17 things you need to know before you say "I do"
Getting engaged is one of the happiest times of your life, for sure, but before you decide to spend the rest of your life with someone, it's important to know that you're really, really ready to commit.
Here's what you need to know about yourself, your guy and your relationship before you say "yes."
Whether you really love him -- Or the idea of getting married
You don't want to marry Mr. I-Suppose-He's-Right just because you're caught up in bridal excitement, or because it seems like the logical next step or because everyone you know is tying the knot.
To be sure it's the guy you want, and not just the Mrs. title, psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness, suggests asking yourself these questions: Can you imagine any other man in your wedding/honeymoon/married life plans? Would you still want to marry your guy if it was just the two of you at the courthouse? Think carefully about your answers before taking the next step.
That you love him just as he is (Because he's not going to change)
What irritates you about your guy now will really grate on you after you're married. He's a total slob? A night owl when you're an early bird? Don't kid yourself into thinking he'll change once you're hitched -- that's a blueprint for disappointment, says sex therapist Lisa Paz.
"Assume that any negative qualities you're seeing will remain negative, and be realistic about what you're willing to live with," she says. So decide what's a dealbreaker and what's not before your boyfriend becomes your husband.
What his financial situation is
Beyond what he pulls down in salary, you should know how much he has in savings, how much debt he's carrying and -- this is important -- how he accrued it. "You don't want any surprises after marriage," says Lisa Decker, founder of Divorce Money Matters.
Ask these questions before you're married so you have an understanding of what caused any problems and how to prevent them from happening again. Sure, the conversation takes some finesse, but you can ease into it by discussing your hopes and dreams together, Decker says. "That opens the door to sharing what your money history has been."
Whether you both want children
Some couples want six kids -- others can't even imagine having one. What ultimately matters though, is that you both know in your gut how you feel about the "having kids" question.
Sit down with your fiancé and have a true heart-to-heart: Discuss where you see yourself in 5 or 10 years and if kids are part of that vision. If you're not on the same page, one of you will have to compromise in a big way, says Dr. Paz, which may be very stressful (or even a dealbreaker).
How to eat at a restaurant alone
When your guy's not around, there's no need to be stuck at home with a Lean Cuisine -- do something fun by yourself. "Many people aren't comfortable doing this because they imagine others are judging them for being alone," says Lombardo.
But the reality is, most folks are probably too wrapped up in their own thoughts to ponder why you're solo. So enjoy your meal and your alone time. It sends the healthy message to your guy that you don't need him to entertain you every night. That kind of independence is sexy!
What turns you on in bed
If you're not sure what really gets you going, how can you tell your guy how you like it? Sex is the glue that holds your relationship together -- and it's what makes you two more than just roommates -- so you both should be satisfied.
"Many women just expect the man to know what to do," says Lombardo. But every woman is different; what made his last partner see stars may leave you flat. So pick up some quality erotica (goodvibes.com and literotica.com are good places to start), your favorite vibrator, a bottle of lube and learn what gets you off.
Then, clue in your guy. To start the conversation, use descriptive phrases like, "It's easier for me to orgasm if I'm on top" to illustrate what you like and what you don't.
How to do home improvements
No, you don't need to know how to install your own solar water heater, but you should own a toolbox stocked with the basics (hammer, screwdriver, wrench, pliers, power drill, assorted screws and nails) and know how to hang a picture, change out a door knob and assemble your own Ikea desk.
"Fixing things around the house yourself can be incredibly empowering, especially if your husband isn't handy or never seems to get around to doing it himself," says Dr. Lombardo. Even if you marry Mr. Fix It, knowing your own way around a tool box means you won't need to keep nagging him when you just want it done.
How to cook something from scratch
Why learn how to cook if you've got a microwave and the number of every takeout place within 10 miles programmed in your smartphone? Because saying "I can't even boil water!" isn't cool post-college, and being able to feed yourself (or someone else) is an important life skill. So pick up a copy of The Joy of Cooking, How to Cook Everything or your grammy's recipe box and learn how to cook. Home-cooked meals will give you a sense of accomplishment, save you money -- and probably keep you healthier, too.
How to protect your personal assets
When you get married, you'll have to decide how you're going to handle financial expenses. Decker's recommendation: a "yours, mine and ours" approach. Set up a joint checking/savings account for paying general household bills and saving for big purchases or vacations. But protect any assets you bring into the marriage -- your trust fund, a condo, large monetary gifts from your parents -- by keeping them in your name.
"People get married and say Honey, I love you so much I'm putting your name on my bank account, and then those co-mingled assets lose their separate property status. In the eyes of the law, you no longer own that separately," explains Decker. Keep what was originally yours separate, she says, so "you don't risk having to split that in a divorce."
Whether you want to keep or change your name
Not every woman is keen on giving up a name that reflects her personal and professional identity, heritage and family history. And these days, there are lots of ways to play the name game: Keep the one you've got. Take a hyphenated name. Combine your names into one new one. There's no "right" answer, you just need to know what feels right to you -- and talk to your guy about what's important to him.
How a mortgage works
Is buying a house at the top your newlywed to-do list? That major purchase generally means taking out a mortgage, and it's critical that you understand the debt that you're taking on as a couple -- and what it will mean if you split up.
"Creditors won't care what your divorce papers say," says Decker. "In a divorce, your husband may be made responsible for the mortgage, but if you've got a joint mortgage, you're still liable if he doesn't pay." Get the closing documents in advance so you can read them carefully and ask your lender or a financial planner about anything you don't understand.
Why his previous relationships didn't work out
How does your guy talk about his exes? Pay attention (as much as you'd rather not!) because it can offer insight into your own relationship. Was he overly possessive? Consumed by work? Unfaithful? These may not be dealbreakers if he's learned and grown from his experiences.
If he takes responsibility for something he did -- even if it's just for making a bad choice -- that's a good sign, says therapist Michael Batshaw, author of Before Saying I Do: The Essential Guide To A Successful Marriage.
But if his attitude is: "It was all her fault" or "She was crazy," that's a bad sign. And if he's in touch with his exes? Don't get defensive and territorial. It can be a good sign since it shows he likes and respects the women in his life, and that he doesn't have anything to hide.
That it's okay to fight -- And how to fight fairly
No couple agrees about everything all the time, so don't fret that your relationship is heading south when you and your guy clash. In fact, it's a bigger red flag if you don't ever fight. "If you're not having disagreements, that means one person is over-compromising or not speaking up," says Dr. Paz. But while fighting is a sign of a healthy relationship, you need to fight fairly.
Research shows that couples who are overly critical or defensive are more likely to end up divorcing five years after their wedding. Instead, start sentences with "I think" and "I feel" so you're not blaming your man for everything, but expressing how his actions have affected you and be willing to compromise. (A little make-up sex never hurts, either!)
How to manage your own money
Feeling mystified about financial stuff? You're not alone: A recent US survey by LearnVest, a personal finance site for women, found that 84 percent aren't comfortable planning for their financial future. Money matters may not be fun, but being able to handle your own money means you're less likely to be financially blindsided by a job loss, illness, divorce or the death of your spouse.
You also may not feel stuck in a bad marriage because you can't support yourself. So before you say "I do," make sure you know how to manage financially by yourself -- and set up saving goals that you can maintain while married.
How to change a tire
Whether you're actually kneeling on the asphalt using the tire jack or you're calling for roadside assistance, knowing what to do about a flat tire is really about knowing that you can roll with unexpected situations and take care of yourself in a crisis.
"Someone who feels like the world is a scary place and they can't make it on their own may feel like any partner is better than being alone, and that kind of dependence is a dangerous foundation for a marriage," says Shannon Fox, therapist and co-author of Last One Down the Aisle Wins: 10 Keys to A Fabulous Single Life Now and an Even Better Marriage Later. Plus, what's sexier than a gal who can change a tire in some high heels? Right?
Where you want to be in 5, 10, 15 years
While you don't need to have your whole life planned out, it's important to know what matters most to you -- whether it's wanting to make partner at your law firm, running a marathon or hoping to have two kids, two years apart. Having a roadmap can help ensure that you don't get so wrapped up in your husband's goals and dreams that you forget your own.
"When we don't focus on ourselves, we become unhappy and then the marriage becomes unhappy," says Dr. Lombardo.
That it's okay to change your mind about all of this
The fact is, your needs, interests and desires change with age and experience, and what you look for and want in your 30s and 40s will probably be very different from what was important to you in your 20s.
Changing your mind doesn't make you weak -- it makes you open to new ideas and new experiences. And you want a marriage -- and husband! -- that's flexible enough to bend and grow as you do.