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Q: What is the single most important topic that two people about to enter a marriage should have discussed?

Source: Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN) March 18, 2002, Monday

Today we introduce some members of the Star Tribune's Family & Relationships Panel. The title says it all: they are community experts and professionals we recruited to share their insights on human relationships. Additional panelists will weigh in monthly. As we segue into the spring wedding season, we asked the panel to consider this: // Q: What is the single most important topic that two people about to enter a marriage should have discussed?

NALY YANG      

Keep that sense of humor well-tuned. It helps to keep things in perspective as life changes. Having a good communication plan in place helps, too. Bottom line: Remember to make time for yourselves as a couple. It's easy to get lost in the monotony of marriage.      

_ Naly Yang is xecutive irector of the Women's Association of Hmong and Lao Inc., a St. Paul nonprofit that advocates and creates opportunities for Hmong women.

BILL DOHERTY     

Couples should ask themselves these questions: How are we going to keep growing our marriage when we settle into the routines of everyday life? How are we going to keep from taking each other for granted when the television is on, the laundry needs to be done, the newspaper has not been read, the kids want all of our attention and one of us likes to go to bed earlier than the other? When our marriage gets to feel like a comfortable old shoe, how do we keep it polished?      

_ Bill Doherty holds a doctorate in family studies. A professor in the Department of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota, he has been a marriage and family therapist for 25 years. He has written several books on family life.

ABIGAIL GARNER      

Consider parenthood. If having children is a dream of yours, make sure your potential spouse or partner shares that dream. If the two of you disagree on this issue, don't assume that after getting married you will be able to                                                                        

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Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN) March 18, 2002, Monday, Metro Edition change your spouse's mind. Unlike many other issues that arise in a partnership, there is no room for meeting halfway when it comes to having children. Either you become parents or you don't.      

_ Abigail Garner, a writer and KFAI-FM radio commentator, created and maintains www.FamiliesLikeMine.com, a resource for gay and lesbian families. She consults and lectures nationally on lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender issues.

AMAL M. YUSUF       

Depending on the culture of the couple and priorities they hold when entering into marriage, they should have discussed values and their differences because this is what holds family firm. When there is common consensus and full understanding of values, responsibilities, roles and where they are alike or differ, it sets the road map for the couple's future goals and visions. It enables them to see things eye-to-eye, which enables relationships to last longer. They should also discuss how they would resolve conflict arising from their differences. In Somali culture, roles are predefined depending on the circumstance and the extent couples want to exercise their cultural values. In some cultures such as mine, the man is the sole provider of the family, while the woman takes care of the family even though she has no financial responsibility unless there is compelling rationale why her contribution is vital to the family.      

_ Amal Yusuf is founder, president and chief executive of the Somalian Women's Association in the Twin Cities area.

JANE BINDER      

Absent the exceptional circumstances of spousal, child or chemical abuse, or serious mental illness, marriages and partnerships can succeed when couples make a lifelong commitment to continuously work on their relationship. A successful marriage or partnership also requires that the couple realize that they will, both individually and as a couple, change and grow over time. The marriage or partnership will succeed to the extent that the partners embrace that change and are committed to each other and to their relationship. It would be most helpful for couples about to be married/partnered to discuss their expectations of themselves and their partner, as well as their relationship. It is especially important to discuss whether to have children, their financial objectives and career goals, and their religious/ethical values. These are the areas in which growth and change frequently occur, and where lack of communication can cause stress to a marriage or partnership.      

_ Jane Binder, a family law attorney for 19 years, practices in Minneapolis.

PAT SEXTON      

Couples need to understand a set of typical issues will have an impact on their relationship _ money, children, sex, in-laws, religion and careers. But one all-encompassing issue is conflict resolution style. Knowing how you face and discuss a conflict helps couples be better prepared when issues arise. Couples do not need a similar style but they need to share styles and be compatible with each other.      

_ Pat Sexton is a teacher at Eden Prairie Middle School.

TERI GRAHAM      

Probably no single issue more directly affects a marriage relationship than children. A prospective couple might discuss how they would problem-solve with "what if" questions. What if we conceive an unplanned pregnancy? What if we're infertile? What if only one of us wants children? If a blended family, what if we add a baby to the mix? Be proactive in securing the information you need before taking your vows. When it comes to the subject of children, a "what if" is a whole lot more responsible than a "whatever."      

_ Teri Graham is the author of "Kids on Task: Organizing for Learning Success."

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ANN ORCHARD      

A couple forming a stepfamily should discuss how they plan to continue to build and maintain a strong bond during the midst of what can be a chaotic family life. It takes a concerted effort to team as a primary unit when the stressful demands of stepfamily life often pull at the seams of the couple's relationship. Even the children, who can seemingly try to drive a wedge between the couple, obtain a strong sense of security from seeing the relationship of their parent/stepparent succeed.      

_ Ann Orchard is a psychologist at the Colonial Counseling Center in Edina, where she provides individual, couple and group counseling related to stepfamilies. A stepmother, she has published research on others in that role.

MORE INFORMATION

Web sites:     

- Smart Marriages: Created by the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education. http://www.smartmarriages.com/     

- Life Innovations Inc.: Minnesota-based organization offers marriage preparation and marriage enrichment programs. Go to http://www.lifeinnovations.org/sample.html to take a sample Couple Quiz.

Books:      

- "Don't You Dare Get Married Until You Read This!: The Book of Questions for Couples" by Corey Donaldson (Crown, 2001).      

- "The Hard Questions: 100 Essential Questions to Ask Before You Say 'I Do' " by Susan Piver (Tarcher/Putnam, 2000).

_ Compiled by Linda Scheimann.

What's your question?      

Ask the Family & Relationships panel your question. Individual replies are not possible, but various panelists will answer questions each month or so on this page. Please write:      

Family & Relationships Panel      

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