10 Things I Wish I Had Learned Before I Got Married
I've been asked by a friend to contribute to her blog. "G" requested that I write about marriage, more specifically, about what advice I would give my own daughters, assuming they were willing to really listen and take to heart what I have to say. Of course they always dutifully listen to me, right? Yeah, uh huh, sure. A little about me first. I have been married for over 23 years and have 3 daughters. One caveat that I should also mention is that I am a Christian, and I approach marriage from that perspective, so if you *aren't* a Christian, I would ask that you read this with an open mind and I hope that you come away blessed.
1) Get your priorities straight. As you enter into a marriage, you are really treading on unfamiliar ground. Whether you have been single and on your own for a long time, or have come almost directly from your mother and father's house, it's important that you learn to rank things appropriately. In a healthy marriage, the couple puts God first, each other second, their children third and so on. I say "and so on", because the pair can weigh the value of the other things that matter in their lives. It is important to highlight the placement of the marriage over children, which, will be vital when and if you decide to have kids. More on that later.
2) Pray for your spouse. And while I understand perfectly the desire to pray for them to behave as *you* want them to behave, that's not exactly what I mean. It is crucial to intentionally pray for your partner, for health, wisdom, clarity, etc. If it's been an average week and they've made you frustrated, go ahead and throw in prayers that they survive your wrath as well (just kidding). Even better, pray together. It will increase your understanding of each other's needs and desires and will bolster the intimacy the two of you share.
3) Learn to distinguish between longings and expectations. This is a biggie, and probably one of the major areas in which I messed up. Our society does not portray marriage accurately in just about any way, and many, many young people come to the alter with skewed expectations of what marriage is all about, and what it has to offer. I speak now specifically to women, because firstly I *am* one, and secondly because I have 3 daughters, and lastly because I honestly believe this is a larger problem for women. If all you have learned about marriage is from movies like "Twilight" or "Pride and Prejudice", you are likely to be seriously disappointed. Certainly romance can be expected and longed for within marriage, but real men are not like Edward Cullen or Fitzwilliam Darcy.
Longings are your innermost desires, they can be communicated, or held close, and it is perfectly normal and healthy to have them. They cannot become expectations until they are voiced by you to your spouse and mutually agreed upon. Therefore, it is very important to spend time reflecting on things that you yearn for, either from your spouse, or from your marriage and talk about them. DO NOT, and I repeat DO NOT believe for one minute that, because your husband loves you, he innately knows what you want.
Which leads me to:
4) Do not use girl logic ever. Ok, seriously, you know what I'm talking about. Here's a prime example: Your birthday is coming up and it's been a really rough month. Work has been awful, you haven't had any time to yourself, and what you really, really want is a romantic weekend away with your husband. So, you do what countless other women (including yours truly) have done through the centuries. You conclude that "if he really loves me, he'll know what I want". I am here to tell you that NOTHING good can come from this situation and I can assure you that he has NO idea what you want, and it has absolutely nothing do with his level of affection for you. Men think in very different ways. They are direct. They will assume that you will tell them what you want. So, my advice is: do that. Be direct. If you want a weekend away, then ask for it, that way everybody wins. You get what you want, and he's not left wandering around the house wondering why you're so irritated with him when he got you a lovely card for your birthday.
5) Pick your battles, and even more importantly, pick your timing for them carefully. It's bound to happen, you're going to be irritated about something and are going to need to talk about it. I applaud that, it's always important to be honest about what is bothering you, however, a word of warning, the timing for said discussions is as important as your wording. Pick a time when your spouse is not busy with something else, or tired and trying to go to sleep (ok, I admit that was one of my worst habits, the captive audience). Better yet, ask them if it's a good time to talk, let them know you have some concerns, and tell them you're wondering if now would be a good time to have the discussion. But, be warned, if they say no, respect that and ask about when would be a better time.
6) Don't be afraid of the rough patches. It's difficult to live in tension, but all marriages will go through times where things are just downright hard, and that's ok. Don't let it scare you, keep the lines of communication open and remember that when you emerge from that time, no matter how long or short, your marriage will be stronger because of it. Having said that, don't be afraid to ask for help if you feel overwhelmed or just don't know what to do. It doesn't mean you have a bad marriage if you seek counseling, it means you want to strengthen and preserve what you have. Wise people do not wait to see the doctor until they're dying, they go at early signs of illness, likewise it's important to seek out help if you feel you need it. Just be sure that whomever you approach for advice is on the same wavelength with you about the value of marriage. Unfortunately, there are counselors out there who prioritize individuality and self-actualization at the expense of marriage. Be very wary of this. Your marriage should always be your number one priority after your relationship with God. It is a precious gift and should be treated as such.
7) Don't be afraid to be vulnerable with, and dependent on, another person. This can be especially hard depending on your own life experiences. This is another one of those areas that I messed up on big time. I am a very independent, self-reliant person and had decided early on that it was unwise of me to ever fully depend on someone else. It had a lot to do with being disappointed as a child, and I was unable to show anybody, least of all my husband, much vulnerability. The sad part is, none of that protected me, and in all honesty I caused myself and my husband more hurt in the long run. Part of life is loving people. We were created for community and to cleave in partnership to a spouse. When you love someone, they will inevitably, (usually unwittingly) hurt you. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Marriage is worth the hurts you will sustain, and if you are open and honest you will be rewarded many times over.
8) Don't put your children ahead of your spouse. Nowadays this seems to be one of the biggest mistakes I see among young couples. The biggest gift you can give your children is a strong marriage. Not only for their stability and current happiness, but also as a model for their future relationships. Your child's best example of marriage is what you show them. You need to spend time alone together to renew and reconnect with each other. If you can afford it, take weekends away, if not, trade off babysitting duties with another couple and get away for dinner, or coffee, or just to talk. I cannot stress how important this is. Your marriage must be nurtured as much as your children in order to grow and be healthy.
9) Set healthy boundaries with your in-laws and offer them the respect they deserve. In-law relationships can be tricky at best. It's important to remember that, no matter how weird they seem to you, they are your spouse's parents. That does not mean that they should run the show, but try to avoid making your spouse choose between you and them. That is a lose-lose situation.
10) Enter into your marriage with the belief that it's permanent. If you allow yourself to consider options "in case it doesn't work out", then you're more likely to give up and bail out. No matter what anyone tells you, your marriage is always worth fighting for. Always. It is a promise you made to one another, before God. Be careful of falling for the societal belief that love is an emotion, because it is so much more than that. Love, quite simply, is a choice. When you marry someone you *choose* to love them on their good days, their bad days and every day in between. That doesn't mean you're going to feel all gushy for them all of the time, but it does mean that you're going to have look at them and remember that the things that annoy you about them at the moment, are some of the very things that attracted you to them in the first place.
In my opinion there is no more wonderful thing, no more sustaining experience on this earth that that of a marriage. Enjoy it, treasure it, guard it, and it will reward you with untold blessing.