Maybe it’s the cold weather—or all that food that comes with the holidays—that makes Americans want to snuggle up with their significant other on a more permanent basis: December is the most popular month to get engaged.
In fact, Thanksgiving through Valentine’s Day is considered the height of engagement season. While love is in the air during the holidays—and, surprise surprise, love is cited as the top reason couples marry, according to the Pew Research Center—research also suggests successful marriages can hinge on more mundane concerns, such as shared interests and sharing of household chores.
When is engagement season?
December is the most popular month for popping the question, according to a survey from Brides magazine, and 36% of proposals happen between December and March. Another survey found that about 40% of engagements occur between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day. Specifically, Christmas Day is the day when the most engagements occur, followed by Valentine’s Day and Christmas Eve.
Diamond jewelry sales follow a similar pattern, peaking around Christmas, Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day. (The fourth peak? Mother’s Day.)
While we seem to be in a marrying mood around the holidays, it’s important to know some things about your potential spouse before you walk down the aisle. “It’s been said that both 90% of your happiness or 90% of your misery are determined by who you marry,” said Lesli Doares, a marriage coach in the Raleigh, North Carolina, area. “So choosing well is the most important decision anyone can make.”
Before you get married, here are some important topics for you and your partner to discuss.
6 things to know before you get married
With the average divorce costing more than $15,000—not to mention the mental anguish that comes along with it—it pays to understand some things before you exchange vows.
1) How you’ll handle finances
One-quarter of millennials said finances are the top source of tension in their households, according to a 2018 Bank of America survey. How will you split everyday and household expenses? Will you combine bank accounts, keep everything separate or create a hybrid model of the two?
“One of the things I think is really dangerous right now is couples who keep their money completely separate,” Doares said. “If you get married, legally and financially you’re joined. If your partner racks up a bunch of debt, you’re on the hook for it.”
There are many facets to finances: How will you handle big purchases? (Will you have to clear purchases over $X amount with each other?) Does your partner have good credit? Do they owe thousands in student loans? Are they a saver or a spender?
“I know couples to this day that aren’t married because they can’t agree on what they’re going to do with their money,” said Susan Trombetti, a matchmaker and CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking. “They don’t know how they’re going to handle their money together as a couple.”
2) How you’ll approach religion
Forty-seven percent of all married adults say sharing religious beliefs with your spouse is very important for a successful marriage, according to Pew Research data. Are you a devout Catholic and your significant other is Jewish? How will you celebrate holidays together? If you have children, how will you raise them?
“That’s not to say that people from different religions couldn’t have a wonderful and loving relationship,” said Marisa Cohen, a relationship scientist and coach. “But if somebody is incredibly religious, church every Sunday, and the other person doesn’t share their beliefs, if they decide to have children down the road, it can lead to marital discord.”
3) Whether you want children
Fertility rates are declining, and more couples are now citing the high cost of child care in their choice to have fewer children, according to a 2018 New York Times survey. Do you want to have a family? How many kids do you envision having?
“It’s amazing how many people do not ask that question, mostly because I think they’re afraid of the answer,” Doares said. “Many other things, you can negotiate, but you either have children or you don’t. There’s not a whole lot of middle ground.”
Would you consider adoption? If you have kids, is one of you expected to stay home? (Does one of you want to stay home?) Or will you be a dual-career household? Another thing to pay attention to is your partner’s relationship with their family. “We will tend to raise children the way we were raised, and families can be very problematic,” Doares said.
4) How disagreement and conflict are handled
The Gottman Institute names criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling the “four horsemen” that can predict the end of a relationship. Have you fought with your significant other? How do they handle it? “You have people who avoid disagreements and conflict like the plague,” Doares said. “They pretend. They hide. But it gets worse, the longer it’s postponed.”
For some relationship experts, this is why it’s important to be with someone through at least four seasons before you marry them. You need to be aware of how they handle problems. “It’s easy to marry someone when you’re on a vacation all the time and life is grand,” Trombetti said. “But when you have sickness or problems with your children, you want somebody that’s going to be there for you and go the distance. That’s when somebody’s true character is going to emerge.”
5) How involved extended family will be
Fights over relatives is sixth on the list of top causes of marital strife, according to a 2018 British survey. Does your partner like their parents? Do you? How involved are they going to be in your lives, and are you OK with that? Ditto to the rest of the extended family.
“If your spouse talks to their parents five times a day, what’s that about?” Doares said. “The children of helicopter parents are now adults and the parents haven’t stopped being helicopter parents.” In other words, it’s something to watch for.
Similarly, how do they treat your family? Is your partner nice to your parents? Their treatment of your loved ones can speak volumes. “I had a client who said, after his divorce, that his mom said she’d never been treated so badly in her life as how his ex-wife had treated her,” Trombetti said.
6) How well do you know each other?
Are you completely comfortable with your partner and who they say they are? If you have any reservations at all, try to determine where your unease is coming from. Are there aspects of their personality you’re hoping will change? Does the romance feel too quick?
If you’re apprehensive, consider using a people search tool to try to check out their digital footprint and public records. “There are people that marry somebody and they’re not who they think they are,” Trombetti said. “It happens. Con artists are really good at not tripping your gut instinct at first.”
Dating scams may be more common than you think. One woman, Trombetti said, discovered that she was about to marry a man who had nine different identities, and she wasn’t even marrying him under his real one. “You can run background checks on people in most states,” Trombetti said. “And regardless, you can check public records.”
While a whirlwind romance can feel exciting, it’s clear that taking the time to really know your partner has its advantages. Being miles apart on the important stuff—money, religion, children or communication—can really affect your relationship, and not for the better. Before you get married, have conversations with your partner to make sure you’re on the same page about the big stuff.