I oscillated between two extremes as a teenager. I went from claiming I didn’t believe in love at all and that I would never get married, to having romantic notions that “the one” was out there for me. And of course “the one” was Mr. Darcy in the 21st century. I didn’t have a lot of experience dating, either. In high school, I had one boyfriend and our relationship only lasted a couple of months.
So when I was 18 and told my mother I was in love with one of my best friends, she was skeptical. When I went on to get married at 22 years old, a lot of my friends from back home were surprised. “What’s the rush?” they would ask both of us.
Life changes always seem to result in a lot of unsolicited advice, and this was no different. A lot of it revolved around the wedding itself rather than the marriage, but some did offer insights into marriage as well. Most of it (surprisingly!) was positive. Some of the advice was full of cautious optimism.
The biggest takeaway was that communication is key. They weren’t wrong. Having been married for almost eight years, I look back on this advice and realize it is way more nuanced than a single sentence can summarize, however. With our anniversary fast approaching, I thought I would share five things I wish I had known before getting married.
Communication Is Key, Even When You Don’t Feel Like It
Honestly, the way movies depict difficulties in marriage isn’t always accurate. It often isn’t loud and intense, it is more apathetic. Suddenly you start to binge TV shows next to each other instead of talking at the end of the day because you are tired from your workday or raising children. Then you stop going out for dinner together. One day you look up and realize you are feeling frustrated or lonely, and you aren’t sure why.
It may be easy to coast through like that, but it doesn’t lead to a successful marriage. Sure, there are periods of time in your marriage that require you to survive rather than thrive (like the newborn stage) but there is a danger to it becoming the norm.
Your spouse deserves effort, and so do you!
Make sure to ask one another about each other’s day and listen when they want to talk to you. Communicate when you feel even a bit lonely or like things are getting off course rather than letting feelings fester. Tell the other if you feel you need a little more of your love language and when they are doing a great job meeting your needs.
Most of all, set aside time for one another. This doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be a check-in over dinner or while drinking coffee before both of you go to work. Ask one another follow-up questions to show you were listening and care. Schedule time to talk with one another about serious discussions if needed. Try to not make every conversation a serious one though. Friendship and laughter are needed to balance everything out, otherwise, you may both find yourself avoiding discussions altogether.
Your Marriage Doesn’t Have To Look Like Either of Your Parents’ Marriages
Or anyone else’s marriage for that matter. If there are things you did not like about the way your parents or others communicated with their spouse, how they cared for one another, or how they behaved publicly or privately, know that your relationship can look different. You are able to make your marriage your own. I think this is important to discuss during the engagement or dating phase: what you have learned from your past and what you would like your future to look like together. Go over the things you love about relationships you’ve seen over the years and what you would prefer to look different than those other relationships.
Having a conversation about those things can lead to you identifying where you and your future spouse are the same and where you differ. What are you willing to compromise on? Are there important things you need to address?
If you come from a family where there is generational trauma, please know the cycle can end with you. You have the opportunity to start anew and live the life you want. This can be daunting, and it is OK if you and your spouse would like to talk to someone for help navigating that. Whether it be a therapist, a pastoral counselor, or a spiritual advisor. Never fear asking for help to give yourself a brighter future.
Love Languages Are Important—And They Can Change Over Time
If you haven’t read The Five Love Languages, you should. I used it both as a therapist and throughout our own marriage. In times of transition or frustration in our marriage, we always turn back to what our love languages are. We discuss how our love tanks are empty, if our love languages are shifting, and how we can meet each other’s needs.
Learning your spouse’s love language is key because it gives insight into how they receive and show their love. Oftentimes, their love languages will be different from yours. For example, my husband’s love language is ranked second lowest for me. It doesn’t come naturally to me at all, and so I have to put forth effort and practice to make sure he feels loved. Over time this has become easier, but when I am under a lot of stress, I have found I return to what is comfortable for me. I put in a lot less effort. Discuss your love language with your spouse and how you can meet those needs together.
Over the last eight years, we have also discovered our love languages have shifted over time. What was once important to us is no longer, and we need different things from each other. If you find that you aren’t being fulfilled in the same way, let the other know. Again, it is also important to communicate and show gratitude for when your partner is meeting your needs. It shows you see their actions and appreciate them, which then will help them want to do that more for you.
Do Not Make a Habit of Talking Badly About Your Spouse
We all need to vent or process with our friends. However, I’ll tell you a personal story to help illustrate this point. I once had a friend who complained about their partner every time I saw them. I didn’t know their partner that well and over time, I realized I bristled up when I saw them. I found myself having uncharitable thoughts toward them and feeling as if my friend deserved better. One time, I even said something to my friend because I felt those things so strongly. It didn’t go very well. They told me I didn’t understand their relationship and had the wrong idea about how they were treated.
You see what happened there? I formed an opinion about that person because all I ever heard were the negatives. From then on, I vowed that I would always try to speak positively about my husband as much as possible publicly. If I needed to vent or process, I would do so with friends I was really close to and who knew our relationship. After all, I love my husband even if he gets on my nerves sometimes. I don’t want people to think ill of him because that isn’t fair to him. Always be mindful of how you are depicting your partner to others. Build them up, rather than putting them down.
Marriage Is a Vocation
Marriage is so much more than two people deciding to live together and pay taxes together. As Pope Francis writes, “Marriage is a vocation, inasmuch as it is a response to a specific call to experience conjugal love as an imperfect sign of the love between Christ and the Church. Consequently, the decision to marry and to have a family ought to be the fruit of a process of vocational discernment” (Amoris Laetita, no. 72).
The call to marriage is one of the ways God calls us to holiness, just as chaste single life or religious life are other ways. God is asking us to follow Him through our vocations. Marriage calls us to serve one another, and ultimately, requires us to help get our spouse to Heaven. That is a beautiful and important task that should not be taken lightly.
When we met with our priest before our wedding day, he gave us the advice that our marriage is a three-twined rope. This reflects the message of Ecclesiastes 4:12, “a cord of three strands is not easily broken”. It is a necessity to have God intertwined in our homes and relationships because as two people, we can easily fail. There is grace in praying with and for one another. Bringing God into your marriage is a deliberate choice, and one you will need to actively make every day.
As husbands and wives, we strive to have God at the center by living out the Gospel, trusting in God during all times, offering all that we have to one another, and always seeking God’s will.
If you are in Pre-Cana and preparing for marriage, I wish you a lifetime of happiness and joy. You are about to embark on an exciting lifelong journey. If you are a married person, what are some things you wish you knew before becoming a husband or wife?
Originally published on the author’s blog