When I was growing up, it never made sense to me why brides-to-be got so nervous waiting for their ceremonies to start. When I was eleven, I sat in the bridal room watching my cousin’s soon-to-be wife get ready to walk down the aisle. She was practically giddy with a mixture of excitement and nerves. “Heather, I’m marrying your cousin!”
As a middle-schooler who had recently discovered the value of the male species, I could understand her excitement; but, why the nerves? Why was she struggling to stand still on stage during the songs? Should weddings not be all happiness and smiles?
Fast-forward five years, and there I was, again, in the bridal room waiting for my friend to walk down the aisle – she was full of nerves too. They manifested themselves differently, but she was anxious just the same. At the ripe old age of sixteen, I had a better grasp of reality than I did at eleven; but, I was still young and inexperienced enough to equate someone’s wedding day with fairytales and butterflies. There was nothing in the world I wanted more than to walk down that same aisle towards my Prince Charming.
Then, six years later… it was my turn. Eric and I successfully sailed the seas of friendship, jumped into the ocean of engagement, and were mere hours from reaching the shores of Marriage Island where we were to live happily ever after. From the time we officially became a couple until that moment in the bridal room, I had never been surer of any decision I had ever made in my entire life. Eric was the man I was “supposed” to marry; yet, there I sat under my veil, heart pounding, turning into that stressed out bride I had never understood. Pastor walked into the room and prayed for me (which calmed my nerves a bit) and then Dad and I made our way to the doors of the sanctuary. This moment was supposed to be the happiest of my life… why was I not beaming with joy?
Walking Down the Aisle
As we anxiously awaited our debut, Dad fulfilled his fatherly duty by asking me, “Are you sure you want to do this?” I answered, “Yes,” with little hesitation, though the waiting was making me crazy.
Finally, the doors opened and the walk I had dreamed of for more than a decade began; and, then my jitters subsided a bit when I heard the painful sounds of our wedding march being played by a… less than qualified candidate. As I listened in horror to the broken, single-finger notes bellow through the sanctuary (not exaggerating), my sense of humor took over, and my nerves took a back seat. Of course, the most atrocious version of the wedding march I had ever heard would be playing at my wedding. Looking out over the crowd of faces, I wondered, “What must they be thinking right now, listening to this?!” Had it been appropriate, I might have burst out laughing, but under the circumstances, I just smiled. (Believe it or not, it is a memory I would not change!)
As the service continued, I mellowed. Despite several snags in our ceremony, I was still confident in the commitment Eric and I were making that day. We were becoming one flesh. We were melding into a unit. We were marrying the “one” God had set aside for us. We were going to have a great life.
Like my cousin’s wife, and my friend before me, I struggled with pre-wedding tremors; and, like them, I also struggled with post-wedding discouragement.
By their second anniversaries, few (if any) couples can proclaim, “He met all my expectations!” or “She has only surprised and delighted me in the most amazing ways!” Some come out with few scars and some emerge with many; but, most couples discover that marriage is not what they expected it to be – not at all. In some ways, it is more precious than I ever dreamed it could be; and, in other ways, it is more gut-wrenching than I ever thought possible.
Eric and I are working towards our twelfth anniversary and, as I consider the years we have spent together, I think of the many ways my perspectives on relationships and marriage have changed in that time. Here are a handful of my pre-marital beliefs and post-marital revelations:
- If I Marry the Right “One,” I Am Guaranteed a Happy Marriage.
This jarring reality was probably the biggest letdown of my married life. In college, had you asked me, “Heather, do you think marrying the right man will automatically hurl you into marital satisfaction?” I would have answered, “No, I do not believe that.” However, deep inside my heart, I think I did believe it. Because of all the preaching I heard as a teen (wait for the right man, surrender this area of your life to God, there is joy when you marry who God has picked for you, etc.), I expected my decision to marry the “correct” person to yield me a happy life. After all, I could have ignored that gnawing feeling I felt in other relationships and married anyone, but I did not. I waited until I had complete assurance that God was leading me towards marriage. Having done this, I thought my reward was to be happiness and joy. I was all but promised it from those who preached “surrender and wait” to me my entire life.
Not surprisingly, it did not take me long to realize that I married a flawed human being (and it probably took Eric even less time to discover my flaws). Though I did not doubt that God’s hand was on my marriage, I was disillusioned when I realized my husband preferred studying to hanging out with me (not that he would have ever said that, but those were the actions which occurred based on his drive toward academic success). He was bossy! He was tight with money. And, he even hurt my feelings on occasion.
Two perspectives have shifted for me on this point. The first being: I no longer believe there is one right person for everyone. I believe there are better and worse matches and I believe God leads His children toward each other, but I no longer believe in the concept of soulmates (which is a little sad to admit – my inner-teenager is in mourning over this). Secondly, I no longer believe we are owed a happy marriage for making positive choices. Choosing one’s spouse well is only the first step of marriage. After choosing well, couples still must put in consistent, intentional effort to grow and maintain a thriving relationship. If you go into marriage thinking your positive dating choices and excellent spousal selection skills are going to guarantee you matrimonial bliss, you will be sorely disappointed. Choosing well is only the first leg of the race. It is important to start strong, but a strong start does not secure a strong finish.
- Submission will be Easy Since I am an Easy-Going Woman.
A few years into my marriage, I bemoaned to my mother, “I never thought I would struggle with submission. I always thought of myself as a submissive person.” To which my mom replied, “I’ve never seen you as a submissive person.”
Wow, Mom! Well, she would know! Here I thought I had this great submissive strength and the woman who saw me daily for twenty years thought the exact opposite. It makes me wonder what other lies I believe about myself (both good and bad).
Though I do have a (mostly) laid back personality, that does not mean I want someone telling me what to do. If all it took to be a submissive wife was the ability to sit back and chill, I would win the Best Wife on Planet Earth Award. However, submission is an ongoing choice which requires trust in God’s overall plan. Without believing His ways lead to joy, and trusting in His sovereignty, submission seems pointless and even degrading. Submission outside of the power of God is resentful obedience – and I faked submission through much of my marriage. Maybe I was doing the right actions, but in my heart, I resented his leadership – especially when it went against my wishes.
Submission only works as it should when paired with a close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ and an eternal perspective. On our own, we are not submissive – even the quietest, kindest, most laid back among us.
- Can Couples Just Get Along, Already?
Not only did I feel certain I would rock the submission game, but I was that annoying single girl who did not understand why couples could not just get along. More specifically, I could not understand why women did not appreciate their husbands. Perhaps I saw more instances of disrespectful women than unloving men in my life, but at any rate, I thought, “If you are lucky enough to have a spouse, why would you not treat him like gold?!”
Thankfully, I did not “counsel” married couples when I was a teenager, but I occasionally let my feelings come flying out with my family. One particular afternoon, my parents and I went to a store – if memory serves me, it was a furniture store – to pick something up in Dad’s truck. Dad parked, hopped out, and walked to the tailgate without closing the door. It must have been a chilly day because Mom fussed at him for leaving the door open. In my not-so-subtle way, I let out a disapproving grunt, probably accompanied by an eye roll… which did not go over well with Mama. Though I do not remember much about the conversation which followed, I do remember her saying, “You have never been married.” And, I remember thinking, “Just because I am not married does not mean I do not know how one spouse should treat the other.”
And, you know what? I was probably right. Mom should not have nagged at Dad about the truck door. Obviously, husbands and wives should not bark at each other unlovingly and disrespectfully, but we are frail humans. Sometimes, days are long, backs ache, and hormones rage. If I had understood the dynamics of marriage and been more mature, I might have cut my mom some slack for her misstep. As a wife, I have certainly made my share of similar missteps. Marriage is not as cut and dry as it seemed when my mind was full of romantic comedies and Disney princesses.
- Life is Going to be One Long Honeymoon.
“Just because other couples cool off does not mean we have to!” Is it standard for young dating couples to think they will be the ones to singlehandedly break the cycle into which every other couple has fallen? Eric and I (or, at least I) pictured marriage as a blissful roll in the hay. “Why would any married couple choose not to have sex when given the opportunity?! That makes no sense!”
When we were close to our wedding date, Eric and I visited our local bank for some reason, and while we were waiting, we poked each other, flirted, and quietly giggled. The banker looked up from her papers, probably trying to hold down her lunch, and said, “We will see if you are still doing that in ten years.” Her comment must have been due to bitterness from a faulty relationship. ~wink~ We thought, “Of course we will still be playful! We love each other.”
Just as I could not understand why women struggled with submission and did not treat their husbands well, I could not understand why married couples willingly let their sex lives dwindle. “What a waste!” Though it is sad when married partners drift apart and stop prioritizing sexual intimacy, it is not as cut and dry as I used to think it was when I was young, hormonal, and impatient. Having young children at home, long work hours, sickness, depression, unresolved conflict, emotional scars, light-night studying, volunteer work, money stress, family drama, binge-watching Netflix, pregnancy, house guests, chronic pain, and weight gain are just a few of the issues which can derail a couple’s sex life. Hollywood has professionals making sex look flawless; but, in reality, sometimes couples have to schedule it. As unromantic as that sounds, it happens more than you might think! ~smile~
The longer I am married, the more humbled I am when I remember how “wise” I used to be. It is as if I forgot all I knew about marriage once I became a wife.
- Disliking Your Spouse is the End of the World.
Even though I grew up around normal couples who had their shares of ups and downs, somehow it never occurred to me that my future spouse would not like me at certain points in our marriage. Since I was going to be the perfect wife, I was never concerned about being disliked by my man. ~smile~
Well, eleven years later, I can assure you there have been many occasions when Eric did not like me. There have been times – probably more than I care to know – he wished he had married someone else. Both of us have thought, “Why did I marry this person?!” at certain junctures in our relationship. My nineteen-year-old self would have wept in despair had she known these days were coming. Marriage was supposed to be happy and joyous, after all.
Thankfully, after several hills and valleys, I have learned that those tough days will come and precious days of hugs and giggles will eventually follow. Eric and I will fight in the future. There will be times when we (once again) question our decision to enter into this marriage. Occasionally, I will wonder what life might be like if I chose a different path. I had to realize that not liking each other from time-to-time is not the end of the world – as long as the feelings do not last too long and we consistently work towards reconciliation. (If you live in constant turmoil and genuinely cannot stand the sight of each other, please seek marital counseling from a qualified, Bible-focused, Christian counselor.)
A Mixture of Joy and Shivers
Sooner or later, you will probably experience what my cousin’s wife, my friend, and I felt waiting for our wedding ceremonies to start – a mixture of joy and shivers. Those emotions are normal and even good as I would rather be nervous on my wedding day than to feel nothing at all. There is something magnificent about a wedding that leaves us overflowing with conflicting emotions. After months of painstaking planning, you realize, “Wow, this is happening!”
After a few seasons go by, newlywed couples get up close and personal with the realities of married life. Our prayer at PreEngaged is that with preparation, learning from those who have gone before you, and having realistic expectations of each other (and of marriage itself), those realities will not overwhelm or discourage you. Do not be afraid to burst the perfectionistic bubble you may have in your mind. Be willing to see the beautiful and ugly sides of love and commitment. In the birth of a baby, there is joy and beauty as well as pain and a human entering the world cloaked in slime.
Such is the marriage relationship – both beautiful and drenched in life – job drama, family struggles, emotional turmoil, and a host of other trials. Expect those moments. Expect your spouse to let you down sometimes. Choose to see marriage for its joys and heartbreaks so you can be ready to roll up your sleeves and put in the work. Growing and maintaining a happy, healthy marriage is not easy, but it is worth it.
How have your perspectives on relationships changed over the past five years?