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.

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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.

Top Comments

Marcus

11

Marcus commented…

Great insights Tyler! I love how you don't just share these tips, but you have actually implemented them in your marriage and life before.

Whenever I give more to my marriage, I have also received more, and it has positively affected other areas of my life.

Thank you for sharing your experience.

http://ourpeacefulfamily.com/first-year-of-marriage-advice-tips/

Ashley Crooks

1

Ashley Crooks commented…

Hi Tyler. Thanks so much for sharing your experience! I thought you may want to know that the highly quoted divorce rate statistic of 50% is actually not supported by research. Shaunti Feldhahn's book "The Good News about Marriage" talks about her journey to find the truth out about that particular statistic. Thanks again for sharing your story!

177 Comments

JeremyAnderberg

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JeremyAnderberg commented…

I appreciate the intent of this article, I really do. But I also find it a little silly that you had to put together an experiment, with metrics and all, to realize that putting your wife #1 in your life was a good thing.

Tyler Ward

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Tyler Ward replied to JeremyAnderberg's comment

Apparently, some of us just aren't that intelligent and need more proof Jer. :)

JeremyAnderberg

2

JeremyAnderberg replied to Tyler Ward's comment

On a more philosophical level, I wonder if there's just a difference in some couples. My wife and I dated for nearly four years before getting married. I was SURE she was the one, and had four years of that experimentation phase to know that loving her came incredibly naturally to me.

With shorter dating periods (was yours?), I wonder if the decision to get married is a little more impulsive (that doesn't feel like quite the right word, hopefully you know what I mean), and it therefor takes a little longer to get to that point of service and sacrifice just flowing out naturally as a byproduct of genuine love. It does take a while for the "self" to go away and for selflessness to come first.

D'Arcy Watsham

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D'Arcy Watsham replied to JeremyAnderberg's comment

He didn't say that he did this to understand that putting your wife first is a 'good thing'. He did it to prove to himself that his selfishness actually detracts from the rest of his life, and that is a lie we all have to prove wrong continually, or else there would be no such thing as selfishness.

Kiki

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Kiki replied to D'Arcy Watsham's comment

Jeremy- I don't think the length of dating really has anything to do with it. Couples date for ten years and still get divorced down the road. I think it boils down to a few things. Obviously, some people just choose better than others. Also, some people just have great marriages and others don't. My husband and I personally have a fantastic marriage. We have friends though that have struggled since day one. I just think different people have different types of struggles. I've found that sometimes when you have a good marriage, you have a hard time empathizing and understanding why others don't. But then I'm sure that those same people don't understand different struggles that you may have.

Biscuet

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Biscuet commented…

Beautiful job, Tyler! I love that you combined intellect & research with your personal experience. Seeing as how i get married in 52 days, i'll be rereading this and forwarding to my fiancé.

Tyler Ward

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Tyler Ward replied to Biscuet's comment

Thanks Biscuet! And hope your 52th day from now is a great one.

Erin McConnell

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Erin McConnell commented…

I very much enjoyed this.

I can say on all accounts that I love my boyfriend. We have been dating for almost 10 months and are talking about getting married. Not that because we are talking about it that we now have to get married but I have often thought about what it would mean to marry him. He does things now that drive me crazy and I know that isnt going to change once the vows are said. I'm under no impression that it wont be difficult, but the idea of being able to wake up and love someone inspite of the things that drive you crazy and to learn that they have to do the same for you, is such an amazing godly picture. I know marriage is a journey and can be ugly and messy, but when I think about the person I would get to be with, and knowing that both of us are willing to see it though, Its such an amazing blessing.

We have chosen to date longer and make a deliberate decision after we really know each other quite well to decide if getting married is really what would be a wise decision for us to pursue together. Making a commitment like that is a huge one, and letting butterflies get in the way of a mindful decision is unwise.

Tyler Ward

41

Tyler Ward replied to Erin McConnell's comment

Glad you enjoyed Erin! Heres an article I enjoyed by Tim Keller speaking to some of the dynamics you're mentioning: http://goo.gl/SW9QL Stay in touch!

Robert Gordon

4

Robert Gordon commented…

Do you really think it is wise and biblical to put your spouse above all else? or make them priority #1? In my experience, that makes a relationship of co-dependence. What happens when you are 'sacrificing' by making them #1 and they stop supporting or champion for you, they fail you, they find it too hard? Devastation and depression is what. I would humbly suggest that you amend that to say by making Christ #1 in your life, your marriage and all else would benefit. Only God can't disappoint you. Oh, and I wish I had known #1 before I was married. Thanks for the article.

Robert Gordon

4

Robert Gordon replied to Tyler Ward's comment

Tyler, thank you for responding to my reply and I appreciate your writing and thoughts, and hopefully I am able to humble articulate mine as well as you did.

I am going to reply back to this because I have lived through it. I would say that for a marriage to find health, both partners must have the same commitment to making Christ priority number one. I base this on the 1st commandment, which everything else flows from, and my own experiences. Try as hard as you want, 'try as you might', you are sinful and selfish, and you fail when you try things on your own power/will/knowledge/wisdom/etc.
Lets say you and your spouse both communicate this expectation of putting each other first, and really like it, see the benefits (selfish and unselfish, if that's possible). Months/Years down the road, things are going great because of your communicated expectations, and then one of you does something to disappoint the other. Who knows, lets say watch a sporting event or stay at work an hour later to finish a project, but the other spouse took off work early or postponed something they wanted to do so that they could put their spouse first. Do you think the spouse would be disappointed? Lets say, out of putting the other first and not wanting to hurt them, they kept their disappointment to themselves for an extended period of time? Does it fester? Bitterness ensue? Healthy or not? Having been married before, I would say this scenario happens constantly. Take it up a notch, and throw in lying, cheating, stealing, adultery, sexually immoral acts (porn, etc.) (maybe even unrepentant) and how deep does the hurt go? Can you forgive out of your own power? Can you reconcile with your spouse on your own? If this isn't within our power, than what is the use of making your spouse #1?
Again, put Christ first, then your spouse (if you have one), then children (if you have them), then family, and whatever God has blessed you with for your life. Without Christ, the rest falls apart too easily.
And as far as co-dependence goes, Christ isn't dependent on us, so being dependent on Him isn't co-dependence, it's a healthy dependence. By putting your spouse first you make yourself dependent on them (and potentially them on you if the also agree to put you first), and put a lot of pressure on them to live up to your expectations of what that means. God has already outlined what it means to put Him first, and is the only thing possible unable to disappoint us when we make them #1.

This article might assume that God is put first, but this website is called Relevant and is trying to reach those that might not assume that, so it needs to be mentioned somewhere if that is the case, IMHO.

Thanks for writing this article, and the discussion that ensued :) As much as I like the back and forth in the comment sections, I'd much rather have this conversation in person where things aren't taken out of context and tone of voice and body are taken into account.

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