“By the power vested in me by the state of North Carolina, I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride.” What an exciting moment it was for Eric and me! We were finally married. No more saying goodnight at the door. No more wedding planning. No more counting down the days. We were finally one! … or, were we?
Though twelve years have passed, I can remember some details about our courtship as if they happened yesterday. I remember spending every possible minute I could with Eric, even to the exclusion of my friends, homework, and other necessary tasks. I remember feeling completely ready to be married; having no doubt that this was the man I was supposed to be with for a lifetime. I recall my mother trying to give me advice about marriage (and me thinking I did not need it). Arrogance and naivety is an embarrassing combination.
Shortly after we began our marriage journey, it became clear that I was not as ready to be an us as I had previously thought. Had you asked me at the time, “Heather, are you ready to leave your single life and embrace married life?” I would have given you a resounding yes; but, my actions betrayed me, and Eric noticed.
Instead of pushing aside every responsibility so I could spend time with my new husband, I made sure I spent quality time with my friends on a weekly basis. Not only did I spend time with them, but it was the highlight of my week. If Eric wanted us to do something during my friend time, I felt annoyed and slighted. And, when he complained about the abundance of time I was spending with my friends, I was always defensive.
Reasons Why I Wasn’t Ready to be One
Even years later, I struggle with why. Why did I have such a hard time leaving my single life when married life is what I had dreamed of for so long? My reluctance to be an us wounded my new husband and did not help our marriage get off to the best start. In my soul searching and questioning, I came up with a few reasons why I immediately began to back away from the concept of us.
- Marriage was not what I expected. From an early age, I began to fantasize about marriage. When I was ten-years-old, my boyfriend moved away; but, before he left, he told me he was coming back when he was eighteen. My fifth-grade-self was going to marry this “man!” Shortly thereafter, my friends lost me at the beach. They finally found me floating aimlessly down the beach. My reason? I was daydreaming about my Hawaiian honeymoon and lost track of my whereabouts. Twelve years later, I was “living the dream.” Here I was, married, a bride, someone’s true love – so why was I not happier? Perhaps I had built marriage up in my mind as a never-ending romantic theme park and was struggling with the fact that marriage is more work and less freedom. I expected marriage to be fun and romantic – at least, at first – and I was sorely disappointed when Eric gave me less attention than he had given me when we were dating. In no time, I went from euphoric and excited to resentful. In my mind, I had given my life to this man, moved away from my family, and for what? To come in second to everything else he had going on in his life? So, when I had a chance to spend time with my friends, I took it! Quickly, I began preferring my time with them to my time with Eric. I did not have to talk about school with my friends. I did not have to talk about money with my friends. I did not have to work when I was with my friends. Friend time was simply fun time; so, I pushed away from my new identity as a wife and clung tightly to my former identity as a carefree, single college student.
- Marriage changed my identity. Change is hard, especially for someone like me. My boss made me change desks once… and I was so angry I could barely look at him. When I go to a restaurant, I typically get the same meal. If you were to examine my family tree, you would see that I come from a long line of people who avoid change. When I got married, my identity shifted from Heather Lynn Jones, single, 22, to Heather Lynn Viets, married, 22. It seems like a subtle shift on paper, but in reality, it rocked my entire world. All my life I had been a daughter, a granddaughter, a student, and a friend, but never a wife. What do you mean everything I do affects Eric? Why should it matter to him if I want to go out with my friends on Saturday nights? Suddenly, everything which was mine was also his – including my time and my energy. I did not want to give him my most sacred time and energy, especially since my perception was that he was not giving me his
- Marriage took away my sense of freedom. As a girlfriend, I was happy to be known as Eric’s lady. But, as a wife, suddenly I felt like an old woman who had lost her mystery. This is a normal feeling for people in the marriage transition; but, at the time, it was tough. For years, I had looked forward to marriage. It was my goal! What I did not expect was to feel cut off from my former life, which had included a lot of dating. It was not that I missed the craziness of the dating scene; but, when I was dating, my options were open. I was one Dear John letter away from freedom. In marriage, that was not the case. I was in this wedded state for life, whether it turned out to be amazing or miserable. Going out with my friends helped me recapture some of those feelings of freedom.
- Marriage did not make everything in my life awesome. We kissed, walked down the aisle, greeted our families, enjoyed our reception, and then we were off for our honeymoon. Three days into our marriage is when I first realized that married life was not all I thought it was going to be (it probably did not even take Eric that long to figure it out). After pursuing marriage for a decade, I crossed the “finish” line expecting champagne and roses – I found bitter cider and thorns. Eric did not love me perfectly. We did not have every interest in common. We did not live life in the same manner. Marriage was not one long date. And sharing a bank account with the love of my life was not all it was cracked up to be. Please do not get me wrong. I love Eric, and he loves me. However, our marriage (and any normal marriage) is not one long party, and the reality of honest married life was difficult for me to swallow – for us to swallow.
- Marriage was (is) work. Eric had his idea of what marriage meant and I had mine. He had his normal and I had mine. When our ideas and experiences did not converge, we became discouraged. Eric expected his wife to come alongside him and be as excited about his life’s work as he was. He expected a partner who would help him accomplish the call God had placed on his life (to his credit, I told him before marriage that his life’s work is what I also wanted to do… and, after marriage… not so much). I expected a buddy who would laugh and enjoy life with me. He wanted a work mate and I wanted a play mate. We were both disappointed. From there, we had to decide how to make our marriage work despite our different methods of living, and (unfortunately) we did not handle it well in the beginning. Eric focused on his work and I pulled away from him, filling my life with as much downtime and fun as possible, despising work and considering it the enemy – I saw work was the mistress who stole my husband.
Part of the reason Eric and I work with pre-engaged and engaged couples is because we do not want other couples going through what we went through in our newlywed years. A time which could have been sweet and special for us was instead a time of heartache, anger, and frustration. Between our selfishness and our unrealistic expectations of each other, we suffered a lot in the beginning. We hurt each other – at times, deeply and irreversibly. By God’s grace and His grace alone, we are still together and growing with each passing year and we want to bequeath our hard-learned lessons to you. We want you to be more ready to be an us than we were – and that requires being self-aware and addressing your expectations before joining your lives together.
Before tying the knot, keep the following tips in mind:
Men, when you are preparing to be a husband, remember:
- Dating does not end at the altar. Your wife will need you to pursue her more as a wife than she did as a girlfriend.
- The tasks of life will always be there and if you prioritize them above your wife and family, you may lose her heart.
- Your future wife will most likely have moods, but when she seems down or angry, do not assume she is just being a woman. Check your heart and your actions to see if there is anything in your life which might be contributing to her attitude. A well-loved woman has a lovely countenance. At the same time, do not assume you are always the problem. She will struggle with any number of stressors and your gentleness towards her (even if she fails to be gentle in return) will make a world of difference.
Ladies, when you are preparing to be a wife, remember:
- Your man is taking on a large responsibility in becoming a husband. When it seems that he is focused on other tasks or building his career, it may be his way of trying to provide for you (i.e., his way of showing you that he loves you.)
- Confront your expectations one by one. Discuss them with each other and determine together what is realistic and what is not. A third party is often helpful in such discussions. The more prepared you are for the realities of marriage, the easier you will transition from single life to married life.
- Regardless of how well your future husband prioritizes you, you are still responsible before God to respect him (just as he is responsible to love you when you are sweet and when you are cranky and irritable [cf. Ephesians 5:33]). And, your respect and gentleness will go much farther towards capturing his heart than nagging and bitterness. Believe me. I know. ~smile~
Thankfully, we have grown tremendously since those newlywed years. We do not share this post to discourage you from getting married; but, rather, to help you honestly evaluate if you are ready to let go of your single life and embrace a we existence. Sometimes, all a couple needs to go from not ready to ready is proper information and preparation time. Eric and I thought we had sufficiently prepared for married life; but, we soon found out that we had not.
If I had to live those years over again, I would be more upfront with Eric about my needs instead of harboring bitterness towards him for not meeting them; and, instead of hinting, I would be respectfully direct about my desires. I would still spend time with my pre-marriage friends, but I would also spend time and effort making new couple friends. I would search out ways I could make our marriage better rather than dwelling on all the ways Eric was messing up my beautiful fairytale.
Are you ready to be an us? If you are unsure, do some searching and discover what is holding you back. Is there something in your life you need to address? Are you simply unprepared? Are you unsure of your decision to pursue marriage? Is it fear? Explore it, and if need be, explore it with a Biblically sound professional. When couples enter a marriage relationship before they are ready to shake off their single identity, it leads to hurt feelings and complications. Avoid it by addressing this question now: Am I ready to be an us?
Are you and your significant other ready to embrace a new identity as husband and wife?