Things to know

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Monday, March 7, 2011

Bro Jo's "List of Stuff You Need to Know Before You Get Engaged"

Dear BroJo,

Knowing your experience and wisdom, I'm wondering if you have a list of things you should know about your spouse before you marry. I know some obvious ones, like, how they deal with children; if they have any allergies, food or otherwise; but I'm wondeing about less obvious stuff that I'll wish I'd known.

I know I'm too young to use this, but I tend to think ahead.


Dear Listmaker,

I've been working on that one for a long time. The challenge is that, while you can never possibly know everything, the list needs to be long enough to give you a clear picture but short enough not to dilute the value of each question.

Thank you for asking!

The list is posted below; please consider it a work in progress.  Each category is listed alphabetically.

- Bro Jo



- Who will provide the money needed for the family and how?
- What is your current debt load?
- How do you feel about credit and debt?
- How many hours a week do you expect to work?
- How many hours do you expect me to work?
- How do you feel about work that requires a person to be gone from home?
- What’s more important: a home, a car, leisure time, food, or entertainment?


- How many children do you want to have?
- How soon would you like to have children?
- What would you do if my parents needed to come live with us for a very long time?
- How do you feel about your siblings?
- How would your siblings describe you?
- How do you feel about moving in with my parents? Your parents?
- What are some favorite family traditions that you hope to continue in our family?

Goals, Hopes and Dreams

- What do you envision you’re life to be like in 5, 10, 20 and 50 years?
- If you could live anywhere, where would you pick and why?
- What’s your dream job? Do you intend to get it? Why?
- Do you see yourself serving a mission when you’re older?
- When would you like to retire?
- How important is money to you?
- What amount of money do you think we’ll need as a family?
- What do you envision your funeral to be like? What do you hope people will say about you?


- Do you have any chronic health problems or concerns?
- Have you ever had a blood test? What were the results?
- What are the health histories of your family?
- What is your biggest health fear?


- What things that I do let you know that I love you?
- What do you do to tell me that you love me?

Pet Peeves

- What are some things that people in your life have done that have driven you crazy or seem totally illogical or unreasonable?
- What do you do that people have said the same about you?

Philosophy & Politics

- Is it better to be smart or attractive?
- Would you steal bread to feed your children?
- How do you like to handle political disagreements?
- How do you feel children should be disciplined?
- Do you believe a woman should keep house or go to work?
- What habits, possessions or activities would be the most difficult for you to give up if I asked?
- How do you describe yourself politically?
- What do you list as your top five priorities, in order?


- Describe your relationship with God.
- What do you have a testimony of? And how did you gain that testimony?
- How do you think a person can best grow their testimony?
- Do you think its okay to take “vacations from Church”?
- What are the things in life that you think its okay to miss Church for?
- Where do you draw the line between faith and personal revelation?

Sex and Morality

- What’s the furthest you’ve ever gone? With whom, how often, and how recently?
- Have you ever had sex? If so, with whom and why?
- Have you ever looked at pornography? If so, when was the last time?
- What do you think should be done to protect children from pornography?
- Have you ever done anything that made you unworthy to enter the temple? If so, what did you do and what have you done about it?
- How would you feel if we couldn’t have sex for five years because of injury or other problem?
- What are your sexual expectations? How often? How adventurous? How soon?
- What does sex mean to you? Is it an expression of love? Strictly for fun? Do you see it as an obligation?

(c) 2011


Listmaker said...


Thanks! This the most awesome list. I appreciate it a lot.
Some of the questions at the end I was thinking were awkward, but if I'm going to spend eternity with someone, I guess I'd want to know... :D

Dave Johnston said...

You're welcome.

Two things.

For those that save sex for marriage, as we're supposed to do, not having had a frank and mature about the topic before marriage can lead to serious problems for some newly weds.

As for the pornography questions, they're vital. Let me be frank: you should not, under any circumstances, marry (or even agree to marry) someone who is currently addicted to porn. If they've truly repented and put it behind them, then I don't see a problem, but if they're currently battling, then now is not the time.

Both conversations should be had in broad daylight.

- Bro Jo

Mille said...

My cousin's dear wife (who is in heart a big sister to me) told me an interesting one. When their relationship started becoming serious, my cousin asked his then-girlfriend, "What are my weaknesses?" She couldn't come up with anything right then, but as they grew closer she learned to see and accept his flaws. She says that when she could honestly answer his question, she realized she had found "true love."

I'd never heard of that before, but now it seems vital to me - to understand your fiance(e) so well that you see and sympathize with their weaknesses as well as all the traits that infatuate you. Not that I'm experienced, but it seems to me that that kind of understanding is necessary in a marriage.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what your thoughts on chronic illnesses and their effects on a relationship.

I'm a 25-year-old RM who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis shortly after coming home. MS isn't your garden-variety chronic illness (as if there was such a thing); it will eventually prevent me from holding down a job and perhaps confine me to a wheelchair or to bed. Most cases can be managed, but mine is progressing faster than most.

Aside from severely limiting my physical abilities and energy (sometimes it is all I can do to drag myself to work and then back to bed afterwards), it has caused me much worry over how a potential spouse might react to my condition when I tell her. How do I prepare the women I date for this news, and is it reasonable to expect her to eventually assume total care of my physical needs?

Also, I feel that this is a huge liability in my dating life - would you concur? And how would I overcome that obstacle?

Dave Johnston said...

@ Anonymous - What a great question! I'll answer it in a special column this Saturday, March 12th.

God Bless,

- Bro Jo

Anonymous said...

I'll save you the story as to how I came to this thought, but another question that probably should be asked, "What should we do if we find out that a child of ours becomes homosexual?"

Dave Johnston said...

@ Anon 2 - there are lots of great philosophical questions that can be asked, but the "what if" game can go on indefinitely. If that's a big one for you, then by all means, ask it.

- Bro Jo

DerSchwarzhund said...

I have a question-

In your YSA book, it seems as though you'd suggest these things be covered before the big question (and most of these usually will come up on their own if the courtship is long enough); however, if they haven't yet been by the time of the question, should it be cover right away in a blunt discussion before the news travels; or, should it be allowed to come up on it's own?

Dave Johnston said...

A guy shouldn't propose until these things have been discussed. If he brings them up too early in the relationship, the girl should take that as a huge red flag.

If a girl (or guy, I suppose) gets proposed to and doesn't know the answers to these things, the response should be "I love you" (unless you don't) "but I just don't know you well enough to answer that question yet". And then take the next 1-4 months talking about this stuff.

(Don't, I repeat DO NOT, rush through these things. "Yes, let's get married! Oh, by the way, can you take this quick survey?" is not the way to start an engagement. This isn't a checklist, it's a collection of long and thoughtful discussions.)

If you're already engaged and have just discovered that you don't know these things, I think you need to put the wedding (preferably "sealing") out of your head until you get some answers.

I believe marriages should have passion, but the decision to marry needs to be thoughtful and practical.

(While we're on the subject, as you've alluded to, I believe in long courtships and short engagements.)

Good question!

- Bro Jo

Anonymous said...

I have a question. In your opinion, how long is a long courtship? And how short is a short engagement?

Dave Johnston said...

Another great question!

I'll answer it in a special column this Sunday, July 17th!

- Bro Jo

Anonymous said...

As an engaged person myself it's actually really nice to know that I can 'check off' the clear majority of this list anyway. Some of them though I'd never thought of, thanks :)

Havilah said...

What a great list! I really hope your readers take it to heart and use it. My first marriage was a total DISASTER because I was in love with the thought of getting married and pushed everything else (logic and reasoning) aside. The Lord in his wisdom saw fit to remove me from the situation and give me a second chance. My second time around I was more serious and aware that my eternal happiness and future children's lives were at stake. I asked my current husband (and BEST FRIEND) every question I could think of (pretty much your list) TWICE! We even took a young married's institute class together just to make sure we'd covered everything! What a difference it made. Our transition into married life was so smooth and enjoyable and every day for the last 8 1/2 years just keeps getting better!

Keep it up Bro. Jo!

Dave Johnston said...

Thank you for your comments, Havilah.

And congratulations!

- Bro Jo

Anonymous said...

How can you tell if you're just "in love with the thought of getting married" like Havilah said, or if you want to get married because you really love the other person?

Dave Johnston said...

When you're in love you put the other person before yourself.

When you're in love with the idea of getting married, being married is your focus, not the other person's happiness and well being.

Standard Gospel answers apply:

Search, Ponder and Pray.

- Bro Jo

meg said...

Hi I just found your blog through pinterest and know this is an older post but I found this list of questions several years ago. I saved them on my computer with hopes of using them when I became engaged. A couple years after I found the questions that happened. We got in the habit of whenever we didn't have anything to do we'd look over these questions. Some of the questions are more run-of-the-mill typical ones but some of them really made you think. I really enjoyed doing this with my fiance (now husband) and feel like not only did it help us learn more about each other and our future together but it really strengthened our lines of communication. It helped to open up more awkward topics to where we could easily talk about them within our relationship. I've passed this list on to many friends who have started thinking about marriage and have had good response to it.

Dave Johnston said...

Wow! That's a pretty long list!

Thanks for sharing, Meg.

- Bro Jo

Camille said...

I've got to suggest you add a few important questions that don't seem to come up for many couples until they're fighting for a marriage.

1. How were household chores divided between your parents individually and the children when you were a child, & what about their example do you want to copy or change?
2. Which one of us do you expect will manage the finances, and what are your expectations concerning both the monthly budget, and long term financial goals?
3. What are your thoughts on dating after marriage; how often, how necessary, who is responsible for what elements (planning, arranging child care, etc.)?
4. Would you feel comfortable with a weekly relationship counsel (like the missionary companionship inventory), or do you have another plan for marital-issue-recovery?
5. What are your personal health goals, and are you willing to react with compassion if/when my body changes, gets injured, old, and disabled?

Having the answers to these questions worked out beforehand would have spared my husband and I many misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

Anonymous said...

A couple of questions that stem from the last section...
1) As a young woman who grew up living the principles of the gospel and being chaste, how am I really supposed to know what my expectations are regarding sex? Or how "adventurous" I'd want to be when I am not even quite sure what that means?
2) Can you suggest any good LDS-based resources that may help me understand the true purpose of sexual intimacy better? I feel like growing up we were often just told the "don'ts" and about remaining pure, which is great. But I was not really ever talked to frankly about sex and it's benefits to a couple. Now that I'm in a position where I may soon be engaged, I just want to educate myself on these things.

Bro Jo said...

Great Questions!

I'll answer them in a Special Post this Friday, September 25th, 2015!


- Bro Jo

Anonymous said...

How do you are in love with the person you are dating?
I have been told that it just something you know. I am in a position where my boyfriend said "I love you" fairly early on, (about 3 weeks after we were official). I want to tell him that I love him if I do but I'm not sure if I am feeling I love him back or if I just feel bad that I haven't said it yet.

Bro Jo said...

Dear Anon,

I'm tempted to say that if you're not sure you love him, then you don't.

But I guess it's possible that you're really not sure.

So ask yourself these questions:

1. Do you care about him more than you do yourself?

2. How would you feel if you never saw him again? In that scenario, would you regret never telling him that you love him?

3. If someone was going to hurt him or say something bad about hi, would you take a stand?

4. If he needs your help, can he count on you?

5. Most of the time would you rather be with him than by yourself? (Not all of the time, but most.)

I think how you answer those questions will tell you.

- Bro Jo

Mike said...

Hey Bro Jo.

One of the youth I know brought to my attention your list of stuff you need to know before getting married that you posted several years ago That was a pretty nice long list of topics for discussion.

I will tell you one thing. My wife and I (married over 30 years) would not be married if we had to be on the same page in that many areas. We were not even batting 50% agreement on that list and after 2 years of dating had not talked about some of them. You might say we must have a crappy marriage, but it is what we have.

I will tell you another thing. I showed this list to several of my married friends in the ward and it seems that very few people are not in serious disagreement on several of these questions. We agree the list is too long and unrealistic.

I would put another spin on the list of questions. If a young couple can find common ground on half of these questions, they are a better than average match. And there is a way to “cheat” on this test. See, you both agree to disagree on many issues. Only a handful of those questions are true deal breakers for any given couple and people do change for better and for worse. If you really love someone what will you put up with to be with them? Quite a bit? Half that list in my case. Even more in my wife’s case.

Thinking back on real life serious problems, most of those questions are buttercup questions. Other more difficult questions might include:
-How would you handle a spouse having just one affair (including sex) when you have small children? (about 50% do)
-How would you respond to a spouse who joins another church?
-What about the spouse who comes out of the closet and declares they are gay after 15 years and a few children?
- What would you do if your spouse committed a non-violent crime and was sent to prison for 20 years?
-Wayward children? (in a thousand possible ways).
-What about a car accident and permanent severe brain damage, needing full-time nursing care?
-What if a parent left the kids in the hot tub for 3 minutes to take a phone call and one of them drowned?
-Or develops a gambling habit and bankrupts the family?
-Or a substance abuse problem; alcohol, heroin, cocaine, prescription medications?
-How about a spouse who attempts suicide?

These kind of challenges happen all the time and many of your readers are going to have to face the likes of them. (My parents survived three of them).

People change but you as their spouse have little control over the direction of that change. I am now married to a rather random person who I probably wouldn’t even like if I had married someone else and divorced them and met her. I have been beat up pretty thoroughly by life and I am a much more difficult person to put up with or love than I was years ago. There are legitimate reasons why old men (and women) get grumpy. In other words, the areas of disagreement and incompatibility might grow, not shrink.

This has already gotten rather windy but I will tell you one last thing. Young people are having a very hard time finding partners and getting married these days. They already have unrealistic expectations. I don’t think your list is going to help that problem, maybe make it worse. And divorce is on the increase. Finding the perfect partner at the beginning is not the answer.

People need to be more forgiving and tolerant of weaknesses in each other. Those lucky enough to form really happy great marriages should have just a little bit more understanding and gratitude for that blessing and not be as judgmental on those not so blessed, for whatever reason.

Marriage in most cases is more a matter of grit than love or compatibility.

Bro Jo said...

Dear Mike,

Thank you for reading and for your comments.

If I may, here's where I think you go astray: at no point do I say that a couple must be in agreement regarding any of their answers to this list.

It's not a test, my friend.

The list isn't so much about "common ground" as it is about Communication; talking about personal things that are important, and LISTENING to the other person's point of view.

Whether or not something is a "deal breaker" is dependent upon how an individual feels about the topic and the answer given. (You'll note that there are no "right or wrong answers" provided. Because again, well . . . it's not an exam.)

Communication (including understanding how the other person acts, reacts, and communicates - not just the professing of one's own beliefs) is the Key in making any long-term relationship work.

It's a little funny, I think, that at the same time you said the list was too long you also came up with even more questions to ask. I think that's great!

If you look back I think you'll see that the essence of your questions is already in my list. Plus look at this cool thing that happened: in reading the list you came up with your own ideas and questions!

That's perfect.

AND EXACTLY what, IMHO, young people need to be doing as they try to decide whether or not the person they're thinking about marrying is a good fit for them.

In the LDS Church many of our youth think of marriage as if it's just another box to check off on their way to eternal happiness. That isn't a good place to start from.

My goal here is to guide Young Single Adults towards doing a little more due diligence before they make an eternal commitment.

Will it guarantee happiness?


But there's also no way to anticipate everything that could ever come up as two people go through life together. (As I think you illustrate quite well.)

IF you read more of my blog you'll see that I agree with your sentiment that there's "no such thing as 'the one' or a 'perfect match'. I've also said that "Trust is more important than "Love" (which is not to say that Love is not important), that life and the people in it are full of trials, challenges and changes.

All of which it sounds like you agree upon.

I respect that you disagree with the list, but I stand by it and I stand by encouraging couples to communicate.

Communication is the Key!

It's the key to happy relationships, the key to working through all of the difficulties that come our way.

We all get beat up through life. Rare is the individual who lives in the world of "Dancing Trees and Singing Flowers". (I tell young people that a lot here, too.)

I commend you and your parents for your perseverance and hard work!

All the best,

- Bro Jo

PS: One of the BEST things a couple can do to keep from getting, as you said, "grumpy", is to continue courting each other, to keep dating each other. At least once a week if at all possible is what I recommend.

Dating your spouse is a great way to keep the communication going!

Bro Jo said...

Dear Mike,

I was thinking that it might also help you to read through the comments previous to yours.


- Bro Jo