Talk before you leap

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 July, 2007, 12:00am

The proposal has been made, the answer is yes and now you're both eagerly planning the big day. But before you take that journey down the aisle, consider the statistics: divorce is on the rise in Hong Kong, increasing to 14,873 in 2005 from 9,404 in 1995. One in every three marriages will end in divorce.

But there are ways to boost your chances of living happily ever after. Experts say couples who begin their lives together by talking frankly about issues such as sex, money, expectations, worries and even humdrum practicalities are more likely to handle problems encountered in marriage.

'Most people don't talk about things before they get married because they're in this place of romantic bliss where they feel like they complete one another,' says Hong Kong marriage counsellor Julie Gallinat.

'But I think [asking the right questions] makes the difference between blindly walking into marriage and knowing what you're getting into. People who do this early in their relationship are smart. It means they're not blindsided by what happens in every relationship, which is that the romance dies to a certain degree and struggle ensues.'

Marie and Tom found out the hard way how important it is to communicate before getting married. Both in their mid-30s, they're now in the process of getting divorced after six years of marriage.

'We married too quickly, I guess,' says Marie. 'We'd known each other 18 months and thought we knew everything there was to know. There were things we weren't too keen on, but we thought they'd go away or we chose to ignore them.

'I like to be organised and always have everything planned. Tom's a very spontaneous person. He does things on the spur of the moment. I loved that about him at first.

'But he behaved like that all the time. I'd get a phone call saying he wasn't coming home because he was on his way to Macau with a friend. Or he'd say, 'Let's take today off'.

'He had the same attitude to money. He'd just splash out and not worry about the consequences. I can't do that and we'd often end up in rows over money. I was always telling him to grow up and he was always telling me to lighten up.

'If we'd talked about what we wanted out of our life, maybe we could have worked something out or we may never have married.'

Here are some of the questions couples should think about:

How many children?

Don't assume that your partner wants the same as you - or that they'll change their minds. There are some men out there who mean it when they say that they don't want children. Likewise, not every woman hears her biological clock ticking .

Another big question to address in Hong Kong, where raising one child can run into millions of dollars: How many can we afford?

Should we go Dutch?

Money is at the root of many arguments in a marriage. You need to be clear from the start about the lifestyle your shared income will allow. There's also the important question of bank accounts: Should you open a joint account or keep separate accounts and share costs?

Where's the will?

According to will writer Janet Cribb, you should definitely make a will before you get married.

Cribb of says there are consequences to not doing so. 'In Hong Kong, if a husband dies intestate, the wife doesn't get everything. She'll receive a limited amount known as the statutory legacy and the rest is divided among surviving members of his family and vice versa.'

Career opportunities

A career may be more important to one partner or equally to both. How much are you prepared to sacrifice for your partner's ambitions? Would you be willing to leave if their job took them out of Hong Kong?

The in-laws

Of course they love you and will come in handy for babysitting, but interfering in-laws can hinder more than they help. Set your boundaries early - and, if you dare, let your parents know how you feel.

Love me, love my dog

This is an issue on par with children - and some animal lovers take it more seriously. If you get divorced, who'll get custody of Rover?

How's your health?

There may be health issues you need to address - even if it's just a niggle such as your partner's smoking. Mention it now, because changing expectations can lead to conflict.

Let's talk about sex

Almost every consuming passion will eventually fade. Talk about what you expect from your sex life. Discuss preferences, fantasies and, most importantly, how you both feel about fidelity.

Should old acquaintances be forgot?

You need to be clear about what role your friends will play in your married life and how you'll spend your free time: together, alone or separately with others?

If you have worries about friends and boys' or girls' nights out, try to get to the root of your concerns. Jealousy of a spouse's friends is a real problem for some couples - and often not one they consider before getting married.

Will you still love me when I'm 64?

Hopefully, the answer will be yes, but take this one a bit deeper and ask your partner how they picture your life together in the future? If someone can't envisage the long-term, it could be a warning sign.

How do you feel about counselling?

It isn't just for couples in trouble, says Richard Gee of the Resource Counselling Centre. Young couples who undergo premarital counselling do so for a variety of reasons.

'Sometimes it's fear and to be sure they're not making a crazy mistake,' says Gee. 'Sometimes it's because of a problem already there such as niggling things that recur - arguments out of the blue or habits that don't seem to be changing.'

Gee recommends that couples talk about issues before marriage and carry on the conversation afterwards to avoid arguments and build a lasting relationship.