Most people have some idea of what they'd like their spouse to be like: funny, smart and good-looking.

But what qualities truly make a difference when marriages start hitting the inevitable bumps and potholes in the road of life? Here are nine signs to look for when you're dating to help you know if that special someone will make a great partner for life.

You feel like yourself

Ever been in a relationship where you feel you're always putting on a show? There are all kinds of reasons you may try to be someone you're not around a date or boyfriend, but when you pair up with someone who makes you feel utterly yourself, you can focus your energy on making a good relationship great.

Thinks about the future

Sure, everyone talks about "growing old together," but do they have a plan for all the time in between? Are they committed to contributing to retirement accounts, budgeting effectively to save more than they spend and preparing for a rainy day? Even storing water and some basic food and supplies shows that a man wants to make sure his wife is provided for, no matter what.

Not a clone of you

Sharing a religion and having similar values and expectations from life are important when two become one, but having strengths and weaknesses, life experiences and traits that are complementary rather than exactly alike will help those two work together better along the road of marriage.

You catch him doing things without being asked

For example, after a church activity, he helps to put away chairs without being on the clean-up committee. Or he helps clear the table after having dinner at your parents' house. A person willing to chip in and make life easier for others in just the little things will be willing to help carry some of the heavy burdens that will surely come into your life.

Willing to listen to your concerns

They say you can't expect to change someone, but everyone has weaknesses that can become strengths over time. If they're willing to be humble, listen and try to be better. A dating partner who shrugs off your concerns is sending a loud signal that he's not willing to do the work of growing together. One who says, for example, "I'm sorry I was insensitive; how can I do better next time?" is a keeper.

Is already spouse material

If you're dating "a guy" but hoping he'll turn into a "husband" with the exchange of vows, be prepared for disappointment. But if you're dating a man who is already husband material, and you're wife material, the wedding will just put the stamp on a relationship that is forever.

Notices the little things

One writer famously wrote not to "sweat the small stuff," or get stressed about little things, but when a wife notices the small signs her husband has had a hard day and right away takes action to show extra love, he'll feel cherished. Or when a husband's eyes light up and he can't help but plant a kiss on his wife when she takes a little time to look extra-special for a date night, she'll feel particularly beloved.

Handles setbacks with grace

Every dating relationship will give each partner the opportunity to see how the other handles a challenge or big disappointment. Did she give up when she didn't pass a career certification test the first time, or did she pick herself up (maybe after an evening of crying and eating a pint of ice cream) and get ready to study harder for another go at the test? Marriage and life will inevitably test us all, so know your partner is someone who will keep trying.

Unfailingly loyal

Loyalty certainly means that one partner would never allow himself to fall for or get involved with another person outside the marriage. But it also means that he will speak kindly of, even "defend," his spouse when they're apart. If you hear from a second party that your significant other bragged about some trait of yours or how well you had done in a work or school situation, you know he is devoted to you.

And remember, don't just look for these qualities and situations. Be your best self for that future partner, too.

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