questions will never have answers. But perhaps we’d feel more ready if we asked truly critical questions before we decide to commit to someone for the rest of our lives.

“There is so much about yourself and your partner that will change over the years—your interests may shift, and your personality will develop further—but typically values are lifelong,” shares Laurie Davis, founder and CEO of eFlirt and author of Love @ First Click. “Understanding your partner’s values and what is important to them before marriage is important because of this.”

Whether you’re in the midst of early dating euphoria or deep in a longer-term relationship with the “m word” becoming more and more relevant, here are five questions to ask yourself and discuss with your partner.

01. What do you want marriage to look like? What do you expect from your spouse after marriage?

“Before we get married, we often feel like marriage is going to be the same as dating . . . it’s not,” says Brian Spears, LPCC-S, family therapist and clinical counselor from Counseling Alliance. “It’s critical to have a clear picture of what to expect.”

In other words, what do you each expect the other to bring to the table? On a simple level, do you think you’ll split chores evenly, or will someone take the brunt of them? Will everything be split evenly, or will someone be more career-focused while the other focuses more on the kids? On a more complex level, have you both been honest about your relationships with your families? What about debt?

In the modern era, these questions are of great importance, as the answers are far more nuanced than ever before with matrimonial roles deviating from previous cookie-cutter standards. “There needs to be an understanding of goals, although they don’t have to be exactly the same—they need to know what to expect,” Spears says.

If you and your partner are struggling to answer this question or responding with a vague, “I don’t know! We’ll see what happens. But I love you,” Spears suggests that you think about the question in reverse. “Ask yourself what you don’t want your marriage to look like.” Consider what you’re fearful of. When you think about your potential marriage with this person a year or two after “I do”—what does it look like?

Zach Brittle, LMHC from Gottman Institute, also shares some insight: “It might help to look around at the marriages you admire and see what they have in common in order to help you form a working definition of your own.” Either route you choose, it’s vital to think ahead rather than assume that everything will always fall into place.

02. Why do you want to get married?

Putting each other first can be one of the most challenging aspects about love—and it confirms that love is so much more than those euphoric feelings; it’s a commitment to action. That said, ask yourself if your current partner is someone you’d be willing to relinquish some of your desires for? Just as importantly, does he put your needs above his wants, too? When it comes to this question, it’s critical that both people are on the same page, as a happy relationship takes two loving partners—not just one compliant one.

Spears suggests, “If you’re wondering if the other person is getting married for the right reasons, ask yourself these three questions: Do I trust them? Do I respect them? Do I see them as a close, close friend?” If you answer yes to all of those, and you see this person as your lifelong companion, that’s a good sign.

If, instead, you’re looking to get married as a way to escape loneliness or unhappiness—or if you feel pressure to start a family, as soon as possible—or if you just “love” the person with no plan, you need to talk with your partner, as these might be signs of getting married for the wrong reason.

03. Are you on the same page about kids?

This subject can get touchy pretty fast, and it’s easy to throw this question into unanswered hypotheticals, but it’s quite important. “You might naturally learn whether or not you both want children, but before marriage, you may want to explore this question further,” Davis says. “If you both want kids, ideally how many? What might your family life look like? What if you can’t conceive—would you consider adoption?” These are particularly important questions. And if you’re not on the same page, they can cause a lot of discord and resentment.

If you are planning on having kids, it’s important to realize that in doing so, much of your identities will be changing. While this can be a very, very good thing, it also is important to be open to this change—acknowledge the challenges, and have a plan to surmount them.

04. Are you proud to include your partner in your life?

This question is more of a gut check. When you’re out with your friends, do you find yourself cringing when you bring up your significant other, or instead, do you find yourself trying not to brag about him? Are you proud to introduce him to extended family or coworkers, or do you find yourself relieved when you don’t need to bring a plus-one? Conversely, how does he introduce you? Does he openly include you in his social calendar, or are you some little secret that lives on in a separate part of his life? “If there’s part of our lives kept separate from our partners, nine times out of ten that’s going to lead to a problem . . . at least eventually,” Spears says.

While you certainly don’t need to do everything together—in fact, it’s good to get some space, “it’s important that you always include your significant other in the invite,” Spears says. “Even if you know with 100 percent certainty that he’ll decline your invitation, it’s sometimes worth inviting him anyway.”

What if you struggle being proud of your partner? What about the times they embarrass you? “With regard to being proud specifically, that can be a choice,” Brittle says. “Look for the things that make you look up to your partner, and practice telling him or her. That will protect you from the inevitable times you are tempted to look down at [your partner].”

05. How do you handle conflict?

“When I talk to engaged couples about major arguments, sometimes they say, ‘Eh, we don’t really argue that much.’” But arguing—or at least disagreeing—is inevitable when you live with another human being, as there is eventually going to be tension over something. Spears shares that there are four main issues that cause big tension in relationships: sex (how much or how little), in-laws, finances, and questions about children or child rearing.

By addressing all of these topics before you get married—you acknowledge that these will be the impetus for a significant amount of the issues you’ll face, but by talking about them upfront, you’ll be a lot more prepared.

But just as important is how you end the conflicts. “I think more important than learning how to argue well is learning how to repair well,” Brittle says. “All couples argue, and each unique combination will have its own tolerance for conflict, but it’s important to know your patterns so that you can tell the difference between a spat and a serious blowup.”

We’re imperfect people. That’s what marriage is—a union of two people who don’t always see eye-to-eye. But as one divorced (and remarried) man in his sixties once said, “You know, I think the world makes divorce too easy. There’s nothing more valuable in the world than having a lifelong companion. And I’m so lucky that I [eventually] married for the right reasons.” We can all embrace marriage; we just have to make sure we’re prepared for what it brings.

Photo Credit: Xavier Navarro