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.
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.
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.”
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!