Now that my husband and I have been together for over a decade, we look back at our time of preparing for marriage and realize that there is so much about the day-to-day aspects of marriage that no one really told us about.
From the practicalities of sharing a house to the practices of conflict management—a lot tends to be left unsaid.
I’m thankful for the older and wiser mentors who helped us in our transition to marriage, and told us the truth we may have otherwise never heard.
Now, as a professional counselor specializing in marriage and relationships, I often work with couples who are struggling in their marriages. While I certainly believe that much of conflict in relationships stems from issues of the heart, often I do see that couples are struggling in marriage simply because of a lack of preparation.
So, Here are five things we’ve learned—but no one ever told us—about marriage:
1. Conflict is a healthy part of marriage.
I have to admit, I sort of prided myself in the fact that our pre-marriage experience didn’t consist of much conflict. But as I look back, I’ve realized that conflict isn’t the enemy. But it’s how you manage your conflict that can make or break marriage.
Binding two different people into one, marriage forces you to get to the heart of your opinions, needs, feelings and desires, and learn to share those things in a meaningful and healthy way. It requires you to look at your differences, and learn to work through those things with as much selflessness and sacrifice as you can muster.
There is no getting around conflict, but there is always the choice to get through it, and then come out even stronger on the other side.
2. Your sex life is a small fraction of your married life.
Let’s just put it out there: Sex is awesome—once you figure out how to do it right. (P.S., Don’t expect to master it on the honeymoon!)
It’s the super glue of a marriage relationship that offers you an intimate experience with your spouse shared with no other person. It’s a God-given gift that points to the creativity of and majesty of our Creator.
But the truth is, sex is such a small fraction of how you actually spend time in marriage.
More than anything else, it’s the day-in-day-out routine of life that takes up most of your time in marriage. From the laundry to cooking to chores and errands, you find that your time with your spouse is spent doing thousands of insignificant things—but with the opportunity to do them in really significant ways. As important as it is to serve each other sexually, it’s just as important to serve and love each other through the monotonous routine of life.
To give your time, your energy and your willingness to meet the other person’s needs: That’s what a truly loving marriage is all about.
3. You’ll have to relearn how to share.
We all think of the deep spiritual and physical benefits of oneness, but do we ever consider things like one house, one bed, one bathroom, one mirror above the bathroom sink, one bank account, one budget?
In marriage, you relearn the preschool lesson of “sharing.” But you learn it in a very non-preschool kind of way. You learn to let go of the mine-and-yours mentality, because in marriage, everything is truly ours.
There’s something really hard about that truth, but also really beautiful, because it offers an opportunity for selflessness.
4. At some point, you’ll want to give up.
Even in the most nourished marriages, we all come to a point where we’ve reached the end of ourselves. It’s that time where we’ve given everything we can and feel like we’ve got nothing left to give.
In marriage, there will be a day when you want to give up. To give up on trying, on forgiving, on healing, on growing or on loving. But it is in those very moments that God wants to intervene, to prove Himself faithful and to remind you that true love always comes in the form of a choice.
Those moments in marriage have been the most life-changing for me, because it’s in those moments that I’ve learned that the end of myself is exactly the place I need to be.
It is in those moments that I have watched God’s mercy pour into my life, so that His grace could flow out of my life. And His grace is always just what I need- and it’s always enough.
5. Getting married isn’t your final destination.
It’s easy for us as Christians to become consumed with the goal of finding a spouse and getting married because we all recognize what a special gift marriage can be.
But as I’ve had the privilege of experiencing marriage, I’ve realized that this relationship is just part of the bigger picture God has for my life.
I write about this in my book, True Love Dates, because grasping this truth was such an important part of my expectations and understanding marital love: “When we see marriage as our sole purpose in life, we find ourselves with nowhere to go when we finally arrive. Marriage may be an avenue of fulfilling our purpose, but it’s not the final destination” (p 136).
Marriage is a great thing, but it’s only a temporary part of our God-given story.
His purpose for each of our lives is never-ending, starting from the moment we are conceived and all the way into eternity. It’s a purpose and a calling that is filled with meaning, because it’s about sharing His love with the world around us (Matthew 22:36-40). It’s a love that reaches into our marriages, but goes above and beyond our relationship status, to everyone he’s placed in our lives.
Getting married may be part of our journey, but it can never be the final destination.
Just like anything in life, having more knowledge creates the environment for a better experience. Marriage is certainly a lifelong process of learning along the way.
An earlier version of this article appeared in 2014.
Debra is a Licensed Professional Counselor, relationship expert, speaker and author of several books, including True Love Dates. Debra is also the creator of the popular relationship advice blog TrueLoveDates.com, reaching millions of people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.