Healthy conversations for setting realistic expectations for married life

Newlyweds may fantasize about romantic dinners and weekend getaways, but the true beauty of marriage is found in caring for one another through the passing of ordinary days. My fiance and I were determined to build a strong foundation; so, with starry-eyed, unshakeable love, we signed up for a weekend retreat for engaged couples. 

The structure format was in four key areas:  family, communication, values and intimacy.  Driving to the retreat, we agreed that this would be a breeze. I mean, we were so in love and sympatico already. What we discovered is that we each brought unspoken assumptions and expectations to marriage, and had time for self reflection and open dialogue with one another that built a stronger connection and deeper love between us. Love!

Twenty-four years later, we both agree that retreat intensified our commitment. When our unshakeable love started to quake, we had the skills to listen, understand and move forward together. We learned to always turn toward our marriage instead of away from one another.

While the weekend format we attended was formal, the method is simple enough to do on your own. Set aside a day or a few evenings and tune out distractions (yes, shut off your phone). If you are home, light a candle, prepare nice food or better yet, stay at a hotel or cabin. The idea is to focus solely on each other. Bring two notebooks, pens and a timer and these questions. You can even add your own questions. Choose a topic and write for 10 minutes in your notebook. When the timer goes off, switch notebooks and read one another’s reflections. Set the timer for 20 minutes and discuss what you read. Move on to the next topic and repeat. Why not just talk about it over dinner? Well, the writing and reading forces you to focus, slow down and understand yourself and your fiancé, and the timer provides an ending.

I keep our notebooks in our fire safe. Every few years we pull them out for a refresher evening. Twenty-three years later, we are well practiced in sharing, listening and understanding, and those notebooks are as cherished as my wedding band. My hope is that you, too, are able to find a deeper connection and shared values to build a marriage for the ages. – DVB

Financial Fidelity

  1. What are your financial goals?
  2. Do you value saving or spending?
  3. Who will manage the money and the investing?
  4. Do you have a spending threshold where you check-in with one another?
  5. Will you have your own accounts and a house account or will you merge your money together?

Conflict Resolution

  1. What cues can you offer your spouse to let them know you need to talk?
  2. What are your rules for arguing? No name calling? No walking away?
  3. What are your expectations for discussion?
  4. Will you be able to apologize, forgive and move forward?
  5. How will you end an argument and move forward?

Family Expectations

  1. What did you love about the way you were raised?
  2. What did you love or dislike about how your parents interacted?
  3. What family obligations or traditions are important to you?
  4. How will you manage conflict between your spouse and parents or siblings?

Family Values

  1. What are your top three values?
  2. What values do you bring from your family?
  3. What values did your family have that you don’t care for?
  4. Do you want children?
  5. Are you open to adoption? IVF? Staying childless?
  6. If you do have children, will you both work? If not, who will stay home?


  1. How do you feel connected to one another?
  2. How do you choose to celebrate one another for birthdays, anniversaries and other milestones?
  3. Do you expect lavish gifts? Surprises? Trips?
  4. Do you prefer simple nights at home? Letters and cards?
  5. How will you celebrate the holidays with family?


  1. How important is touching, cuddling, holding hands to you to feel loved?
  2. How often do you expect sex?
  3. How will you communicate when you are tired, not in the mood or when you want to change your sex life?
  4. Who will be responsible for birth control?

See more wedding advice on the Alabama Wedding blog, Et Cetera.


Donna Von Bruening has an extraordinary ability to bring clarity to a moment. Melding her Midwestern sensibility with two decades as a Savannahian, she has built a reputation as the prominent Southern photographer and writer. She calls the salty marshes of the Georgia coast home, along with her beloved husband, two teenage boys and their Cavapoo, Archie.

Pin It