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.

170 Comments

Meghan Zahari

2

Meghan Zahari commented…

This article is PACKED with timeless advice. Thanks for sharing.

Maria

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Maria commented…

Dear Tyler, I admire and applaud you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. A lot of humility and strength in character are needed for one to share an experience like this especially coming from a man. :)
This article reminds me of what I've learned from the abbot FrThomas Keating about Human condition. Indeed marriage leads to personal growth as long as the spouses stick to each other until the end. May God bless you and RELEVANT. :)

Andre Simoneau

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Andre Simoneau commented…

Brilliant. I'm so moved emotionally to recognize the truth in this article. Please I would like to email with he author. Andre@financialjuggernaut.com

George Blake

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George Blake commented…

Your article is very true and hits home for some, as does the series by Dr. Gray "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus".

However, like Dr. Gray you are only addressing those who are among the "perfect" people. In that, I mean those who are not nor were affected by co-dependent behavior. Those are people who are / were abused by some form of sexual, mental, spiritual behavior; and are / were alcoholics, drug addicts, workaholics, etc.

I was married to two women who were abused by their Fathers and refused to tell me and/or were in denial of issues arising from their abuse. They refused to go to counseling, failed to inform me of what had transpired, and one ultimately chose to protect him and her family over working with me or informing the authorities.

It is estimated that there are roughly half of our population that is co-dependent. So, it is no surprise that half of marriages fail. This is a problem that mainstream religions fail to address. No one wants to talk about abuse and/or co-dependent behavior openly. No one is addressing to people preparing to start serious relationships and marriage to seek out the truth from their mates about things they are hiding. This, I have found, is the most fundamental thing to be instilled during relationship counseling. Until they do, for many these are good words, but that is all they are and it is where it stops.

Ditte

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Ditte replied to George Blake's comment

YOU ARE ONTO SOMETHING. Truly. And let me just say that I am 100 percent with you!!!!! Marriage is an investment, it's the time to get your life right WITH someone else, not BY someone else. Where have you found all these informations and is there any suggestions of books by authors or Doctors, that you can give me the names for? I am seeking knowledge in marriage as well as human growth, as I weigh marriage HIGHLY, but do know that you have to be complete as a person, for you to build an empire with your spouse. You're not there only to compliment each other, that is what a relationship'd be for. As this man says in the article. You're finding someone to be around you, for the rest of your life. A life partner. And forever is a long time, so it requires human establishment of you, to be able to commit to marriage. You can really want a marriage and you can really want your significant other, but you need to be there mentally for when you've given your tokens... I respect love dearly, it's in my every fiber. That is also why I respect love so much, that I'll take the time I need personally as well as mentally to be thee marriage-fit. It's about awaking every day with a PURPOSE... Thank you!!!

Brett

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Brett commented…

i have commented on this before but i actually just wrote a new piece last nite which resonated with this when i saw it again on the unspoken messyness of marriage:

http://brettfish.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/marriage-pretty-much-a-whole-l...

and how it would be so helpful for people to talk about these things with us BEFORE we got married so that we didn't have crazy unrealistic Hollywood or Disneyfied expectations... it is not as though the person we are with suddenly magically becomes perfect [or us] and so we still need to deal with their mess or messyness [and they ours]...

so really helpful and good that people are writing about these things
brett fish

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