Tomorrow is my third wedding anniversary! Yay marriage. I am a fan.
There is a never-ending stream of pre-marital advice available. Books, blog posts, websites, podcasts and, of course, family and friends who have gone before, all offer pearls of wisdom engaged couples should know before “taking the plunge.” Some are amusing, others are sweet and endearing, some are strange or oddly personal, but I’d like to think most are well-meaning.
In the lead up to our wedding, my husband and I sifted through many of these nuggets, curious to find what others thought were the keys to a long and happy marriage. We were often surprised by the simplicity and obviousness of some of the suggestions. It seemed common sense, for example, that the couple would discuss how to handle their money before the wedding, or that the topic of children would have come up long before an engagement ring. Still, this kind of advice was everywhere.
At a truck stop on a road trip a week or two before our big day, we found a book by renowned author Gary Chapman titled Things I wish I’d known before we got married. Gary Chapman is best known for the five love languages, which was legitimately insightful in learning to relate to my, now, husband, so we figured if there was any book that was going to offer a valuable perspective, this would be it. (That it was being sold at a truck stop is just one of those weird, head scratching kind of details!) Turns out we were sorely disappointed. The book contained the usual: you need more than love to build a marriage; you’re not just marrying a person, you’re marrying into a family; talk about kids; talk about money; talk about religion. Sandwiched in between was the less than inspiring: toilets don’t clean themselves. How could it be that marriage really only boiled down to kids, money, and keeping the house clean?
Of course these things are important! There’s a reason they show up in so many places, and obviously there must be people who get so caught up in their own love story that they miss the big steps and discussions that should come before committing to be with someone forever. I’m also not going to pretend I’m an expert on marriage. Three years is a good start, but it’s far from a lifetime, and I know there will be many phases and stages and life changes in the years ahead that will test and affect my relationship. It’s in the vows as “better or worse” for a reason! That being said, after three years, I still think there are a number of things that I do wish someone would have mentioned prior to my walk down the aisle, and it seems only fair that I pass on this wisdom to the brides ahead. What’s one more voice in the never-ending stream of advice, right!?
#1: Everyone has marriage advice, but your marriage won’t be like anyone else’s
I believe people are very well-intentioned when they dish out relationship advice, but some of it needs to be taken with a large grain of salt! If you’ve dated more than one person, you already know that not every relationship is exactly the same. So why would every marriage be? Different personalities, behaviors, work schedules, relationship dynamics, priorities, etc. will all contribute to the marriage. Since no two people are exactly the same, no two interpersonal dynamics are the same. Some advice is good. Take it. Some advice will not apply. Ignore it. Some advice might seem bad. Accept that it must have some kind of meaning for the person who gave it to you, and then be grateful you’re not part of that marriage!
#2: Be prepared for the questions about kids
I knew we would get asked about kids, and my husband and I have talked about kids and know all the answers to the how many, if, and when questions. What surprised me was just how many people would want those answers the moment we walked back up the aisle. At our reception, the questions had already started. At the morning after brunch, they only intensified. After our first anniversary, after our second anniversary, after I finished my master’s degree, after we took a long European vacation, the questions flared up again. Now that we’re going on three years, some people just assume we have kids and skip the “when are you having kids?” question for “how many kids do you have?” I’ve even had someone tell me that the only reason to get married was to have a family, so they didn’t understand what we were waiting for. I did expect the questions, and they’re annoying, and coming up with a bunch of snarky responses is a decent coping mechanism, but I didn’t realize the intensity with which some people were going to believe that this was their business and pursue it!
#3: The honeymoon phase can last well past the honeymoon
Second only to the kids question, the most common thing I’ve heard or been asked about in the first three years of marriage is about the honeymoon phase. Generally these conversations went like this. Year 1: Any cute, semi-romantic thing that happened in the presence of other people elicited a comment about the honeymoon phase. Year 2: Any cute, semi-romantic thing that happened in the presence of other people elicited a comment about still being in the honeymoon phase, but how it will wear off. Year 3: Any cute, semi-romantic thing that happened in the presence of other people elicited a comment about how that will wear off when we have kids (often followed up with a question about when that was going to be).
Maybe my definition of the honeymoon phase is different from other people’s because I don’t believe that every moment has to feel magical to still be in said phase. But recently someone told me that after 18 years of marriage, they still feel like they’re in the honeymoon phase, so I feel like maybe some couples just sell themselves short, or have incredible expectations for what day-to-day living should be like. It still seems possible to remain this happy, so probably don’t worry about what other people say you should be feeling!
#4: The “little things” can be annoying, or endearing, try to pick the latter
My husband and I lived together before we got married. This choice isn’t for everyone, and I think some people probably do it too soon or for the wrong reasons, but it worked for us. When sharing a space with another person, a lot comes to light about routines and behaviors. Some of it will be annoying. Some of it will be endearing. Some of it will be your choice in how you respond to it. My husband, for example, likes to eat at his desk in the morning. For the first few months we lived together, I picked up his cereal bowl from the desk and took it to the dishwasher almost every day. While it seemed so obvious to me that he should take the bowl with him to the kitchen before he left, it wasn’t how he operated in the morning. I had choices: get annoyed, argue with him to do it, ignore it, continue to pick up the bowl. In the end, I continued to pick up the bowl, and weeks before we got married, I realized that if he was gone, and that desk was empty, I’d actually miss the small signs that we were sharing our morning and life together. That’s right, I’d miss the cereal bowl!
Consequently, when asked, my husband said that he routinely steps on the plug to my hair straightener in the morning when I leave it on the bathroom counter to cool down. I imagine this feels about as good as stepping on a Lego, yet he’s never one time complained about it, fought with me about it, or even mentioned it before being asked. Often times he wraps it up and puts it away after I’ve gone to work. Could it be that he’d miss my straightener like I’d miss his cereal bowl? Maybe. Or maybe we’ve just chosen endearment over annoyance when it comes to each other’s quirks.
#5: Fighting is okay, but not fighting is okay too
This one is important to me because I feel like 99% of the marriage advice out there is in the vein of fighting fair, it being okay to fight, and variations of whether or not you should go to bed angry. There’s advice about fighting naked to make the situation more vulnerable. There’s advice about having sex mid-fight because it’s more emotional and intense. There’s an actual “unity ceremony” that some people choose to include in their wedding where the couple boxes up a bottle of wine and some love letters in preparation for their first married fight. My husband and I never fought before we got married, so in light of all this advice, I started to think maybe there was something about marriage that inherently made fighting more likely.
A friend gave us a bottle of wine as a wedding present that was supposed to be designated for our first fight. It sat on the wine rack for two years before I came home one day and found it in the fridge. I initially panicked! What had happened that not only were we going to drink the wine, but he was anticipating and planning for the fight hours in advance? When I nervously broached the subject, he laughed. Turns out, it was just a good bottle of wine that he felt like was going to waste collecting dust. It was going to go bad before we got around to opening it, and he just wanted to drink it. We drank the bottle, content that we’d never need it for a “fight.” We don’t fight. We disagree. We get emotional. We hurt each other’s feelings, and apologize, and forgive. But it’s not really in either of our natures to fight with the other. And our not fighting seems to be just as normal as some people’s occasional need to fight.
After three years, I’m still pumped to be married, and in a lot of ways, I love my husband more and better than I did on the day we met at the altar. I hate the “marry your best friend” cliché because I think it’s overused, but it’s not wrong!
If you have marriage advice, feel free to drop it in the comments! I can’t promise I’ll take it. (Like I said, “take it…ignore it…be glad it’s not your marriage!) But I do love a good love story!