Before You Say “I Do”

Dear Lovestruck Ladies,

Alright, let’s hit the ground running. You know that list of ‘100 Things You Need In a Mate’? Girl, throw that thang out the window. You’ll never find anyone who possess all those qualities and you know good and well you don’t possess alllllllll that stuff yourself. Ok, now that we got that out the way, let’s take a look at what really matters in matrimony. Love, trust, respect… I know you got all that covered. I’m talking about the stuff that is- more often than not- overlooked. Marriage is designed to be a wonderful life-long commitment (not a death sentence!) and it should never be entered into lightly. Walk down the aisle with your eyes wide open, not blinded by love. Focus on addressing these questions and you’ll be off to a great start!

6 QUESTIONS FOR YOU AND YOUR BOO… BEFORE YOU SAY “I DO”

1. WHO’s your Daddy?  Every now and then, we all need a spiritual paternity test to determine if our spiritual DNA supports who we claim our Heavenly Father to be. This is more than just saying you’re a Christian. It’s about whether or not your relationship with God is a genuine priority in your life. Anyone can say they put God first, but not everyone is living it. Where someone puts their faith and trust is a good indication of whether or not you two will be equally yoked. Who are each of you spiritually committed and accountable to? (See my last post for more insight).  It’s easier to submit to a man who is fully submitted to God. You won’t mind following his lead when you know he is following the Lord. For best results, make sure you’re both submitted to Him now, and not just hoping things will change once you say “I do.” Does Daddy agree with your concept of “marriage material?”

2. WHAT’s your problem? Everybody has something wrong with them. Everybody. Anger issues, addictions (drugs/alcohol, food, shopping, sex and love, gambling, etc.), insecurities, poor financial management, pride, fear, unresolved trauma, low self-esteem, mental/medical disorders, criminal behavior… what vice do you struggle to gain victory over? Being saved, sanctified, fire baptized, and Holy Ghost filled doesn’t mean you’re perfect or incapable of grappling to do what’s right. What’s the worst, most frustrating/annoying thing about your future spouse? Now multiply that by 100. ‘Cause once you’ve been married for a little while, all those problems and pet peeves will intensify. It’s been said that “marriage puts a magnifying glass on one’s character flaws [not just his but yours, too].” True that! Those cute little quirks will likely turn ugly and unbearable. What is that one thing you wish you could change? (PSA: You can’t change anyone but yourself). Will you remain committed even if it never changes? FYI: Never is a long time. Can you handle it?

3. WHERE are you from? If you want to know where your relationship is headed, take a look at where you and your fiance are from. Childhood experiences within our family of origin will absolutely affect how we communicate and relate to our significant other. Family values, financial stability, and emotional competence (just to name a few) are usually rooted in what we learned as children.  And don’t neglect to discuss the patterns in each of your past romantic relationships. While accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior means that you are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), it doesn’t necessary turn off the power switch to your past. It’ll be much easier for the two of you to become one if you each fully accept where the other is coming from.

4. WHEN’s the wedding? Seriously, what’s the date? Are you two rushing down the aisle? If so, why? Or will you get married at some open-ended point in the future, with no timeframe in sight? Girlfriend, if he really wants to marry you, he will set a date! Don’t allow a little bling bling to satisfy you into settling for a 10 year engagement. The longer you wait, the  lower your standards will likely become. Look, if he pops the question and you say “Yes!”, setting a date should just be a matter of planning… not procrastinating. Dahling, don’t fall for the okie doke!

5. WHY do you want to get married? Love is a many splendored thing. It’s also not the only reason to get married. Hey, if I married everyone I loved, I would have either been divorced or locked up several times by now! Love has great intentions but it doesn’t create a hassle-free life, pay the bills, or make problems, baby mamas, baby daddies, or STD’s disappear. It doesn’t cure depression, reverse loneliness, or improve sel-esteem. And being “in love” is a great excuse but not a good reason. Look, you may not always get goose bumps and butterflies when you think of your spouse. Emotions are fleeting, often irrational, and just not enough to base a lifelong commitment on. If you find yourself saying, “Our relationship is perfect. We have love and that’s enough for us” then you have lots of work to do!

6. HOW do we resolve our conflicts? First of all, do you have any conflicts? Here’s a hint: you do. You may not have recognized them yet. The absence of love isn’t why more than 50% of marriages end in divorce (Christian marriages included); it’s the presence of unresolved conflict. Your marriage will be as strong as your ability to communicate your cares and concerns, and reconcile your differences. How one handles havoc and times of turmoil will either give your relationship a glowing green for GO or a raging red for RUUUUUUUN! Don’t miss the crucial signs. Do you solve your problems biblically? Do either of you avoid conflict just to keep the peace or do you confront it head on?  If you and your boo have never been faced with a disheartening dilemma that you’ve successfully overcome, then you may not be equipped to create wedded bliss. Pre-marital counseling should help with that (assuming you both are honest and up-front ;-)). Just don’t start picking fights to test your resolve, mmmkay?

I’m not trying to scare you; just trying to empower you to take a good, hard look at the state of your relationship before you say “I do.” Think you know it all and I can’t possibly be talking to you? Then I’m talking to you. :-D

Of course, there are a million more areas to be addressed before walking down the aisle. Just don’t miss the forest for the trees.  Marriage isn’t about frequently getting your freak on (but that sure doesn’t hurt!), gaining a sugar daddy, putting someone on lock down, or any other such immaturity. Contrary to pop culture, holy matrimony is a covenant between you, your husband, and God. It’s not a breachable contract between two parties looking to have a good time until the good times roll out. Oh no, girlfriend! Marriage is beautifully blessed union between best friends- through thick and thin. With dedication and commitment to your marriage, your mate and your Mighty God, the two of you will walk as one, move mountains, and make a huge impact in the Kingdom.

In the meantime, become the woman of your dreams and you’re bound to attract the man of your dreams (if you haven’t already). Just make sure you focus more on doing what’s necessary to create and maintain the “happily ever after” than you do on having the fairytale wedding. :-)

Practically Yours,

~The Practical Chick

Financial Rules of Engagement

Dear Blissfully Betrothed,

Congratulations on your engagement!!! Now is your chance to ensure you lay a solid foundation for a lifetime of wedded bliss. Soon, you two love birds will become one- spiritually, physically, and yes- financially. Since I’m a wealth manager I have a special little gift for you: I’m going to invest some time outlining how to successfully marry your finances. It’s an area often over-looked when it comes to marriage preparation. But with more than 50% of marriages ending in divorce (sorry- I don’t mean to be grim), and financial incompatibility being one of the primary culprits for marriage dissolution, we can’t ignore the potential threats. I’m here to tell you, if you can become one financially, you can conquer anything together. You can establish the right foundation for your marriage if you adhere to these financial rules of engagement:

1. Invest in pre-marital counseling. This is the biggest investment you can make for your marriage. Retain the services of a professional, objective, disinterested, third-party- someone experienced and competent in the area of pre-marital counseling whom you both trust and respect. They’ll help facilitate a healthy dialogue between you and your intended spouse regarding various aspects of marriage. Of specific concern are your financial deal-breakers (gambling, financial affairs, and overspending, to name a few). Some insurance policies may cover a limited number of sessions (and some churches also provide counseling sessions at little to no cost to their members). Just don’t skimp on the sessions- better to spend the time and money investing in your marriage for a few months (yes, MONTHS- not just a few sessions!) than spending your time, money, and energy filing for separation/divorce later. Just sayin’ :-)

2. To tithe or not to tithe? Just because you and your intended spouse are both Christians doesn’t mean you both agree on the concept of tithing. Now is the time to start talking about your beliefs. Do you tithe off of your gross or net income? Is tithing a priority or do you put it on the back burner? Have a heart-to-heart talk about your views on tithing and what you will do if you disagree. The tithe represents just 10% of your gross income, but it can become the root of countless arguments if the two of you aren’t on the same page.

3. Should you get a pre-nup? This is an awfully touchy issue. Merriam-Webster defines a prenuptial agreement as “an agreement made by a couple before they marry concerning the ownership of their respective assets should the marriage fail.”  While I’d like to think that no one goes into a marriage expecting it to fail, I know that some folks want to protect themselves just in case. I’m not going to tell you what to do in this instance. All I’ll say is that if you’re concerned about being taken for “half” if your marriage doesn’t last, you need to address your concern with your fiancée/fiance. And definitely bring that up in counseling!

4. Save more for your marriage than for your wedding. Ladies, I know some of you have been planning your dream wedding since your were like 4 years old, but let’s be realistic about it. Your wedding day will only last a few hours. Your marriage is supposed to last a lifetime. Spending your entire savings for a few hours of fantasy- well, that’s just foolish (and you’re too fabulous to be foolish!).

5. Discuss your credit scores and credit history. Obtain your credit report and score from all three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion (you should do this at least once per year anyway). Now, swap reports! These reports will shed a lot of light about how your loved one handles their money. Are they drowning in debt? Have no credit history at all? Chronically pay bills late? These are all arguments waiting to happen if they aren’t dealt with from the door. And knowing one another’s credit scores will prepare you for making future purchases. The higher the score, the lower your interest rates. This means more money in your pocket. Check out www.privacyguard.com for your comprehensive credit report and scores (there is a fee for their service). Oh, and whatever you do, don’t go co-signing loans or going into debt for one another. No need in both of you being held responsible if one of you makes a bad financial decision while you’re engaged!

6. Discuss your spending habits. If you’re like most couples, you probably discovered by now that opposites attract. Chances are, your spending habits are at the opposite end of the spectrum as well. One person is a spender and the other a saver. Be open about who you are, what you like to spend your money on, and how you view saving for the future. Be sure to discuss your views and experiences during your counseling sessions. How you reconcile your conflicts is a major indicator of the strength of your union. [SIDE NOTE: Don't be caught up on how much money your significant other makes. How someone handles their money is far more important than how much money they handle].

7. Draft your team goals. You and your spouse will be a team. What goals do you want to accomplish together (buying first home, building your cash reserves, planning for retirement, having children, paying off debt, etc.)? What role will each of you play in advancing your team (who balances the check book, who pays the bills, who stays home with the kids, etc.)?  And please, please, please, discuss whether or not you will be merging your incomes together. Some couples like to keep things separate, but I’ve found that the most financially successful couples merge everything together (it limits the likelihood of financial affairs). This may be difficult initially, but the long-term results far outweigh the short-term discomfort. When you operate as a team, you can win as a team.

8. Work with a professional. Consider hiring a comprehensive financial advisor (someone who takes a look at your entire financial picture, not just your investments and/or insurance) to help you each get your individual finances in order during your engagement period. Once you’re married, you will implement your plan together. Working with a competent professional will significantly increase your ability to reach your financial goals. And you’ll be less likely to make mistakes in the process.

9. Devise a plan to live off one income. Yes, you read that correctly… ONE income! In these tumultuous economic times of high unemployment rates, rising health care costs, and reduced employer benefits, chances are at least one of you will be unemployed (possibly more than once) for an extended period of time during your marriage. I’m not suggesting that you live within a cloud of gloom and doom. I am suggesting, however, that you learn to live well below your means. There is no financial peace living paycheck to paycheck. Live on one income, and save and invest the rest. When times get hard, you’ll have access to a storehouse of savings. And you’ll be able to live quite comfortably in the meantime. Now is a good time to start working towards this goal. Begin to reduce your spending/expenses now so you will each be in a better position when you’re married. Take baby steps. You’ll be walking confidently before you know it!

10. Schedule weekly money dates. Money is an emotionally charged topic. Each partner brings to the table his/her own set of experiences, values, and fears regarding money. That’s normal. You can create a high level of financial intimacy with your intended spouse by scheduling weekly dates to talk about your finances (same day, every week, for a pre-determined amount of time). Again, this may be challenging at first. So, take baby steps. Start with a 10 minute conversation and build on that each week/each month. Work your way up to having a 30 minute conversation on a weekly basis (continue doing this throughout your marriage). Talk about your fears, your progress towards reaching your goals, any challenges you face, your monthly budget, and anything else that your partner should know. Financial intimacy requires vulnerability. The more you can become “naked and unashamed” with your finances, the more your partner will delight in covering your flaws.

Remember, the two of you are striving to become one. Now is a great time to start laying a solid foundation in preparation for a successful financial future together. GO TEAM GO!!!

Practically Yours,

~The Practical Chick