What do you want in your marriage? What will your relationship look like in two years? In five? In ten? What will be the same? What will be different? Make a plan and write it down. Periodically review and update it.
Do you want kids? Kids decrease marital satisfaction, and they also bring about unseen aspects of yourself and each other (because nothing in your life so far has called them out of you). If you don’t want kids, be clear about that (especially before you get married). If you do want kids, when do you want them? Is one of you going to stay at home with them? Often women feel they have to be supermom: work full-time and care for kids, and juggle everything. That causes a lot of stress and resentment, and needs to be discussed between you as to how to share the load equally. Other women want to stay at home. Some women need to work as well as be a mom; there is drive, ambition, and intellectual needs to be met.
There are a lot of couples who have had to go through infertility treatments to have a family. There might be differing wants and needs about staying home vs. working after all the effort to have a child. There is not a right answer to any of these scenarios. But set expectations together.
I’ve seen moms (sorry women) who say they want the father to be involved, but actually become maternal gatekeepers to his participation. This may be subtle or overt, such as not trusting him to pick up the kids on time, criticizing his parenting style (kids need both styles of how moms and dads are); holding the reins tightly. It’s not actually good for your marriage or the kids. Talk about these issues.
Who will take on what chores? Once your partner has agreed to take them on, don’t coach or tell them how to do it. Just say thanks and show appreciation. No one wants to feel that s/he’s not good enough.
Who will plan your vacations and dates, and how often will they happen?
How much will you each work? What career path are you on? What if one (or both) of you wants to change careers along the way? How will money be handled during that transition? When will you retire? What will you do after retirement?
Money. Ah, money. A huge topic to most people. What will make you safe with money together? What will make you feel unsafe? Money can lead to a power imbalance. How will you handle that?
In-laws. How do you want to handle in-laws? Will they stay at your home? If so, for how long? Does each of you have the same responsibilities regardless of whose parents come? Or does it change? Do you visit your in-laws? Do you stay with them? In-laws are often an area that causes a lot of harm between couples. There are cultural issues to deal with. Talk it through.
Whatever goals and expectations you set need to be revisited as your life changes. It doesn’t matter what goals and expectations you set; it only matters that you do. Make sure they’re explicit, and that you both understand them the same way (i.e., you each come to the marriage with the filters of your growing up and previous relationships).
Once you marry, your primary commitment is now to your beloved. If you treat each other that way, it’s likely many pitfalls will be avoided.
If you’ve already been together a long time, sit down and set your goals and expectations now. Don’t wait any longer.
If you want to know what topics are important for setting goals and expectations, see