6 ESSENTIAL GOALS FOR NEWLYWEDS-OR ENGAGED COUPLES
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As much as I’d like to be the hopeless romantic here, weddings and marriage are really and truly the beginning of a (hopefully) lifelong partnership. Don’t get me wrong, there’s love and affection and romance and all that jazz. But there also have to be clear expectations set on both sides, whether this refers to money, household chores, career choices, or the number of kids you want to (or don’t want to) have. That being said, BEFORE those beloved vows, couples should absolutely be defining their goals–whether individual or as a couple.
When I say ‘individual’, I mean career-wise, but also possibly financial. Not all couples share a joint bank account. Many couples make the decision to keep their finances separate due to pre-existing loans, or just the notion that his or her hard-earned money is his or her hard-earned money. This post definitely won’t get into the ins and outs of that (I’m not a marriage counselor!), but it will discuss the different things that couples need to discuss regarding their future, and the plan they need to make to get there as a married couple.
I put finances first because, according to lots of research and data, money seems to be the number 1 reason for marital fights (and possibly divorce.) Money can be such a powerful thing–especially (and unfortunately) in marriage. There is almost always an imbalance in incomes, and some married folk go into marriage with the attitude that the person with the larger income is more important, can make most decisions, etc. But the thing is, you are both people, putting in the work for your job/career, and (hopefully) putting in the effort to make this union work.
Again–I’m not a marriage counselor, but I advise anybody about to get married to have a deep heart to heart about finances. (I have been married fifteen years, so that has to count for something.) Seriously– you really, really need to be on the same page about finances going into a marriage. Here’s a list of topics to discuss regarding finances before tying the knot:
1. Major financial goals: Since most people have some sort of debt, the topic of debt will fall here first and foremost. Nobody likes to suddenly be responsible for another person’s irresponsible shopping trips or seemingly unlimited eating out and party nights that said person technically couldn’t afford. If you’re engaged, you need to talk about this, and be absolutely transparent with all your debts–credit card and otherwise. You will save yourself many an argument by being truthful about the debt you have so that you can both create a workable–and agreeable–plan to get rid of it.
Once the debt situation has a paved path, you need to discuss savings. Savings have many different allocations, so you need to be clear about what kind of saving is important to you. Like always, I recommend using Dave Ramsey’s suggestions for savings: $1k for emergencies, and 2-3 months in savings in case one of you loses a job/is having a career overhaul/becomes sick or injured and can’t work for a bit, etc. And then what else will you save for? 401K? Vacation? Building or buying a home? Renovations? Again–be clear and up front about what you want.
This is where your lovey-dovey feelings for each other will come in handy, because both parties will inevitably think his or her ideas about what you should be saving for should take priority. Make lists with pros and cons, prioritize the best you can, and compromise.
2. Budget: With a clear picture of income, what debts need to be paid monthly, and savings goals, you’ll be able to work out what your budget is every month. I have used Mint.com to help with this, and it was great! I know there are other software programs that do this as well, but I liked Mint because it gave options for setting savings goals, paying things off, and also gave a clear snapshot of our financial worth. It also sends you notifications if you’re nearing your limit for any given budgeted amount in the month. Work out a clear budget so that you each know what money has to go where each month–no surprises!
3. Spending money: Even though you will have bills to pay, and other obligations, you really need to leave room for spending money each month for each of you. Especially if things are really tight, it gets super old, super fast, being so tight that you can’t have any fun. You have to have downtime, and you have to have some ‘me time’. Figure out what can work for both of you, pull that amount of cash out every month, and stick to it!
4. Vacations: Hopefully the two of you will always be on the same page as to where you ‘d like to visit for vacations. (That’s not always the case, but even in opposing relationships–like my own–we always compromise, whether it’s taking turn who decides, or making the decision based on whose family we’ve seen 100 times the last year versus only 1 for the other party. Ahem.) Make some rules on how this will work ahead of time and stick to it. Also figure out an average price for travel and lodging, and factor in meals, things to do, souvenirs, etc. Then add like 20%. Make your goal and figure it into your budget for part of your savings.
I’m not going to place ‘roles’ on either party in a marriage as to who is in charge of household ‘happenings’. But what I will tell you is that one of the biggest running jokes (whether actual jokes or jabs at each other) has to do with household habits. I know sooooo many couples that are constantly annoyed with each other because one person isn’t contributing to household chores, and the other is constantly picking up the slack. And if one person ends up being a SAHM or SAHD, it’s a whole other animal!
Inevitably, one person will be the tidier organizer, and the other will be the hapless slob. Truthfully I’m more ‘germ’ clean and can actually organize things way better than the husband, but am also the proverbial slob. Clothes all over the floor, papers and magazines scattered all over the place, etc. The husband gets super cranky when there are messes everywhere, but God help us all if he ever cleans a floor or toilet or uses disinfectant on anything. His version of cleaning is putting things away. So that nobody can find them later when they need them because they’re not organized or even remotely where it would make sense for them to be. They’re simply out of sight.
I say all this to illustrate that there are many different styles of cleanliness and habits, and unless you want some major fights and resentment down the road, you need to discuss even this unglamorous topic up front. Think about it–you’re now roommates for life. Why wouldn’t you discuss this? The husband and I have an unspoken rule that if one of us cooks, the other does dishes. And since he’s out of town a lot, when he is here, he takes out trash and empties the dishwasher.
Lay out what kind of things you want done and accomplished in your home, and be clear on who has what responsibility. Hold up your part!
It’s probably thinking in a fantasy world to expect that both halves of a relationship will have the same, or even similar, health goals. But as long as you can agree on either mutually aligned goals, or that you will have separate goals, you should be fine. I will warn that it will get difficult to plan and cook meals if one of you is a die-hard Paleo fanatic and the other thinks they can’t live without bread.
And although these goals are pretty fluid throughout one’s lifetime, it’s always easier if you’re on the same page for those goals. Whether it’s that you both want to lose weight, both want to train for a 5K, or both want to simply eat clean. It’s in your best interest to define that ahead of time and be each other’s accountability partners if you can. (Ps-I know you’d love your bestie to be your accountability partner, but can he/she really slap that 8-count stack of Oreos out of your hand from across town when you’ve had a horrible day? No–your partner who is sitting next to you with his own stack of Oreos can. And then you can return the favor.)
Career goals can be listed as separate, but sometimes are a joint effort. (Like Chip and Joanna on HGTV’s Fixer Upper–their business is working together.) For most of the rest of us, this isn’t the case. But as newlyweds–whether you have children from previous relationships or not–you need to be clear on where you want your career paths to go. You also need to state expectations about whether or not one partner will stay home if you plan to have babies.
Career goals are usually in people’s heads and on their radars anyway, but sharing this with your life partner is going to be another essential goal to have so that you know your path ahead. Does one of you want to go back to school for another degree to further that career? Will one of you have to take an unpaid internship? Does one of you intent to take a position where travel is required all the time? These are the kinds of things you need to talk about and identify what path you both want to follow as a couple. Together.
Ahh…my second favorite of goals. I’d say favorite, but I really enjoy my time with friends and family very much. Relaxation together (your downtime) may come in the form of seasonal bucket lists, special far away vacations, or simply participating in local festivals. Whatever you and your partner like to do in your downtime should be defined.
When my husband and I got married, we had a lot of head-butting over this. He rode dirt bikes, but I had no interest in sitting around in a hot dusty desert waiting on him to circle a track eight hundred times. I liked going to the beach whenever we had a chance. But he had no interest in sitting on a sandy towel watching ocean waves for hours at a time and praying his skin didn’t melt off. We didn’t really seek out relaxation and downtime activities that we would both enjoy for a long time. (Have I mentioned before how opposite we are??)
Bottom line is that even if you’re not on the same page for downtime, you need to find a middle ground to take advantage of down time in a way that both of you get your relaxation on!
No, you’re not choosing your family on this one. Sorry. But what you are doing is defining how you’ll spend your time with family and friends. A great example I have of this is how different my family is from my husband’s family. I couldn’t get over the fact that early in our marriage, he spoke to his dad probably every day on the phone, and his mom every few days. My parents were lucky to hear from me once a month. It started feeling sort of claustrophobic to me, and it caused a bit of a rift that I couldn’t put my finger on for a long time.
Every family is very different. But you guys found each other for a reason. And now that you have, you’re forming your own family–with your own rules, your own traditions, and your own definitions of what’s normal, good, and acceptable. Talk about this, and about boundaries. Discuss who’s family you’ll spend holidays with, or how you’ll rotate. Don’t let it get down to the wire and then have a giant fight when one person’s feelings are hurt over a miscommunication. It’s a horrible way to spend time with family and/or friends.
You should probably have the talk about boundaries with friends as well. I know tons of people whose friends couldn’t cut the cord after marriage happened. When your spouse spends more time with his or her bestie than you on a regular basis, something’s not right. Maybe also talk about ‘guys nights out’, and ‘girls nights out’. Some people still really enjoy these after marriage, some don’t think it’s appropriate. Find your mutual middle ground. Set limitations, and don’t push the rules–have respect for your partner and expect the same from him or her.
So there you have it! I don’t normally like to be that lengthy in posts, but I really feel like this one is pretty important. We had zero counseling before marriage. (I had counseling with my pastor before husband #1, but it was spiritual, not practical topics like the ones listed here.) I wish so bad that someone had gone over all this stuff with me–seriously, it would have saved so many years of fighting and hurt feelings!! If you know someone else that would benefit from this post, please pass it on!
And let me know how it’s going with your own ‘couple discussions’!