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Talking tough topics before the big day

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Stephen and Natalie (not their real names) are engaged to be married. They have been dating for more than a year, enjoy the same music, both like sports, and have many of the same views about politics. Each has met the other’s parents, and the families have met and like each other.

Natalie and Stephen are obviously in love, and are looking forward to spending their lives together. From what they had initially shared with the mediator, there were no problems looming.

But, there were many important questions, such as about money and having children, that they hadn’t seriously discussed with each other — until coming to mediation.

Many couples don’t have these serious conversations before marriage. Why not? Some partners assume that, because they’re getting along, they must agree on all the issues that matter to them. Others don’t give the future much thought. There are also “avoiders” who fear conflict.

Natalie and Stephen, as happy as they were, sensed that a lot had been left unsaid between them. Not knowing how to proceed on their own, they decided to try a premarital mediation session.

As in a divorce, a mediator can work with couples before marriage. He can:

• Help each partner to talk about what he and she wants and needs.

• Help them both have a constructive conversation, even when tensions rise.

• Guide the discussion so that hidden differences come to light.

• Assist the couple in addressing any issues.

In a premarital session with a young couple, a discussion about children might follow questions such as: Do you want kids? How many? When? Do you imagine one of you staying home with them (and would you be able to afford to)? Is the home you’ll be living in to start with big enough? What have you discussed about religion and raising children? Private school or public? And many more, each a potential springboard to significant issues.

Stephen and Natalie learned, among other things, that there are differences in how they view and feel about money.

“Our talking here was revealing,” Stephen said after the session. “I found out how Natalie feels about money. [While] dating, it didn’t come up. I did notice that she felt a little uncomfortable when we went to an expensive restaurant. But I had no idea that Natalie worries about money, about always having enough.”

Asked how this knowledge might impact on their future, Stephen offered:

“Me, I kind of like the idea of having a really nice car. But knowing [now] how Natalie feels about money, well, let’s say we need a car, I’ll be fine with a cheaper one, if that’ll make Natalie feel better. What we save could go in the bank, or whatever. We’ll talk and figure it out.”

Natalie was almost beaming, knowing that her fiancé understood her feelings; feelings that she hadn’t clearly expressed to him before.

“I don’t like talking about money,” Natalie said. “Growing up, there were a lot of arguments. But this was great. It means a lot to know that Stephen is so understanding about something that really concerns me. I wasn’t exactly worried, but I think that money was more on my mind than I realized. I’m so happy that he is willing to work together to save money, even though it isn’t as important to him. I’ll feel more secure, financially, and in our relationsh­ip.”

Talking about what is important to you, and what your respective values are, won’t guarantee a happy marriage. But such discussions will increase understanding, and likely help you resolve problems that otherwise might eventually lead to divorce.

Try having a conversation on your own. It can be difficult, but don’t give up. If necessary, outside help (such as from a mediator) is available.

New York City and Long Island-based lawyer and mediator Lee Chabin helps clients to express their needs, better understand one another, and reach decisions that benefit each of them. Contact him at lee_chabin@lc-mediate.com, (718) 229–6149, or go to http://lc-mediate.com/. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/lchabin.

Disclaimer: All material in this column is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

Updated 4:38 pm, December 9, 2016
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