With my tenth anniversary (I cannot even believe it) just a month away, I have been thinking about a few lessons I have learned along the way which I wish I had known before I tied the knot. No couple is fully prepared for marriage no matter how many books they have read or discussions they have had together (but, you certainly can get closer to it!). It is important to prepare to be a husband or wife, but everyone encounters surprises; and, without challenges to work through, we would never grow. So, as strange as it sounds, I am thankful for the challenges. They made us stronger individually and a stronger as a couple.
For the sake of the occasion, here are five statements I wish I had internalized before getting married:
- You will occasionally doubt your relationship. This is a big one. Though I may have expected rough patches, I do not think I realized I would occasionally lie in bed and wonder if I had made a huge mistake, if I had truly obeyed God in my decision, and if we could make it till death did us part. It seemed horrible to even consider such thoughts once I had made my covenant with Eric; yet, the days of doubt still came. Over the years, I have become far more confident in our ability to work through problems and even more so in God’s ability to keep us grounded. When we turn our eyes on Him, He straightens us out! ~smile~ “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6, ESV).
- You have to set good habits early or it will be ten times harder to set them later. We prepared for the wedding, Eric planned the honeymoon, we came home from the honeymoon, and then just kind of fell into married life. We were not purposeful about how we arranged the furniture, when we went to bed and when we got up, how we approached dinnertime, or when to turn the television on or off. We just melded our two single lifestyles into the same house – and the two ways did not always mesh well. If we could do it again, we would create a specific environment and structure that encouraged the type of marriage we want. Changing habits years later is so much harder than starting fresh in the beginning!
- You need to approach conflict resolution purposefully. In the beginning of our marriage, I thought I needed to confront Eric constantly. If my feelings were hurt, if I was unhappy about something, or if he had crossed a line in my mind, I felt compelled to let my feelings be known. As someone who has a tendency to “let things go” (i.e., bury my feelings and later explode) even when they need to be addressed, I wanted to make sure I did not sweep issues under the rug. Though my intentions were good, my delivery left a lot to be desired. It is exhausting to hear about your shortcomings constantly, even if the conversations are approached respectfully. I wish I had known to list my grievances on paper when they happened and to give myself a few days to consider them before bringing them up to Eric. Revisiting the list after some processing time would have helped me determine what was really worth confronting and what was not significant (e.g., hormone-related, bad mood-related, misunderstanding, selfishness, etc.). Had I known this technique up-front, I could have tackled the important issues and let go of the insignificant ones. Sometimes I have to remember that Eric is human, he gets tired, and he needs grace… just like I do.
- The contents of your own heart will make or break your marriage. I have spent hours of my marriage blaming Eric for my “If he would only….” Even as a relationship coach who looked couples in the face and told them they were responsible for their own happiness, I still struggled with unrealistic expectations towards Eric. Through various means, I am reminded that Eric is not God and I am my biggest marriage problem – not him. He is a man. He is a good-willed man, but not a perfect man. I knew this going in, but sometimes I still place God-like expectations on this mortal. At the root of my anger towards him is often my own selfishness. Me, me, me, I, I, I, I want, I want, I want, I need, I need, I need, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme. Now, when I find myself frustrated or disgusted, I know to check my own heart before I place blame on him. How am I contributing to the problem? Am I the problem? How can I confront the situation respectfully?
- Don’t expect your husband’s love and your Dad’s love to look the same. My dad is a sweetheart – at least to me. Daddies and daughters often relate to each other differently than they relate to the rest of the world. Dad and I communicate through Andy Griffith Show quotes, we laugh at the same silly jokes, and I know I can get away with almost anything with him – though I love him too much to purposely cause him pain. Daddy has a very sweet disposition with me and I came to expect that in a future husband. Well, Eric is completely different than my Dad; his personality is in a galaxy far, far away from my Dad’s. While Dad is laid back and calm, Eric’s foot is on the gas. Dad enjoys taking it easy, and Eric is ready for the next big adventure. Dad hates conflict and never wants to rock the boat. Eric does not mind conflict if it will keep life moving in the forward direction. Needless to say, it was a rude awakening moving from a home where I was Daddy’s li’l punkin to a home where I was someone’s wife. No longer was my job to be a child. I was suddenly responsible for running a home, being someone’s partner in life, and dying to my own needs daily. When Eric would become (understandably) frustrated with me, I wondered why he was acting so unloving. “My daddy would never treat me this way!” Over the years, I came to realize that my relationship with Dad was supposed to be different than my relationship with Eric. I am not Eric’s child – I am Eric’s helpmate and teammate. When he married me, he expected an adult who was ready to jump into life and get her hands dirty. Your relationship with your future spouse will (and should) differ from your relationship with your parents. Do not assume your spouse does not love you because he or she does not dote on you or love you in the same manner as your parents. Where parents naturally have a genetic bond with the child; spouses must continually choose to love.
It is my hope that these post-wedding revelations will help you with your pre-marriage expectations. ~smile~ When you go through struggles in your marriage, smile and consider all the young people you will be able to help someday. I am so thankful that the challenges I faced as a young bride were for a greater purpose. God can make something so beautiful out of our suffering.
What lessons have you learned in your relationship which you would like to pass on to others?