Not all couples enter a marriage completely confident about every major marital detail they’ll face. That’s natural; making decisions together is part of what being partners is all about. And asking your partner questions (and then really listening to the answers) is a simple way to find out what he or she thinks about standard topics as well as major life issues like children, finance, and intimacy. When it comes to the big stuff, there are questions that can make (or break) a marriage, if the conversation is truthful and thoughtful.

These questions aren’t easy ones to ask, even if you’re comfortable with your partner. Not to mention, you may be particularly anxious about starting a major conversation. After all, if the two of you are completely opposed about a life-changing issue, like whether or not to have a baby, that’s something that could end your marriage, right? It’s true, asking your partner – and yourself – certain questions might lead to deal-breaking answers. But opening up a dialogue now and seeing if there’s room for compromise could be the difference between a marriage that ends with disappointment and unfulfilled dreams – or one that’s stronger than ever. Here are nine questions all couples should ask early in their marriage, lest they want their “I do’s” to become “I don’ts.”

1. Should We Have a Baby?

Ambivalence about children isn’t something to stress about in the very early stages of a relationship. But as you plan your lives together, it’s a detail that needs to be confronted and not put on the back burner.

2. How Many Should We Have?

If you and your partner have always shared the dream of a huge family a la Brangelina (or, conversely, would both prefer to dote on an only child), then congratulations on being on the same page! Either way, it’s best to find out sooner rather than later if you’re at odds about whether or not to have more children.

3. Are You Happy With Where We Live?

City Rat versus Country Mouse. It’s a conflict that’s as old as urban planning. Some couples have a light-bulb moment that leaves them determined to move to the suburbs. Other times they’re at odds because of the various pros and cons. Don’t let this question fester on the back burner (but don’t make any hasty decisions that will leave one of you a very unhappy Mouse.)

4. Do We Have Enough Sex?

5. What If the Next Five Years Are Like the First Five?

It’s a tough question, but if you and your partner think about the next five years of your relationship, it could be an eye-opener. Granted, you might not want everything to stay the same, but envisioning the next five years together is a useful tool. What needs to change? What should stay the same? And are you on the same page?

6. Do We Spend Enough Time Together (and Apart)?

Finding the balance between alone time and time together is tricky, but an important component of any strong, lasting relationship. Balance is the key word here, and finding quality time to spend with your significant other as well as family, friends, and yourself.

7. Are You Willing To See a Couples Counselor?

While some relationship problems are total deal breakers, others are just common issues that need to be worked out. If you’re having troubles and need some outside assistance, a couples counselor makes sense. Is your partner willing to devote time, energy, and money to finding and seeing a marital therapist? And if not, how come?

8. What Are Our Financial Goals?

Talking about personal finance with your significant other can make for a difficult conversation, but it’s a talk you need to have. Are you content to wallow in credit card debt for the rest of your lives? Would the two of you like to save money to buy a little chunk of real estate one day? Start figuring it out now so that you can squirrel some savings away together (or protect yourself from your significant other’s lousy financial habits.)

9. If We Weren’t Together… Would We Be Happier?

Time calls it the one question you should ask your spouse: If we were no longer together, do you think you would be happier? Truly imagining life apart is one scary window to look into but it’s essential to making sure you and your partner are happy walking the same path and forging a life together.

Images: Courtesy of Andrew Malone, Colure Caulfield, Rebecca VC1, Matt, You Me, Bailey Foster, rafa_luque, skedonk, Ken Teegarden, Pedro Ribeiro Simões/Flickr