3 Things I Wish I Knew Before We Got Married

I used to think I had my stuff together. Then I got married.

Marriage is great—but it rocked everything I knew. I quickly realized my basic goal in life, prior to getting married, was to simply remain undisturbed.

This “disruption” came suddenly and was disguised as a 5-foot-nothing Swedish-Filipino woman. When I decided I’d rather not live without her, I proceeded to ask her to marry me—that is, to officially invite someone who wasn’t me to be in my personal space for the rest of my life.

This decision introduced my most significant experiences and most challenging experiences—none of which I would trade for the world.

However, I wish I’d had a bit more insight on the front end of our marriage to help me navigate it all.

According to most research, more than 50 percent of people who say “I do” will not be sleeping in the same bed eight years from now. And though Scripture alludes to the fact that adultery and abuse may be reasons individuals might end a marriage, I’d be willing to bet that most challenges experienced in marriage are the result of unawareness. Most people—myself included—jump into marriage with suitcases full of misconceptions and bad theology, entirely unaware of the unique beauty and paradoxical intentions of marriage.

Although happiness is often a very real byproduct of a healthy relationship, marriage has a far more significant purpose in sight.

The following are three thoughts on marriage that friends and mentors have shared with me. I remind myself of them often in hopes of keeping this anomaly called marriage both enjoyable and healthy.

1. Marriage is not about living happily ever after.

Here’s the truth: I get annoyed at my wife. But this is more a reflection of me than her.

I’m intensely certain that nothing in life has ever made me more angry, frustrated or annoyed than my wife. Inevitably, just when I think I’ve given all I can possibly give, she somehow finds a way to ask for more.

The worst part of it all is that her demands aren’t unreasonable. One day she expects me to stay emotionally engaged. The next, she's looking for me to validate the way that she feels. The list goes on—but never ventures far from things she perfectly well deserves as a wife.

Unfortunately for her, deserving or not, her needs often compete with my self-focus. I know it shouldn’t be this way, but I am selfish and stubborn and, overall, human.

I once read a book that alluded to the idea that marriage is the fire of life—that somehow it’s designed to refine all our dysfunction and spur us into progressive wholeness. In this light, contrary to popular opinion, the goal of marriage is not happiness. And although happiness is often a very real byproduct of a healthy relationship, marriage has a far more significant purpose in sight. It is designed to pull dysfunction to the surface of our lives, set it on fire and help us grow.

When we’re willing to see it this way, then the points of friction in our marriages quickly become gifts that consistently invite us into a more whole and fulfilling experience of life.

2. The more you give to marriage, the more it gives back.

Over the past year, a few friends and I have had an open conversation about the highs and lows of marriage—specifically how to make the most of the high times and avoid the low ones. Along the way, we happened upon a derailing hypothesis that goes something like this: If one makes their husband or wife priority number one, all other areas of life benefit.

When we return marriage to its rightful place in our priorities, it can quickly turn into the greatest asset to every other layer of our lives.

It’s a disorienting claim. Disorienting, because it protests my deeper persuasion that success as an entrepreneur, or any professional, requires that career takes the throne of my priorities and remain there for, at the very least, a couple of years.

However, seeing that my recent pattern of caring about work over marriage had produced little more than paying bills and a miserable wife, I figured giving the philosophy a test drive couldn’t hurt.

For 31 days, I intentionally put my wife first over everything else, and then I tracked how it worked. I created a metric for these purposes, to mark our relationship as priority, and then my effectiveness in all other areas of my life on the same scale, including career productivity and general quality of life.

To my surprise, a month later, I had a chart of data and a handful of ironic experiences to prove that the more you give to marriage, the more it gives back.

Notably, on the days my wife genuinely felt valued, I observed her advocating for me to invest deeply in to my work. She no longer saw our relationship and my career pursuits as competitors for my attention, and as she partnered with me in my career, I have experienced the benefits of having the closest person in my life champion me.

Of course, marriage requires sacrifice. And sometimes it will feel as if it takes and takes. However, when we return marriage to its rightful place in our priorities, it can quickly turn from something we have to maintain and sacrifice for into the greatest asset to every other layer of our lives.

3. Marriage can change the world.

John Medina, the author of Brain Rules and a Christian biologist, is often approached by men looking for the silver bullet of fathering. In one way or another, they all come around to asking, “What’s the most important thing I can do as a father?”

Medina's answer alludes to a surprising truth.

In my previously mentioned experiment, I measured the effect that making my marriage priority number one had on different areas of my life. One of those areas was my 16-month-old son’s behavior.

What I found in simply charting my observations was that the majority of the time, my child’s behavior was directly affected by the level of intention I invested in my marriage.

Re-enter John Medina, the Christian biologist. After years of biological research and several books on parenting conclusions, what is his answer to the question, “What’s the most important thing I can do as a father”?

“Go home and love your wife.”

Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam, the authors of Babywise, say it this way: “A healthy marriage creates an infused stability within the family and a haven of security for a child in their development process.” They go on to sum up their years of research by saying, “In the end, great marriages produce great parents.”

The point is that marriage has a higher goal than to make two people happy or even whole. Yes, the investment we make into our marriage pays dividends for us. But, concluded by Medina and his colleagues, the same investment also has significant implications for our family, our community and eventually our culture.

So men, women, the next time you find yourself dreaming about living significantly or succeeding in your career or being a better parent than yours were to you, do the world a favor: Go home and love your wife. Go home and and love your husband.

216 Comments

Kevin Leggett

29

Kevin Leggett commented…

Tyler, you nailed it (at least in my marriage) with this: "Here’s the truth: I get annoyed at my wife. But this is more a reflection of me than her."

I entered marriage with so many unrealistic expectations (some that I still cling to) at the young age of 21. We had our first kid on our first anniversary. That was 11 years ago and those first few years were incredible difficult. But the truth is that it was always more about me getting rid of these expectations and seeing her for the gift she really is.

Tyler Ward

33

Tyler Ward replied to Kevin Leggett's comment

Love this Kevin and I empathize entirely. Thanks for reading!

Emma

1

Emma commented…

Thanks for your article, some great points, but I think I would probably give it a different title - maybe 'Things you learn when you are married'. I suspect the reality is, even if someone told you these things prior to becoming married, there is little chance you could really know them. I wonder if you only know these things as you go through them, and as hopefully, those who have gone before meet you with this wisdom and honesty at the right time! As someone who has been married for 10 years, while I agree it is important to hear the things you have raised, to hear that marriage can be really hard, I'm sure I would not have heard this before I experienced it ('maybe it is hard for them, but not for us, we are such a perfect match')!

By the way, I agree with an earlier commenters caution on putting your marriage first including, as I assume from your article, before children. A good counselor suggested to me it is not so useful to seek to place partner/ children in order of priority - it is not necessary and the needs of the different relationships are so different, and not comparable. I agree a healthy relationship is good for kids, but it is potentially risky to bluntly suggest prioritizing your marriage. Needs ebb and flow over time, and I agree to using caution when considering the assertions of Baby Wise (my real opinion is to steer well clear of the book, but I know many will disagree with me!). Remember to nurture your marriage yes, but it is no more important than nurturing your children.

Emily

1

Emily replied to Emma's comment

It strikes me that nurturing your marriage positively affects your children (seeing parents who love each other and serve each other provides a positive example, instills healthy understanding of love and marriage, and promotes stability), while nurturing your children does not necessarily help your marriage--further, it can stifle and kill a marriage. It's not a coincidence that many marriages suffer divorce when the children leave the home and begin to live their own lives (ahem--the parents have lost their own selves to their children).

Poppy Smith

1

Poppy Smith commented…

Maybe a love-struck person wouldn't listen to warnings that marriage can be emotionally difficult at times, but some insights could help. Understanding that the person you love is not your clone, didn't come from the same home, views money differently, has different needs, or views issues in ways you cannot fathom doesn't take away clashes, but it does go a long way to helping you respond with self-control. As a Christian speaker and multi-published author, my book "Why Can't He Be More Like Me?" identifies what causes couples to get so discouraged they think about divorce. Much of the pain that leads to divorce is linked to not understanding why you react the way you do, or why your spouse reacts the way they do. And not realizing that God wants to use these times to show us our need for spiritual brokenness and transformation.

Tracy

1

Tracy commented…

I agree with all your points and have definitely seen them hold true in my marriage. Interestingly enough, those three points get to the heart of why I think there's a compelling case to be made for gay marriage. Why wouldn't we want to encourage two people to make a life-long commitment to one another that has the potential to make them better people and make the world a better place?

Tyler Ward

33

Tyler Ward replied to Tracy's comment

Interesting thought Tracy. One in which I look forward to thinking more on...

Robert Paul Travis

1

Robert Paul Travis commented…

I love what you wrote here, and was looking forward to sharing it with couples I see for pre-marital counseling. Then you referenced Babywise. That book promotes cruelty to babies and has no basis in good parenting, or good theology, even though the quote used about marriage rings true. I may have to edit the article before sharing it. Thanks for the reflections though.

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