Before I got married, the church required us to attend an 8-hour, all day, Pre-Cana class. The concept of the class is to force couples to have honest conversations about serious topics. By having those conversations, before you got married, you’d be better prepared for marriage and thus would have a higher likelihood of having a successful one.
Let me set the scene a bit. I sat a table of 10, with 4 other couples. Beyond my table of 10, I believe there were 5 – 7 other tables in the room. There was a couple who facilitated the discussion. We were given a workbook to use. A number of topics were in the book. The format was for the facilitators to explain the topic and why it matters. Each person was given 10 – 15 minutes to answer the questions individually and then there was time for you to discuss the questions with your future spouse.
While I don’t have a copy of my Pre-Cana paperwork, there were 2 topics that I remember discussing.
- Children: Let’s start with do you want children? If so, how many? How do you plan to raise them? Will religion be part of that upbringing? So forth and so on. You’d think this would be a relatively easy conversation. After all, how could you get engaged without discussing this important topic. But, I can tell you, there were people who had never discussed this. One couple, at our table, was so far off in their answers, they got into a fight. If memory serves me right, the female half wanted 4 children and the male half of the relationship wanted 0. Now think about that for a second. If you’re debating between 2 or 3 kids, cool. Even 1 or 2. But, 4 vs 0?!
- Finances: Among the many questions in this topical area, was a real gem, that ignited a fight at our table, that was bad, they were asked to leave the room. They never came back. The question at hand was fairly straightforward: how will your finances be divided up? Will you have a joint-account where everything is pooled together or separate accounts with pre-allocated “things” for each person to pay/budget for or would you have separate accounts and a joint account for shared expenses, like a mortgage? I’ve always been a joint-account guy, as was my future spouse. For us, was this was a fairly basic question. But, for this couple it was not so simple. The female half assumed/answered, “joint-account.” The male half, picked separate accounts. She made it clear that part of why she was marrying him was his paycheck. His explanation for his answer was quite sensible. He claimed she spent far too much money on bags and shoes. She was able to do that because of the subsidization she was receiving from her parents. He had no interest in funding her shoe and bag habit.
I can’t speak to the merits or statistical value of Pre-Cana. I don’t have facts or figures. But, I can say the concept of asking and answering tough questions isn’t limited to the idea of marriage. Personally, there was more to apply from that class in my professional life than there was in my personal life. Asking tough questions and having answers when they’re asked of you, is not always enjoyable, but it is incredibly helpful. When we skirt around an issue, we don’t get to full resolution. Here’s a small set of tough questions you should feel comfortable asking and be comfortable answering:
- What’s the next role you want?
- How quickly do you expect a promotion?
- I don’t feel I’m fairly compensated. I believe $X would be more in line with my value. Do you agree and if so, when can we adjust my compensation?
Over the years I’ve definitely come to see the value in asking and answering tough questions. I’ve also seen the problems that arise from moving the goalposts. For example, let’s take the couple at my table who disagreed about how many children to have. What if the answers were originally 2 and 2, but then a year into the marriage, one of them changed their mind and no longer wanted any? That’s a radical change. How would you handle that? In a business world, what happens if you went from agreeing to have someone on your team move to an international office, only to have them back out at the last minute?
Our answers to tough questions will change over time. That’s normal. Time shapes our views. The difference though between changing an answer and moving the goalposts, is all about perception. When we provide a dramatic change in an answer, unannounced and without prior “warning”, it will feel like the goalposts have moved. But, if we have constant dialogue about the things that matter most, we don’t feel like the goalposts moved. We aren’t blindsided. We view it as something that was going to happen, given all the previous discussions pointed to this change.
From time to time, I do wonder if those two couples ever ended up getting married or if the distance between their answers was to great to overcome. Either way, the value in being forced to confront and discuss the answers to tough questions, can’t be overstated.