The simple exercise every couple should do before getting engaged.

A couple of weeks ago my boyfriend and I did an exercise with our therapist.

“You plan on being together long-term, right?” he asked. 

We nodded. 

“Good, then this exercise is going to help ensure you’re on the same page as one another, something most couples never do.”

One by one our therapist had my boyfriend and I go through a list of topics. We talked about what we expected our lives to look like in several years, according to each topic. On top of that, we included how we expected our partner to be part of that.

It was an exercise in talking about expectations. Often, people have expectations for their partner and relationship but never talk about them - which causes a lot of damage without either person realising it.

With each unfulfilled expectation, resentment grows.

Distance builds.

Love is lost.

Sometimes, we end up creating our own pain through expectations.

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But on the bright side, the solution is simple: talk about your expectations. I know that is easier said than done, but that’s why this exercise where you take the time to talk about your expectations regarding each topic is so helpful.

Ok, I hear you: cut to the good stuff. What are the topics? What questions should I be asking?

Let’s get into them:

Finance expectations.

I’m starting off with the topic that’s most taboo. For whatever reason, we’ve created a lot of awkwardness when it comes to talking about money. Yet it’s one of the main reasons that couples get divorced.

Instead of your relationship silently falling into ruins over unspoken finances, here are some questions to ask your partner.

  • Will you split bills and expenses evenly?
  • Who will handle paying the bills?
  • Will you discuss purchases? What about big purchases?
  • Do you plan to share your money or keep your accounts separate?
  • Will you help each other pay off your debts?
  • Do you both plan to work well into the future?

Family expectations.

Again, this exercise is for couples who are serious and plan to share their lives together. With that being said, one of those aspects is creating a family. But while you may think that will look one way, it could look a totally different way for your partner.

So better to be on the same page. Ask each other:

  • What does family mean to you?
  • How often do you plan to see each other’s families? What role do you want them to play in your life?
  • Do one of you want to eventually move closer to your family?
  • Will you take care of each other’s parents when they’re older?

Community expectations.

Something that a lot of couples don’t consider is that having a life outside of the relationship actually helps the relationship. By having hobbies, friends, and a support system that’s not solely revolving around your partner, you feel happier and more like yourself.

With that said, talking about community expectations is a must.

  • How do you both want to be involved in the community?
  • Does volunteering matter to you?
  • Is either of you religious? Do you foresee religion playing a big role in your lives?
  • Do you want to be more private in your town or open with the people you interact with?

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Support expectations.

While having a support system outside of your relationship is healthy, it’s perfectly healthy to want your partner to also support you. But, again, that can look different for each individual.

Talking about how you’ll support each other during hard times will clear the air and set healthy expectations now, rather than when you’re in the thick of struggling.

  • How do you want your partner to support you? How do you not want them to support you?
  • What will you do when someone insults your partner in public? What if it’s one of your family members?
  • Will you always have each other’s backs in public?
  • What are some practical ways your partner can support you?

Children expectations.

And now comes another big topic: kids. It’s better to be on the same page about this topic now than years into your partnership. Whether you decide to have kids or not, that’s a big choice.

Don’t assume your partner will agree with you if you haven’t talked about kids.

  • Do you want kids? If so, how many? If so, when?
  • Does either of you have specific ways you want to raise your kids?
  • Will you both take time off work to raise them? Or just one of you?
  • How will you discipline your kids?
  • What will you do if one of you can’t physically have kids?

Stress expectations.

Another great topic to get ahead of rather than trying to talk about it when you’re in the midst of emotions is stress. At some point, you and your partner will become stressed. Life isn’t easy, but that’s one of the beautiful parts of having a partner. They can help you through it.

Rather than guess about what your partner wants from you during stressful times, you can talk about it.

  • How does stress manifest for you? What does it feel like?
  • How do you cope with stress? In what ways will you take care of yourself on your own?
  • How do you want your partner to support you?
  • If things become overwhelming, would you consider therapy? Would you be upset if your partner wanted to support you in getting help?

Health and food expectations.

The last topic is something else that, over the years, will come up time and time again: health. Specifically, expectations around each other’s health and eating habits.

People think about food and health in a variety of different ways, and that’s ok! Rather than butt heads about things, it’s better to lay it all out on the table (pun intended) now, rather than when you’re in the middle of a fight.

  • Do you expect your partner to take care of you while you’re sick?
  • Would you be ok with your partner letting you know when they’re concerned about your health? How would you want them to bring it up?
  • Are you ok with talking about weight?
  • How do you both feel about your current health?
  • Do you want to work out together? What about taking walks?
  • Will you eat meals together?
  • Will one person do most of the cooking? The grocery shopping?
  • What do you want your kids to eat (if you decided you want kids)?

After going through this exercise with my boyfriend, our minds were blown. We wondered why more couples didn’t do this since we felt like we understood each other even more.

The fact is, people usually assume everything will play out ok. But when it comes to things like marriage and choosing someone to spend your life with, I wouldn’t want to leave things to chance.

So the next time you’re with your partner, mention this article. See if they’d be up for talking about these expectations. And, please, if there is any topic that feels uncomfortable to talk about, don’t skip it.

These questions are meant to save you before things get bad.

This post originally appeared on Medium and has been republished here with full permission. 

You can read Kirstie’s other articles on Medium or follow her on Instagram @wordswithkirstie.

Feature image: Getty.