I was eighteen years old when I walked down the aisle in my white wedding dress. I know, I’m insane, right?
I could feel the judgement. I still can. Our society has morphed in the last century from one that praised young marriage as an accomplishment to one that condemns you as desperate and naive at best. I didn’t have many people straight-up tell me that I was really stupid for tying myself down so young, but many well meaning people did advise me to question what I really wanted in life. I was advised to date around first, go on a mission trip, finish college. Most of it was great advise; probably even advise I would now give other young women in my shoes. But it wasn’t what I wanted. I had fallen irrevocably, uncontrollably, head-over-heals in love with my soon-to-be husband, and I couldn’t wait to be his wife.
Throughout my teenage years I was very influenced by a lot of Christian bloggers and speakers on courtship and being a housewife. The vision they presented of a dutiful wife and young mother was what I wanted. Something in it struck me as logical, as the right way of doing things. I felt (and still feel) that I had been made to fulfill those rolls. When I was fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen I began to go through intense cycles of fear and unwavering excitement about my future. The vast majority of my life was a world of untapped potential. I wanted nothing more than to meet my future husband. I held onto the dream of marrying at eighteen…though I never actually believed it would happen to me.
Of course, I had other dreams too. I spent most of my spare time drawing, painting, and writing books. I wanted to be a missionary, and I was determined to go as a single woman if God didn’t send a husband my way soon. That’s when a certain guy came into my life who had actually been hanging in the background for four years. I knew him but was absolutely 0% attracted to him. We went to the same tiny church and had seen each other no less than twice a week for years. In fact, I recall at least momentarily considering every other guy who walked in the church except him. To be blunt, I found him unattractive, boring, and especially unintelligent (all of these opinions taking root without ever having held an actual conversation with him). I’m quite grateful that it wasn’t love at first sight, though. It truly taught me a powerful lesson about putting people into categories. Having never had a boyfriend prior to him, I was able to experience for the first time the incredible complexities that make up another human being. It was hard to believe that someone I had once found so painfully ordinary turned out beneath the surface to be a person as multi-faceted and complex as myself.
We dated for six months before he proposed. We’ve never been able to keep secrets and surprise each other, so I knew what his plans were that weekend (what I didn’t know until later was that he had been so sure from the start that he was going to marry me that he had purchased the engagement ring only a few weeks after we started dating). In our favorite grass meadow where we had spent much of our time, he asked me to be his wife. Just over three months later we got married. I was eighteen and he was twenty-one.
I’ve learned a lot of things since we’ve been married. I’ve grown and changed, both with age and life’s challenges. I’m becoming more of the woman I want to be. We’ve both seen each other make some big mistakes and take a few falls. We have only been married for 2 years and 4 months now. We still have a lot to learn and years of new seasons and changes ahead of us. Here are a few things in particular that I’ve learned so far.
1. They will definitely make you mad. A lot.
And that doesn’t have to be a bad thing! It’s part of discovering each other. I actually wrote in my diary when we were dating that I couldn’t possibly imagine James ever doing anything to make me angry. I conceded that he probably would annoy me at some point, but he certainly would never make me angry.
Oh my gosh.
I was so wrong.
Living with another human being, it won’t take you long to realize just how different you are (more on that in a minute). I am a first born and he is #4 out of 5. I tend to boss him around like a big sister and he annoys me like a little brother. I’m an introvert and he’s an extrovert. He says too much when he’s angry and I give the silent treatment.
It’s taken us a little over two years to get over most of the petty fighting. A LOT of other couples told us the same thing; that we would work out most of the arguing over misunderstanding each other in the first couple of years and then move on to have healthier, more productive disagreements. We still have a bad day here and there, but we have come a long way in learning how to overlook annoyances and forget the bad encounters we do have. We are both accepting that some of the biggest differences between us are simply who our spouse is as a person and we need to make adjustments. For a long time he would be annoyed when something made me cry, and I would get aggravated that he never cleaned up behind himself. Over time he has accepted my sensitivity and I have learned to work around his uncleanly habits.
You’ll get mad at each other. But those episodes will decrease in frequency after the first bit if you choose to learn from your mistakes as a couple and not repeat the same mistakes next time. There are always going to be things you could fight about. Pick what’s most important and overlook the rest. As one of my favorite sayings goes, “You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to.”
2. You’re still more similar than you think.
I was surprised to learn all of the ways we are actually very similar. I didn’t think that we would have so many things in common since I’m a woman and he’s a man, but we do. We share some similar past encounters like a lack of friends in elementary school and sneaking out of bed at night to listen to our parents’ TV shows. When we talk about deeper subjects, we frequently arrive at the same conclusion. Many of the ways that we process information and live life are simply deeply human experiences. For being opposite genders, we actually share many things: feelings, frustrations, worries, regrets, memories, lessons.
I’ve often told people that in my first year of marriage I learned two things primarily; during the first six months I was blown away by how much we were alike. During the second six months I realized just how vastly different we were.
3. You will learn everything there is to know about yourself.
Let me say this loud and clear–I had no idea who I was before I got married. None. Zilch.
The thing was, I didn’t even know it. I took for granted the things I did and said without really understanding why I did them. I couldn’t pinpoint any of my dominant personality traits. I struggled through temperament tests because I just really wasn’t sure which sounded more like me. I wasn’t sure if I was introverted or extraverted, forgiving or hard-hearted, lazy or responsible. Some days I felt like both. Which was I really?
Marriage has totally changed that. Having another person in such close proximity to study me and compare myself to, it didn’t take too long to understand what made me tick. I can now say “no” to some things that I know won’t be a good fit for me. Having the freedom to be creative and make 100% of my own decisions, I’ve developed firm preferences on my style, habits, even exactly how I like my coffee. And cutting down on my initial wishy-washiness has helped us to form a more authentic marriage in which we can meet each other’s needs because we understand them. Which brings me to my next point…
4. Your differences can strengthen your marriage when you learn how to use them.
Again, this will take a little time to learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses, but once you do you can actually use them to great advantage. I’m not great with numbers, and deadlines and due dates intimidate me, so James pays our bills and keeps up with our finances. He fills me in and we’re good to go. I ask him what is an appropriate amount to budget for groceries and go in with that amount only. I enjoy researching online and finding fun things to go do, so I make our weekend plans. He will throw up if he comes within 10 feet of a poopy diaper and it doesn’t bother me at all. We both get to avoid the majority of things we hate to do.
5. You will fear confrontation less because you have learned how to fight right.
Other than fighting with my siblings, I was an extremely non-confrontational person prior to marriage. I had no clue how to stand up for myself, form a clear opinion, or debate with someone. If I had purchased a flawed product a few years ago, I could never have mustered the gumption to go to customer service, explain my problem, and nicely (but firmly) demand a refund. I would never tell a waitress that my the food she brought wasn’t what I ordered. I’m not so easily intimidated now. And that’s a good thing. I can now let someone know that I disagree with their opinion but still respect their position and won’t allow our differences to affect our relationship.
6. You learn to own your less-desirable traits.
You both know you have them anyway. It’s better to own them. If you’re an unusually lazy person, you had might as well go ahead and admit it, be sure your spouse understands your negative tendency, and do your best to go against your natural grain when it will produce a better outcome. You and your spouse may both know that you are quick to anger, and when you both understand that you can work to avoid bad situations. You can take the reigns when you see your spouse is about to explode on someone and steer everything in a better direction. Admitting you can’t do something, or have a very hard time doing it, is the first key step in solving the problem together.
7. Don’t bring up past mistakes.
That thing he said in an argument two years ago? Forget it. Don’t mention it next time you’re upset. No matter how bad it was, if they apologized for it and it’s behind you, leave it in the past. I once heard that the biggest key to a successful marriage is having a short memory. There’s a lot of truth to that. Some things may never be forgotten, but even if you think about it every day for a time, don’t bring it up if you’ve already worked through it. Set a firm rule with yourself that you won’t hit below the belt and try and add past failures to current problems. It isn’t worth it and it won’t get you anywhere.
8. Your spouse is not all-knowing. Ask for what you need.
I love to be surprised. My idea of a romantic date is probably calling me at the last minute telling me to get dressed and pack my bags because my hubby is taking me to a surprise date spot for the weekend (which miraculously happens to be the place I’ve been wanting to go for months but never mentioned). Oh, and he’s arranged for a babysitter. Everything is taken care of.
You know what? That’s never happened. It’s never happened because James can’t read my mind. You have to actually tell your spouse what you want from them and not expect them to “just know”. Never be afraid to ask for what you need from someone who loves you. It can be a romantic need, the need for space when you’re angry, the need for a break from your crazy toddler every now and then. Tell them. You’ll both be happier.
9. You’ll begin to understand divorce.
You may not agree with divorce. You may never have considered it yourself. But you’ll begin to see how its possible to slip into bad habits that over time break down and destroy a marriage. Some people say that this creates a holier-than-thou attitude for those who have made their marriage work when they see others failing. Like they’ve discovered “the secret” and everyone else is just wimping out and choosing the easy escape. For me it’s been the opposite. I judged divorced people before being married myself. Now my heart hurts for them because I can begin to imagine how painful it must be to have gone into marriage with the same optimism that I did only to have reality come crashing down.
Do I believe that in 90% of difficult cases a marriage can still be salvaged if both parties swallow their pride and agree to start over? Yes. But I don’t judge the person who has chosen to separate. They have enough pain and adjustment to deal with without my condemnation piled on top. I would rather help them where they’re at and do what I can to support them, even if I don’t support their decision. I realize now how short the road actually can be to disaster.
10. Never take your spouse for granted.
Your marriage will be 100x healthier if you never let go the possibility that you might not always have your partner. This doesn’t have to be a morbid thought. Just a necessary dose of reality. When my husband is driving me crazy, even if I don’t react the right way I am already taking a step in the right direction when I remember that there’s no guarantee I will have him in another 5, 10, 50 years. The news is full of heart-wrenching stories of the wife who was hit by a drunk driver on the way home from work or the husband who was fatally shot at his workplace. They often interview the spouse, who says that they never imagined “something like this would happen to me”. Even worse, it feels like half the time something terrible happened it was after they were fighting earlier the same day.
Life can be short. We aren’t promised forever together. Make the most of today.
11. Be spontaneous. Be weird. Keep them guessing.
Keep things fun by being a little unpredictable at times. Fix all their favorite foods on a random Thursday night. Bring them lunch at work one day. Write a love letter for no reason.
All of those things break up the monotony of every day life and add a little spice to your relationship. It’s exciting and tantalizing when there are still little aspects of you that your partner doesn’t expect.
Wishing you all the best with your marriage,