Atty. Rami Hourani
In the Philippines, we require the impossible to end a marriage. We task our lawyers with proving [legally] that your marriage didn’t happen. You have photos you say? Didn’t happen. All your friends were in attendance? Didn’t happen. You paid an uncomfortable amount for a Same-Day Edit? An elaborate ruse.
Kidding aside, family laws in the Philippines make the possibility of a “clean break” very difficult to obtain. It is unfortunate that lawyers are usually the last station along the train route of an unhappy marriage. We have the experience of seeing failed marriages play out over and over again and so much of our knowledge is useless to a couple who decides that ending it is the only way forward. This article will try to impart some of that knowledge in a way that is useful to people looking to get married.
I’ve phrased them as questions that a couple can put to each other. My hope is that at least a few couples engage in this exercise of “cross-examining” each other and the success of their relationship be likelier for it.
“What does marriage mean to you?”
Surprisingly, many people see marriage as just something to be done. It is just the natural progression in a relationship much thought for the obligations it entails. It cannot and should not be seen as just the “next thing” that a couple should do because that is frankly very dangerous. It ignores so much of what the marital obligations entail. I’ll get into what it entails the further along I get in this article.
“How many children do you want? When do you want them?”
Inevitably, the topic of children is going to come up between people who plan to marry each other. I’m not saying that you have to decide in advance exactly how many children you plan to have. I’m also not saying every child be a happy accident. I am saying however, that you and your spouse to be decide on a rough number and a timeframe. Not because you will follow that agreement to the letter but more just so that when plans change and you have less or more children then intended you can have an intelligent conversation as to how and why things might have turned out different.
“How do you view sex?”
Sex is a difficult topic to discuss in the Philippines. It is frowned upon in conversation. It is discussed only academically during education. And lastly, our collective approach to it is deprivation.
Marriage is one of the most restrictive things to sex. It is the public commitment to only have sex with one person for the rest of your life. In a society that has made sex and sexuality just another expression, it is natural that people will struggle with that dictate. This is why it becomes very important that you know how your partner views sex. Specifically, sex with only you for the rest of their life. Additionally, if you or your partner have engaged in sexual relations or have previous sexual partners are you fine with that? or do either of those things (or how they were undertaken) make you uneasy?
“How do you handle money? How could we begin to handle it together?”
Money is another one of those things that we know can cause so much trouble in a relationship but nonetheless still trips up many couples. It’s not because of some inherent defect in married couples, its really more that we as a people don’t really have a good tradition around money. Now there are many ways that money can cause strife in a marriage and that could be the subject of its own video but for our purposes I’ll briefly mention two of the broadest ways. The first is not having enough money. There is little a lawyer can do for you here except to advise frugality. The second, which could eventually lead to the costly intervention of a lawyer, is when one of the spouses exercises all the control over the finances of a couple.
“When you’re mad or upset, what are you like?”
Disagreement is a fact of life. Where do you send your children to school? Where to live? This car or that car? Do we raise the kids as Catholics or Christians? These are just some of the questions that you are going to have to answer as a couple. The problem in marriage though is that there is no tie breaker, there are just the two of you and so you are going to have to agree that certain things are one spouses responsibility and another set of things will be the other spouses responsibility.
“I know your religion, but what does it mean to you?”
Religion is a difficult question for many people to answer on their own. It is far more difficult to struggle with these questions as a couple.
The trap filipinos fall into is using religion as a rule of thumb for other aspects of a persons belief system. “Ah, he is Christian, so he is like X”/”He is Muslim, so he must be Y” In these homogenous groups though there exists variation in the beliefs of the individual. I suggest that you really have an intimate discussion with your partner about what their faith means to them so that you can know who and what you’re getting before committing to them for the rest of your life.
“Do you message old flames on Social Media? Do they message you?”
There is nothing more corrosive to the continued existence of a marriage than the prevalence of social media. Before, affairs, consorts, trysts had to be conducted in something that approached the public view. If it was to be kept secret it could only be via letter correspondence or telegraph. The proliferation of technology has only increased the opportunity and ease of infidelity. The problem that it poses is that punching away a response on your phone does not feel like cheating but it leads to cheating. It’s important then to talk about what is and isn’t permissible in cyberspace because this is the area where you will have the least control over how they conduct themselves.
“Do you ever struggle with feelings for the same sex?”
As a lawyer, you learn quickly that you are not supposed to respond when people reveal intimate details about their lives. There are few things that will test this professional decorum more though than when someone reveals to you that their marriage is a sham and that they have spent all their time alive as a closeted homosexual. The seperations that follow thereafter are painful affairs. The spouse questions their sexual competence and a long series of bitter questions for themselves and their partner. Of all the questions, this is the one that you will likely have the most confidence in knowing you do not need to ask. However, if you are in the minority for whom this question stirs a whiff of doubt, maybe broach the topic with your SO.
“How do you treat family? How does your family treat family?”
Everyone has been the plus one at a family event like a wedding or a reunion. At such affairs, when everyone is on best behavior, one could be forgiven for assuming that maybe this family has no issues. Let me be the millionth person to assure you, every family has issues. Don’t assume how your SO/Fiancé treats you while courting you is the way that he will treat you once you become a fixture in his/her life.
People don’t treat their family like they do the people outside it. When you marry your SO, you will become their family. For that reason, you should understand what and how that might change your relationship.
“If you wanted to show me love, how would you do it?”
Just as important as thinking about how we expect it to go wrong, we should devote just as much attention to how we expect it to go right. If you are the type for whom quiet dinners are the ultimate experience, then maybe you aren’t the best to pair with the social butterfly whose idea of a good time is a party.
Don’t think that somehow an unsatisfactory answer from your partner to one or some of the above questions means you shouldn’t marry them. It just means that you should give their answer a little thought. If you made it this far, you might think to yourself that some of these questions are just silly. However, each of these silly questions could have saved someones marriage.
Thank you for reading my article. I sincerely hope you never need my advice!
Atty. Hourani practices law in Cebu City, Philippines. If you would like to set an appointment with him, you may reach him here.