The first blog in this series addressed discussing children and the second blog discussing the handling of money, debt, budgeting and future financial goals. The reasons for these discussions is because differences between potential spouses can bring with them significant future disagreements and can even be deal-breakers. Better to identify potential trouble spots in advance and develop a plan. A topic less obvious that potentially could lead to conflict are the relationship between the planned marriage and extended families. In two insightful survey studies, an ingredient in a successful marriage is for the spouses to develop their own unit, and not just become extensions of one or the other extended families. This becomes critical once spouses begin to have children. In a sense, children take their first step towards independence from their extended family when they reach adulthood, but their take their second step when they marry.
Up to this point, relationships between the spouses and each other’s extended families might be fairly trouble free, even very pleasant. Parents might or might not have concerns about the potential mate of their child, but if mature and wise, they will keep that to themselves. The adventure in life when people marry is to discover for themselves if there are difficulties that their parents might have spotted early on and address those. Often, the child getting married will have a completely different perspective on potential problems spotted by parents.
There is also the potential problem that the new potential spouse might have concerns about the other potential spouse’s extended family. These should be topics for discussion. Each spouse also has a great deal of information about his or her extended family that might include potential problems. In both cases, the potential spouses also are likely to have information about the positive roles extended families can and will play in their lives.
The purposes of these discussions in not to look for reasons not to marry, but to identify potential problems and make a plan. For example, assume that in one of the extended families, there is a holiday tradition that the children, married or not, are expected by the parents to attend. The plan might be to let those parents know that the newlyweds plan to come but might start their own tradition once they begin to have children.
As with all of the discussions to have before marriage, people planning to marry should identify long-term goals, make a plan to reach those goals, identify obstacles, in this case, in their extended families, and make a plan for overcoming predicted obstacles. The goals should include having their own healthy family unit that interacts in a healthy way with extended families and to solidify their partnership in reaching those goals.