How much did you know about marriage before you tied the knot?

Merry and I thought we knew a lot. As we prepared for our marriage, we went through counseling and got a lot of good advice. We read books.  We attended one of FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember getaways to learn about God’s plan for marriage.

But there are some important things that we did not fully understand. So if I were talking with a premarried couple, here’s what I’d tell them about the “5 Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Was Married”:

#1: Marriage is not all about you.

It’s not about your happiness and self-fulfillment. It’s not about getting your needs met. It’s about going through life together and serving God together and serving each other. It’s about establishing a family. It’s about committing your lives to each other even though you may be very different in 10, 20, or 40 years from the people you are now.

#2: You are about to learn a painful lesson—you are both very selfish people.

This may be difficult to comprehend during the happy and hazy days of courtship, but it’s true, and it shocks many couples during their first years of marriage. It’s important to know this revelation of selfishness is coming, because then you can make adjustments for it, and you will be a lot better off.

#3: The person you love the most is also the person who can hurt you the deepest.

That’s the risk and pain of marriage. And the beauty of marriage is working through your hurt and pain and resolving your conflicts and solving your problems.

#4: You can’t make it work on your own.

It’s obvious that marriage is difficult—just look at how many couples today end in divorce. This is why it’s so critical to center your lives and your marriage on the God who created marriage. To make your marriage last for a lifetime, you need to rely on God for the power and love and strength and wisdom and endurance you need.

#5: Never stop enjoying each other.

Always remember that marriage is an incredible gift to be enjoyed. Ecclesiastes 9:9 says, “Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.”

Enjoy the little things of life with your spouse: the food you enjoy together at home or in restaurants … the movies you like … the little inside jokes nobody else understands except for you … the times you make each other laugh … the games you play together.

And focus on making memories together: Plan special dates and weekend getaways. Make sure you reserve time for each other after you have kids. When you are old, you won’t look back and remember how great it was to buy that new furniture or watch that great show on television. You’re going to remember what you did together and saw together and created together.

The readers respond

When we first posted this article, we asked for input from our readers on what they wish they’d known before they were married.  We received a number of great ideas and some very thoughtful letters. For example, one woman wrote:

“As little girls we are conditioned on the idea of a fairy tale life: “…and they lived happily ever after.” I think too many times those little girls grow up expecting the fairy tale they heard so much about when they were little. When reality hits and they realize life (marriage) is not really the fairy tale they thought it would be. They think that something went wrong and they made a mistake: ‘Maybe I didn’t really marry Prince Charming after all. Maybe I married the wrong person.’ So the marriage ends in divorce and she sets out to once again look for the Prince Charming who is supposed to make all her dreams come true. 

“Marriage is work! Marriage is compromise and sacrifice. It can end in happily ever after, but not without a lot of heartache and tears in between.”

Advice from our readers

Here are some other highlights from comments readers sent me:

  • “Always put your relationship with the Lord first and foremost!”
  • “You can’t change your spouse, only God can.” 
  • “Sometimes you will have a tough time with in-laws and understanding them, but forgiveness and understanding is key.”
  • “Because it’s not always so obvious, it might bear mentioning: even in the most loving marriage—and obviously in trying marriages—marriage is hard. It takes work. It takes effort on the part of each individual involved. Especially when kids and life come along and get in the way—it’s very easy to slip into ‘partners in the business of life’ mode.”
  • “Your spouse has secrets that you don’t know about.  My hard reality was that I didn’t get to start knowing my husband until after we were married.” 
  • “Marriage is more about our one-on-one relationship with Christ than our one-on-one relationship with our spouse.” 
  • “Marriage is not about being ‘in love.’ It is about working together with a partner for the rest of your lives, in good times and in bad, regardless of how you feel.”
  • “Always remember that your spouse is human, too, and prone to the same faults and failures you are. We all make mistakes and we can all learn to forgive.”
  • “Bless each other in both big and small ways every day.”
  • “Marriage is a full time job … it must be always tended like a fire in the fireplace so that it will keep burning well.”
  • “It is very important to always lift up your spouse in every way. To know that a true relationship means that you will always support your spouse and be there for them when tough times roll around. Because they do.”
  • “I wish I had known how to resolve conflict without saying the wrong things or hitting below the belt.”
  • “I wish I had known how to forgive generously and quickly.”
  • “Keep priorities in this order: God first, my spouse second and then the kids.”
  • “Forget perfect.”
  • “Say I love you to each other every day.”
  • “Time together needs to be treated as sacred time.  It should come second to only God and that all others (including family) take third place.  When we look back at the past five years of our marriage, what comes to mind are the happy times we have spent just the two of us, focused on each other.” 
  • “There will be times during your marriage that you can and will be so discouraged, or so angry, or so heartbroken that all you want to do is give up.  Don’t.  Surrender yourself and your marriage completely to Jesus.” 

And finally …

Stick with your mate even when you don’t want to, and even when your ‘friends’ tell you that you should leave or you ‘have a right to leave.’  … If you’re courageous enough to stick it out—and I promise you that you will be in Christ, who will strengthen your every thought and step, you will find your reward on the other side of the discouragement and pain.

“What waits for you is a bond made stronger through adversity, a love made sweeter by your unwavering commitment and your sincerest efforts to make your marriage work, and an added bonus of a completely different perspective about yourself.  You’ll find that it really isn’t about you at all.  Instead of praying, ‘Lord, please change my spouse,’ you’ll find yourself praying, ‘Lord, please change me.’

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