Specific topics and questions to consider — an outline to build on:
Air and Water
–What are the roles of a husband?
–What are the roles of a wife?
This is a separate category because no other topic was so identified in research by Muslims and non-Muslims as a cause of divorce. Huh? Divorce? Yes, couples that have completely different ideas about these roles, and lacked the ability to concede or compromise — they often end their marriages.
“Air and Water” are essential for life, but we hardly ever have to talk about them. You might have additional topics that are “air and water” for you, but these two are different: they will affect everything else. If you are honest with each other now about your expectations, and if you can both breathe easily (accommodate each other), then later on, bi’idhnillah, you will only talk about these roles when you need to clear the air or get through murky waters. You can start the conversation in the abstract, what is the role of “a” husband and “a” wife, but you’re talking about each other.
Bread and Butter
–Finances including expectations of income and spending, who will work, what kind of work/income you would seek or refuse.
–Kids including how many and when, and how to raise them.
–Parents (ie., your kids’ grandparents, bi’idhnillah), other family, friends, socializing.
–Living arrangements including with or without parents and city/neighborhood and expectations of how big and how much.
Unlike “air and water” you can have as many bread and butter topics as you want. All of these things are important, and they may become the subject of arguments in a marriage if you do not discuss your expectations before marriage. But one thing that makes this category different from the others is that all the items are material or external in some fashion. Numbers, sizes, other people, stuff: how much of it do you want, by when, where, and does it even matter to you — assuming the other person has the same answers as you would be a mistake.
If you pay close attention to the discussions you and your potential spouse have during bread and butter topics, you will not only address each other’s expectations, bi ‘idhnillah, but also learn a lot about each other’s character.
For the same reason have conversations about goals and accomplishments, past and future — find out how each of you defines an accomplishment. See how much your goals, expectations, and priorities match with each other.
Note: see “poison pills.” When it comes to any conversation, but especially for a veiled gem, you are not digging for faults, but searching for genuine understanding. Allah is ar Rahman nir Raheem — you can be forgiving and merciful to each other without being judgmental, while thinking seriously about your compatibility.
Anything at all about which you yourself do not care while you speak. Even a noble subject, if you talk about it when you do not care what you or the other person are saying could become ghafla. There is also the disastrous possibility that the other person will see you do not care about the conversation and believe you do not care about them — (perhaps) mistaking your attitude.
Immodest conversations in general. Imagine the two of you were sitting in a room with the woman’s father, and the man’s mother. if you think the topic would cause the mother to look away or the father to pull out a sword, then you’re probably thinking of a topic that should not be discussed. Maybe the problem is only that immodest words are being used to discuss a topic that is permissible for you — so exercise good judgment.
What happened to deen?
The Prophet sull Allaho alayhi wa sallam praised the quality of deen in a future spouse above wealth, beauty, family, and nobility.
Yet, you should realize that finding a religious person is not enough. You should have other things in common before marriage. Do look for a religious spouse, and choose one who is more compatible with you.
And a word of wisdom from past TDCs spoken by multiple shuyukh and advocates: when you search for a religious spouse, ask yourself if she would be happy with your religiosity, too! As Shaykh Yaser puts it, “Would you marry you?” — in this context would you be satisfied with a spouse who was only as religious as you?
Specific sources used in developing this handout: Fiqh of Love and Practimate.com (with Shaykh Yaser Birjas), 10 Conversations You Must Have Before Marriage by Dr. Guy Grenier, 1001 Questions to Ask Before You Get Married by Monica Mendez Leahy, Article posted in the Al Maghrib forums by Rabbi Mordecai Rottman, MA, “Four things to look for in a spouse.”