“I wish I had known this before I got married.” I hear this a lot as a counselor. Sometimes it’s said in jest, and sometimes it’s said in frustration.
Before we get married, we think we know what it takes to have a good marriage. It’s only after we’re married that we begin to find out how much we really don’t know. The things we don’t know can bring an end to the honeymoon phase of marriage, and if left unaddressed, can bring an end to the marriage itself.
What is it we need to know before we get married…and before we get divorced?
First of all, I don’t have all the answers. In fact, after thirty-eight years of marriage I’m finding I have just as many questions as I have answers. But as a husband and counselor, I have learned some things along the way. Here’s a few things you need to know before you get married…or divorced.
Marriage is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do in life.
When your marriage relationship gets difficult and animosity starts to build, it’s easy to believe there’s something wrong with your marriage. “If I were in the right marriage, we wouldn’t be having these problems, would we?” The truth is, every marriage has problems; even the good ones.
Marriage is hard. You can’t put two people together who have different personalities, different up-bringings, different hormones, different needs, and different views and expect things to go smoothly all the time. Will it get better over time? It can, but you have to do a lot of work on communication, problem solving, compromise, self-restraint, and self-denial.
At the risk of discouraging you, marriage will always be work. Your circumstances are always changing, your views are always changing, your bodies are always changing, your finances are always changing…in short, you’re always having to adjust to something.
Don’t get me wrong. Marriage is a wonderful thing with many wonderful blessings, but it’s not for the weak of heart.
Marriage is meant to shape you, not serve you.
Spouses who come to my office for counseling often just want to figure out how to get their spouse to change. It can be difficult for spouses in counseling to see that maybe God is using the problems in their marriage to change them.
Before I got married, I envisioned how great marriage would be. I thought about having someone to come home to, to laugh with, to have sex with, to talk about my day with, etc. All those things are a great part of marriage, but the problem is all those things are for my benefit. It’s all about how marriage will serve me.
After being married for a year or two, I discovered (much to my surprise) that my wife didn’t sign up to be my servant. I also discovered she expected and needed things from me that we’re not on my agenda and would require changes in my attitudes and behaviors. I hadn’t bargained on this. I hadn’t realized that God intended to use my marriage to change me as much as to bless me.
Marriage will leave you open to misunderstanding and hurt.
Loving someone will always put you at the risk of hurt and misunderstanding. You can’t put two imperfect people under one roof without them getting upset, saying things they shouldn’t, being stubborn, and acting unkind at times.
But love is worth the risk, and the occasional hurt feelings. So give each other the benefit of the doubt. Remind yourself that your spouse didn’t marry you just to hurt your feelings and get on your nerves. And don’t forget that you’re not completely innocent either.
Hurt and misunderstanding are just a part of marriage at times, so don’t overly focus on it. Instead, remind yourself how much you would grieve if your spouse passed away. You’ll be surprised how this will help you reduce your grumbling and increase your love.
Marriage is about learning to out serve your spouse.
If your initial reaction to this statement is anything like mine, you’re probably thinking: “That’s not fair.” “What if they don’t do their part?” “I don’t want to be a door mat!” “You just said your spouse didn’t sign up to be a servant. Well I didn’t either!”
I understand these reactions, but remember your wedding vows. Remember those things you promised when you were in front of that preacher and all those people. Your promises were not conditional on whether your spouse kept their promises.
Remember this…every marriage that keeps score, eventually loses!
Go above and beyond in serving your spouse, because a good marriage is not a 50/50 proposition. A good marriage is more of a 150/150 proposition. Will your spouse always give 150%? Probably not. Just like you won’t always give 150%. But I can tell you this: if you work hard to out-serve your spouse, the chances are very high they will work harder to serve you…after they’re sure your not running some kind of scam.
These are just a few of the things you need to know before you get married…or divorced. I’m sure there are more, and someday I’ll probably share some more. But these four things are more than enough to start with.
I would love to hear some of the things you wish you knew before getting married or divorced. Leave them in the comments and let’s start building a list.