You know your partner is the right one to marry when you love them, are willing to make sacrifices for their happiness, they are willing to make sacrifices for your happiness, and you have thoroughly and exhaustively discussed and considered the following list of items which frequently lead to marital strife and divorce.
Finances. How do you view money? Spend money? Save money? What are your goals, expectations, habits? How do you feel about debt? How much debt do you each currently have? How will that impact your marital life? Finances is a huge source of stress on a relationship. Be on the same page.
Family planning and parenting. Kids / no kids? How many? When? What to do if you have an oops pregnancy? How would you handle infertility? How do they feel about adoption? How do they view division of labor in parenting? How would they discipline?
Household labor and standard of cleanliness. How much dirt, clutter, or messiness are they willing to tolerate vs how much you are willing to tolerate? If you feel you do a little bit more than you should now, that will become a LOT more than you should after you have kids. Make sure you and your partner are on the same page here because it does not get better and usually gets worse.
Religion and politics. You don’t have to be in perfect alignment, but you do need to be able to respect one another’s views and logic. People’s religion and politics do change over time, but they tend to get more extreme not less. Look into the future to see how life will look in this area especially if you have kids. It’s one thing to agree to disagree before kids, but it’s quite a different matter to watch your partner teach your child things you disagree with.
Extended family expectations. How close are you to your family? How close is your partner to their family? How do you each feel about each other’s families? How do your families feel about you and your partner? Will you be cool seeing these people for every major holiday for the rest of your life? How will you handle elderly parents who need assistance? Take a look at any of the toxic family subreddits to see just how much havoc the inlaws can wreck on an otherwise happy marriage.
Careers. How important is your career to you? Your partner’s to them? Who will sacrifice in this area if one of you needs to move for a major promotion or opportunity? Does your job require you live in a specific area? How do you feel about living abroad for a while? Does one of you want to be a stay at home parent? How do you each feel about that? What if one of you has to stay home because you can’t afford childcare? How will you handle that? How will division of labor change? Does your partner respect your career even if you don’t earn as much? Would you respect your partner for earning less? Wage inequality can do weird things to power dynamics in marriage. It can lead to lack of respect or a feeling of superiority or inferiority.
Sex and fidelity. You need similar sex drives. If one person feels pressured for sex all the time while the other feels sexually frustrated all the time, it will kill your relationship. Be on the same page from the start. Settle into the relationship to get past the honeymoon phase where you boink like bunnies to see what your real sex drive and sexual needs are. You need to be able to discuss sex candidly without embarrassment or shame. Fidelity goes beyond affairs. How do you feel about outside sexual influences? Discuss porn, online chats, “gone wild” content, flirting, dancing, close relationships with people you’re attracted to outside of your marriage. Everyone’s line here is different. You need to know what exactly will be hurtful for your partner, and your partner needs to know what will be hurtful to you. Does it bother you when your partner looks at other people with sexual desire? Does it bother them when you do? Discuss your boundaries thoroughly. Really think about anything that’s bothering you in this area because it will not change when you get married. People have this idea that their partner will “fully commit” to them and stop any wandering or flirting once married, but that’s rarely the case. People are who they are. Decide if you can live with who your partner is.
Communication. Does your partner make you feel good about yourself? Do you share a sense of humor or at least respect each other’s senses of humor? Do you handle problems as a team? Do they “fight” fair? Are arguments productive? Do they listen to your side and really consider what you say, or are they set on “winning” every argument? Communication problems are like a magnifying glass for the original issue. If you don’t communicate well and kindly, you will drive a wedge in your relationship. If the communication problems are on your end, fix this about yourself before getting into any relationship.
Hobbies and leisure time. What are your expectations? How much money is appropriate to spend on hobbies? Do you share at least one interest in common that you can do as a couple? Do you respect your partner’s hobbies? How will your leisure time change with marriage? With children? A mismatch in this area can leave you feeling alone or abandoned. It can leave you feeling disrespected and belittled if your partner is the one who doesn’t respect or support your interests. People’s hobbies and interests change over time, but how passionate they are about their current hobbies and interests generally stays constant. If your partner spends 20 hours a week on hobbies now, they will always want to spend 20 hours a week on hobbies even if those hobbies change. Kids can really magnify an imbalance in this area especially if one partner is constantly off enjoying themselves while the other partner gets stuck at home with the kids.
Red flags. Is there anything bothering you? Does your partner drink a little too much? Treat wait staff a a tad poorly? Drive aggressively? Defer to you on everything? Put their family before you? Spend money recklessly? Tease you a little too pointedly? Push your boundaries? Sulk when you say no? Make you feel guilty? Pick arguments over inconsequential stuff? Blow hot and cold? Whatever it is that gives you that little check in your gut, listen to it. Analyze it. Take your time to watch that element closely and decide if you can live with it for the rest of your life.
You will grow and change over time and so will your spouse, but if you start on the same page in these areas and maintain good communication, you will greatly increase your odds of growing together in the same direction. Those 80 year old couples who’ve been married 60 years and still hold hands in the park are still together because they walked the same path side by side every day of their lives. If you don’t even start out on the same path, how can you stay on it?