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1001 Questions to Ask Before You Get Married

September 20, AD 2011 20 Comments

In a romantic rush of words, my boyfriend told me he loved me.

A week or so later, he had “an interesting conversation” with his mother, and she bought us a book.

No, it wasn’t Three to Get Married by Fulton Sheen, Love and Responsibility by Blessed John Paul II or even poetry. It was 1001 Questions to Ask Before You Get Married by Monica Mendez Leahy and it is literally all questions, along with commentary on how to approach the chapters and discuss responses.

BAM. Read it. Even if you're already married.

If there is one adjective I keep hearing about marriage, it is the word “hard.” I don’t doubt it. I’ve seen the statistics. I grew up and continue to live with my big and boisterous family of two still-married parents and five siblings, and always feel grateful knowing my parents love each other and will never get divorced, even when they disagree.

There is, however, one thing I don’t want my marriage to be: hard. Life is difficult enough without problems creeping between my partner-in-life and me. There will be babies to feed, raise and catechize; bills to pay; prayers to be said; a Church to serve; jobs to do; books to read and write; and lots of little things to pop up unexpectedly.

What I’d like to avoid, for instance, are those problems which can be talked out reasonably before the “I Do.” When I hear of issues that come up in marriage, I tend to think, “Why was that not discussed earlier?”

In a world of “I Personally” statements, where can “we as a couple” fit? Marriage is not only a mystic union of two souls coming together as one in body, but two people who have to physically live with each other, their history, their families near and far, their ambitions, their quirks, and their beliefs.  Conversations many people shy away from initially will come back into the light eventually, and will have to be confronted. Married life is not for the wimpy or faint of heart. What is a marriage if foundations are not explored? If simple wants or expectations become wedges between two people whom have promised to live the entirety of life together?

When B. (as I fondly refer to my boyfriend in the blogosphere) and I began the book, I found it simultaneously exciting and very nerve-wracking. First off, we were discussing MARRIAGE. Secondly, I had to admit to myself that, even though I love this man, I had to be prepared to say goodbye if our answers did not mesh. B. felt the same way. Still, we persevered, and trusted.

B. and me!

The first section is “Your Past” (growing up) and the second part is “Your Parents & In-Laws.” Though these first few sections were B.’s favorites, I must admit I have never felt more exposed than when I had to discuss my parents’ marriage. An important part of our early relationship was spending time with each other’s family and friends, to see how the other interacted with their loved ones, and ours. Still, I think there is a bravery in the type of honesty needed to admit faults, be they mine or another’s.

Part 3 is “Significant Others” (friends, relatives, ex-significant others, etc.) and Part 4 is “Children.” Part 5 is “Perspectives,” where B. threw me for a loop in the “Religion and Spirituality” chapter. Though we were both raised and are practicing Roman Catholics, and we both strongly emphasize faith and reason, we both approach Catholicism differently. This is not a problem, and has helped us grow- but it was a discussion that needed to be had in order to share our spiritual lives now and in the future.

Part 6 is “Daily Life and Lifestyles,” Part 7 is “Leisure Time” and Part 8 is perhaps most important chapter: “Finances.” By this point in the book, couples reading and discussing the questions should have a decent idea of who the person they are dating really is, granted one party is not lying or trying to word answers to please the other person. Both are frowned upon in the book and in life. If you want to marry a person for who they are, wouldn’t you want the reassurance of them wanting to marry you for who you truly are? Deception is also one of the leading causes for divorce today, and is in an estimated 30-60% of marriages.

Part 9 is “Physical Intimacy” (which asks very secular questions, which I believe are worth exploring and really discussing), Part 10 is “Emotional Intimacy” and Part 11 is “Special Situations” (i.e. marrying a criminal, marrying a celebrity, marrying someone in the military, and marrying someone significantly older than you). Part 12 is “Your Wedding” and Part 13 is “Marriage Builders or Breakers.” The book closes with an Epilogue and the “Spousal Ten Commandments.”

A legitimate question, me thinks. Aye, Sir Lancelot?

One of the greatest things this book has done for B. and I is that our lines of communication have really been opened up. We are straight-forward people to begin with, but when confronted with reality and possibility, that honesty was given purpose. These were no mere “What is your favorite color?” questions. This book was more, “What is your quest?”

A lot of the questions are supposed to be answered out loud (talking back-and-forth) with your significant other, but B. thinks it would have been better to write out our answers first. I think both ways work well, but the latter would have decreased some of the stress of answering on the spot.

I cannot recommend this book enough to couples discerning marriage as a vocation. It is not enough to share a passion for the faith, the same interests or the same sense of humor. 1001 Questions to Ask Before You Get Married should not be saved for post-engagement, either. Too often, couples become very attached emotionally, which makes it hard to break it off when serious proclamations have been made. This book brings up all topics to make sure there are no assumptions being made in the relationship. Reasonable discussions should bring about fruit, not friction.

The unexamined person is not worth pursuing, to borrow from Socrates. I have been blessed by this book and its many, many questions in my relationship- I hope its practicalities serve you all well in your romantic endeavors!

About the Author:

J.R. Baldwin is the Editor-in-chief at Ignitum Today. A former statehouse reporter, she teaches history for a classical school and writes for The Imaginative Conservative. She blogs at The Corner With A View, and tweets from @thejulieview. A Midwesterner by birth, she lives out East with her husband and bebes.
  • Elizabeth

    This book sounds great – I’m getting it!! My boyfriend and I love this sort of stuff 🙂 We’re always on the lookout – you can never have too much preparation!! 😀

  • I agree with Elizabeth, it does indeed sound like a great book! I’ll keep it in my mind for later.

  • You are right that a lot of “hard” stuff can get worked out before marriage. My wife and I had the benefit of being close friends for 2-1/2 years before we started anything more than plutonic. By the time we started courting, we already knew so much about each other, and obviously felt strongly enough to enter into a relationship with marriage as it probable goal. Nonetheless, marriage is hard. Why? Because life is hard. Doing life together is both simultaneously more easy and more difficult. It is harder or more difficult because no matter how many questions you ask, you can never anticipate the bumps and slumps of life together. We are introspective animals, but not enough to foresee every disagreement.

    Nonetheless, the first year of marriage can be bliss and not head-ache, as so many complain about. Our first year of marriage was incredible. Your book recommendation will not doubt benefit all who want to explore the other but themselves as well.

  • Brent, I agree– I definitely learned a lot about myself as well. This book isn’t going to stop all future disagreements, but it certainly helped both of us ask the hard questions of ourselves and each other. B. and I were not friends before we started dating, and this book would have led us to an amicable split as much as it led us to discern a future together. A lot of young couples I’ve talked to did spiritual marriage prep (not counting pre-cana) together, but not a more practical one. B.’s future profession, for example, is going to be a lot of shift work. My personality is more of the flexible type, in the sense that I do not need to have a set daily routine; while I could have never planned it that way, it will help me adapt better since his hours will be long. Another point of the book is not just to ask questions, but to start other side conversations which may pertain more specifically to us. While I can’t know the difficulties ahead, I can know whom I am going forward to face them with!

    Thanks for the comments, Elizabeth and Ciska! I hope the book serves you as well as it did me.

  • Great post, Julie! I am totally buying this book now, it seems like it’d be a great tool for when we get married!

  • I will use this book, scary as it may be to consider being, as you said, “prepared to say goodbye if our answers did not mesh.” I’m hoping a friendship, like Brent’s and his wife’s, will prevent that. Either way: great review for a very practical book that will probably lead to spiritual growth!

  • Your first paragraph gave me a good laugh over my morning coffee. My Mom LOVES books like that! Once we kids started dating she ran out and bought “The ABCs of Choosing a Good Husband/Wife” and “How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk.”

    This books sounds like it could have some great conversation starters. The Beau and I have already discussed a lot of these topics, but I know we have a lot more to learn. Building a strong relationship doesn’t have to be hard, but it does take effort.

  • Seeing as I’m already married now, it’s a bit late for me 🙂

    It certainly sounds like a fantastic book! My husband isn’t much of a book reader when it comes to these types of books, but I read several Catholic/dating/marriage books before and after our engagement that helped me to understand why I wanted to marry Stephen and to have a realistic approach to marriage.

    I also agree with Brent that having a friendship first can certainly help the “openness” of the relationship, since while you just friends you usually don’t try to hide who you are. It was a great help to Stephen and I since we were friends for about a year and a half before we began dating. It is by no means the only “safe” way of dating, but it helped us to break through the awkward barriers that dating sometimes brings and just to be very open and honest with each other.

  • Kendra, one thing I will say is that this book is not read solo- it is read together, and answered together, save for a few sections done separately and then discussed together. This book would have been as much for Stephen as for you!

    Sarah, especially for long distance relationships, this book really helps. Glad to give you a laugh this morning!

  • Sarah

    I think it’s great to have purposeful discussions when dating… that needs to happen more often before engagement! A couple thoughts though: In my area, the marriage prep seems to be very light on the spiritual/theological and heavy on the practical. So I guess it varies. Also, I’d caution that marriage is something you do, something you live in the moment, and no amount of talking beforehand can *fully* prepare you for the realities of marriage afterwards. I’ve run across, in some circles, a tendency to “over-prepare” or over-analyze dating relationships and causing them to stall out or never take the leap. I was one of those actually, ha! I think it stems from a need to control the future… trying to predict what will come. We don’t always know what the future holds, how a person may change after marriage or how marriage may not be what we expect, etc. A willingness to be open and flexible to change even after marriage is important (within the context of what is moral and right, of course). There’s inherently a need for faith and grace when it comes to such a huge commitment. Overall though, the more talking and communicating beforehand between the couple, (I think) the better!

  • richard

    I believe that marriage requires a meeting of minds.

  • B. sounds like he approaches things much like I do — you have to write out what you think about X before you know what you think about it. I’m glad that you and B. both cared enough to do the exploration and trusted each other enough to risk learning something you didn’t want to know. So, have you set a date yet? He sounds like a keeper!

  • I may have to consider getting this in the near future…

  • We used a similar book prior to our engagement, but it was only 101 questions. It was called 101 Questions to Ask Before You Get Engaged. it covered alot of the same stuff, but maybe in less detail, as it had less questions. I think books like this are similar. They bring up topics that might not come up naturally but you would have to deal with in married life. Some of my friends feel that its not necessary. Surely its enough to know you just love each other and it doesn’t matter what issues will come up, because you can sort it out then. I think preparation is good. Its awesome that you are both open to the idea of sharing this stuff now.

  • Julie, thank you so much for such a wonderful review! I’m glad you’re enjoying the book so much. “The more you know, the more you love” is my motto. If you have any questions (as if 1001 weren’t enough)feel free to contact me via my web site or on FB.

    Monica Mendez Leahy
    Author, “1001 Questions To Ask Before You Get Married”

  • Micha Elyi

    After you’re sacramentally married, ones spouse becomes a closer relation to oneself than any parent, child, or sibling. (It’s that “one flesh” thing.) One neglects this truth at the peril of ones marriage.

    Also, there will be rough patches – there’s a reason marriage is said to take “work” to maintain. However, no matter how bad some situation becomes be consoled by the thought that at some future wedding anniversary one and ones spouse will be looking back and laughing about it.

  • I would be interested to read the chapter on marrying a criminal… (or a celebrity!)

    If I ever get to the point in a relationship where I am discerning marriage, I will be sure to check this out! Hopefully he won’t be a criminal, but I guess we never know…! 🙂

  • Michelle

    Sounds like a good read. My husband and I have been married for seven years and have four children. We felt pretty prepared when we got married but there are a lot of things you just can’t prepare for and no matter who you marry, the marriage in and of itself will be hard at some point (some people make it harder, like you said, by choosing less than stellar matches for themselves). Most couples experience a rough patch in the marriage sometime in the first ten years where those that don’t have a strong understanding of the sacrament may walk away from the whole thing. The one thing I remember about marriage prep was that my husband and I were so certain of many of our answers…oh, of course we believe x,y and z about such and such a topic, etc. When we actually came to live out those ideals we held so firmly to when preparing for marriage, we quickly realized that living them out is a whole lot harder than reasoning through the answers and imagining what we would do in a certain situation. I by no means think that being idealistic is bad, but when reality hits, as the saying goes, it’s just plain harder to walk the walk than talk the talk. Truth be told, I think many people if they had fully internalized before marriage how a certain shortcoming of their future spouse would make their marriage harder they would have never entered into the covenant in the first place…they would have said good-bye before they said I do. Fortunately, no matter how much we prepare, we all romanticize and idealize our spouses a little, and for that I’m grateful, because if my husband saw me for the faults I had in the beginning he never would have wanted to invest a future with me. But, he married me (yeah!) we have four beautiful children and one in heaven and we are continuing to grow in holiness and virtue together, sometimes we fall but we help one another and forgive each other and hope to reach heaven together.

  • My husband and I have been married for 14 years, d frankly I would never describe marriage as “hard”. Parenting yes, “very hard.”

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