When we met with Debbie in her office for premarital counseling, Kristen and I nodded our heads up and down. We agreed with her assessment of our relationship and affirmed her concerns about our future.
- “Sure, we’ll probably have some challenges with communication and unmet expectations.”
- “Yes, I’ll struggle with people-pleasing and busyness.”
- “Of course we know Kristen will seek to avoid conflict and hard conversations.”
But as soon as we got in the car and left her office, we laughed. There was no way we were going to struggle in our marriage. We were going to be different than all other married couples. I don’t care what our premarried assessment said, married life would be a piece of (wedding) cake for Kristen and me.
Now over 17 years into marriage, I wish we had paid more attention in those premarital counseling sessions! Some things you can learn before marriage, but others you learn the hard way—through experience. While we love being married to each other, over the course of the last 17 years, I’ve come to realize there’s a whole lot I wished I’d known before I got married. This post could be a full book, but to keep it brief, here some of the most important things I’ve learned along the way.
7 Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Got Married.
1. If you want a great marriage, then grow in your relationship with Jesus.
I knew before I got married my relationship with Christ was significant. I just had no idea how much it would affect my marriage.
The number one way to grow a great marriage is to grow in intimacy with Christ. The more you become like Christ, the better the spouse you’ll become. Even though Jesus was not married, He still epitomized the characteristics of a godly spouse: holiness, purity, kindness, patience, love, and so much more.
When you grow in your relationship with Christ, you learn how to show grace, mercy, and forgiveness to one another (Ephesians 2:4-9). An in-depth explanation of how to grow in your relationship with Christ is beyond the scope of this article, but many of the classic spiritual disciplines can help us grow in our knowledge of and love for the Lord (i.e., bible study, prayer, service, scripture memory).
Every day you can take steps to become more like Christ, and this will in turn help grow your marriage. I knew I needed to build my life on the rock foundation of Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:24-27), but I had no idea how much intimacy with Jesus would help me to become a better husband.
I talk about building your marriage on a solid foundation in my new marriage book, Ready or Knot? 12 Conversations Every Couple Needs to Have before Marriage. Click here to find out more about Ready or Knot?.
2. Great marriages are forged in the daily decisions of life.
Most days as a married couple are, frankly, mundane. You wake up and head out in different directions. You pay bills, change diapers, and fold laundry. Most days are filled with the mundane, daily tasks.
In a way I didn’t grasp before our wedding day, I never knew how significant the little tasks are in building a great marriage. In reality, great marriages rise out of the small steps of faithfulness married couples must take every day.
Daily, Christian couples must learn to ask for and offer forgiveness. They must make time to communicate and resolve conflict. Great marriages are built with servant-hearted husbands and wives. If Jesus didn’t come to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45), then we must do the same.
Before I got married, I never realized how much faithfulness in the little things every day would matter.
3. I’m not as great as I think I am.
I know I have quirks and annoying habits, but marriage helps reveal these traits like no other relationship. It’s been said that marriage is like a full-length mirror that lets you see exactly what you look like. For example, I quickly realized how lazy and selfish I can be at times. In his book The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller discusses how marriage doesn’t create problems but rather helps reveal them in our lives.
While this indeed can be painful, I’m grateful for the ways marriage helps me become more aware of my faults and sin patterns.
4. Humility looks good on everyone.
In Colossians 3:12-14, Paul instructs God’s chosen ones to put on godly characteristics, such as patience and kindness. He includes humility on the list, and I agree completely! As followers of Christ, we need to be marked by humility, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5, James 4:6).
Before I got married, I never knew how important it would be for me to learn to be humble every day with Kristen. One of the most important phrases every married person needs to say is, (for example) “I’m sorry for getting frustrated earlier today. Will you forgive me for my lack of gentleness in our argument?”
For some reason, apologizing and asking for forgiveness with Kristen is one of the hardest things to do in my life. My friend often says when we need to apologize and ask for forgiveness, it’s like we have a mouth filled with rocks and we can’t get the words out!
I wish I had known how important humility is in marriage.
5. You need others (aka you’re not terminally unique).
Every newly married couple struggles in a few key areas: money, sex, communication, and family/in-laws. Some struggle more than others, but every couple will face challenges in these areas and many more.
I thought we were the only ones. Until I talked to other newlyweds and realized we were just like every other newly married couple in the history of the world! You will face challenges, but you’re not alone. And you need others to help you walk through the big and small challenges you face.
Proverbs 13:20 provides a promise and a warning to us: walk with the wise, and become wise. Hang out with fools, and you’ll suffer harm. Find some wise people to spend your time with. Learn from mentor couples, others who are further down the road, and even learn from the mistakes of divorced men and women.
We actually have done well in this area of our marriage. Kristen and I both benefitted greatly from community on both the single and married side of life. I include this one on the list because I’ve seen countless couples isolate, which often leads to a lifeless marriage or divorce down the road.
6. Marriage is much harder than I expected.
Many couples think if they’re both followers of Christ and chose to pursue each other with purity on the premarried side, that married life would be easy. We don’t remember or know the only promise about marriage in the whole Bible. In 1 Corinthians 7:28, the apostle Paul tells us if we do marry we will have trouble in this life. There are no promises for a lot of money, hours of daily communication, or mind-blowing intimacy. We’re not promised anything else in marriage—perfectly behaved kids, great in-laws, or similar preferences on how we spend time or money.
Rather, the only promise says that married couples will struggle. If you’re married and have challenges, you’re not alone. If you want to get married, don’t expect to marry the perfect spouse. The only Perfect One is Jesus, and He’s not available for marriage!
Married life is straight-up challenging. Not because of anything Kristen does, but because of what marriage forces you to deal with. I knew at times we’d struggle, but I had no idea how hard marriage would really be.
7. Marriage is much greater than I ever hoped for or dreamed about.
Many studies today report both declining marriage rates and older average ages for men and women to say ” I do.” More couples move in together and many choose to not even get married.
I believe part of the reason why so many young couples choose to cohabitate or push off marriage altogether is because all they ever hear about from married couples are the challenges husbands and wives face. We complain about the “old ball and chain” wife or the weak and passive husband. They see couples either divorce or live happily miserably ever after.
Married couples need to change their tune about marriage. I want you to hear how incredible it is to be married. If you’re not yet married (but hope to be), make sure you spend much more time growing in your relationship with Christ and preparing for marriage than planning your wedding day. Apart from trusting Jesus as your Savior, who you choose to marry will be the most significant decision you will ever make.
Aside from a relationship with Christ, marriage is the greatest thing going in my life. I wish I understood how true this would be before marriage. Choose wisely. You’ll be glad you did.
This article first appeared in The Brink magazine.
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