Recently, I watched a newlywed couple hilariously (and, often tragically) fall victim to the complications of a rushed marriage on HBO’s satire, The White Lotus. While on their honeymoon in Hawaii, the wife begins to learn that her husband isn’t who she thinks (or hopes) he is and that, maybe, she was swept off her feet by his money, looks, and charm — and ignored all the red flags when they were dating.
This is not uncommon in the real world.
Couples have an obsession with getting married and then figuring things out. If, indeed, there are things to figure out, don’t get married yet! It seems simple enough.
Let’s take a look at some red flags you should be aware of and how to take care of them — before you get married.
1. Lack of Family Boundaries
Even as adults, your partner may still cling to their family in unhealthy ways, or vice versa. Typically, the issues boil down to either money, independence, or both.
Reliance on Family Money
A common red flag is when your partner’s income and livelihood come from their family’s wealth or business. In this scenario, the family may claim the right and responsibility to determine how money is spent in your marriage.
For example, because they pay the credit card bill, the parents could question some of your purchases. Why’d you buy that handbag over a less expensive one? Can you consult with us before buying something over $1,000? They may even meddle in what school your child should attend since they’re paying for tuition. The list here could be endless.
Bottom line: If you follow the money and it leads to your partner’s family, be prepared to get unsolicited advice or direction on how that money is spent. Plus, don’t be surprised if the family wants your partner to draft a prenup, so make sure you know exactly what a prenuptial agreement is and how to make it work for you.
Depending on Parents for Answers
Does your partner habitually call on their parents as a lifeline before making decisions? Do they summon their folks to serve as judges to your arguments? Though it’s healthy for your partner to get advice from outside sources, it’s not a good sign if your partner can’t move forward without their parent’s approval or help.
Your partner’s lack of self-confidence and self-reliance here will rear its ugly head in marriage. Big decisions like having children and home-buying will be done by committee. Your partner may run off to their parent’s house any time a scuffle becomes too overwhelming. The marriage will feel less about what’s best for the two of you and more about what other family members want.
2. Communication Issues
Talking through problems and challenges is a foundational piece of healthy relationships. If you’re hitting dead ends while dating or engaged, don’t expect that to change when you’re married! Here are a few communication-related red flags to look out for from your partner:
- Shuts down when having tough, emotional conversations
- Runs away from, minimizes, or completely ignores conflict
- Searches and finds ways to avoid responsibility (and places the blame on you or others)
- Continually brings family into your relationship tussles
- Lies or distorts the truth
Let’s say your partner is fine with discussing most topics, but balks when it comes to money. This is a huge red flag because, in California and most other states, entering into marriage is not just a legal contract, it’s also a financial one.
So if you’re getting the silent treatment or feel unclear about your partner’s views on money and current financial state, then proceed with caution. Marriage, by itself, isn’t the solution to financial woes — you have to rely on excellent communication and planning as well! Here’s a guide to talking money with your partner to help you get this conversation started.
BEFORE getting married, what conversations about MONEY should you have with your partner?
Use this guide to discuss budgets, assets, debts, goals, joints bank accounts and more.Get your free guide
Do you want kids? Does your partner want children? When? How many? These are simple questions that all too often get unanswered before couples get married. Please don’t ever come to a compromise on this issue (or other issues, for that matter). Children need parents that truly want and plan to have them. If you don’t see eye to eye on this topic, don’t get married until you do.
On Religion & Traditions
Interfaith relationships and marriages are beautiful. They deserve support and love from families and the society around them. However, make sure you’ve talked through what it means to be an interfaith couple and how to help each other succeed as one. Here are a few questions to ask:
- What holidays will you celebrate together and/or apart?
- Are there any rules or traditions I need to know about? (e.g. covering hair, adding a mezuzah)
- What faith will the kids adopt?
- What are signs of respect I can learn? What signs of disrespect can I avoid?
- Who can I contact to learn more about your religion?
Don’t skip these conversations before getting married. If your partner is dodgy about answering the questions above, consider it a red flag about his devotion to the relationship or potentially hidden concerns about your relationship being accepted by their family or community.
3. Lack of Autonomy
A strong union is composed of two healthy individuals who come together and make the relationship even stronger. So what are red flags when it comes to individuality? On one hand, it’s a bad sign when your partner is generally prohibitive of you doing things on your own. On the other hand, look out for when your partner is too dependent on you for their happiness.
On Trust and Self-Determination
Your partner should support and encourage your personal goals and interests along with those that you share as a couple. This not only shows they care about your independent journey, but that they trust you and your intentions.
Having said that, here are a few warning signs to look for that your partner may exhibit:
- Doesn’t want you to take part in recreational activities unless they’re included
- Doesn’t show any interest or ask about new hobbies or interests
- Assumes what your role will be in the marriage (e.g. you stay home and watch the kids)
- Calls or texts often when you are not together
- Demands access to your passwords and direct messages
What if your partner’s clingy? What if they want to be around you all the time? At first, this magnetism may seem romantic and sweet, but stay alert! These may be signs of codependency, where your partner shows or says that they don’t feel happy unless you’re with them. In a way, they’re addicted to you and the relationship!
In this case, your partner completely lacks autonomy and you’ll be responsible for keeping them afloat mentally and emotionally. Look out for these signs:
- Doesn’t respect your boundaries
- Spending time or money exorbitantly to impress you or win you back
- Sacrificing their personal health to impress you or win you back
- Sacrificing relationships with other people to be with you more often
- Exhibiting “passive-aggressive” behavior
Please note that, in some cases, there can be serious mental or emotional issues that need to be treated, so please seek professional help if talking things out simply isn’t enough.
Solution: Get on the Same Page
The truth is, I’ve seen some couples who know about each other’s red flags, yet still get married anyway. What really matters is that both you and your partner get on the same page before the wedding.
If your husband gets money from his parents, but you understand this and are completely OK with them being involved in your finances as a married couple, then more power to you! But if you’re not OK with it, don’t ignore the issue hoping that it will go away after you tie the knot. Start talking about this issue now and often — until you get on the same page.
Don’t oversimplify marriage as a purely romantic phenomenon willed and powered only by love, and completely ignore the financial, cultural, and familial implications at stake. Marriage is wonderful, but to be successful, you and your partner will have to exercise hard work, honesty, openness, collaboration — and love!
If you’re serious about getting married in the future, a great place to start is going through this guide to talking about money with your partner. If you’re planning to pop the question or are already engaged, reach out to me — I’d love to help you create a custom prenup for your marriage, so you and your partner have an opportunity to start your journey together — and on the same page.