7 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Got MarriedOn July 13, 2017 by Samantha Jean
I was 22 when I got married. Fresh out of college and just received an amazing job offer at the company of my dreams. I was also 24 when I realized my marriage wasn’t going to make it in the long haul, and 25 when I received my official divorce decree.
Obviously, I was quite young when I was married, and that isn’t to say that anyone needs to be older in order to say ‘I do’, but in my case, I was still figuring out who I was going to be. It’s really impressive how much growth happens in your twenties. When I met my now-ex-husband, I had just turned 21 and was far more concerned about the things that surrounded that versus the rest of my life. I am pretty sure I hadn’t thought much past what my plans were that weekend. And by the time I came to actually understand my values, ambitions, and personal qualities, it was a little too late. I was already married to someone that I was certain was not a good fit for me.
They say hindsight is 20/20. That’s so accurate, it’s not even funny. Yes, my marriage failed, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t gather some extremely valuable insight from it all. I learned a lot. In fact, there are many, many things that I know now, that I wish I had known five years ago when I got into the relationship that would eventually lead me here, starting with—
Don’t rush in to an engagement. I only dated my boyfriend for six months before he asked me to marry him, and at the time it was super thrilling and I felt like it was really cool to be engaged to be married, blah blah blah—but looking back on it now, I realize that was just completely and totally stupid. I barely even knew him. Maybe six months is enough time for some people, and that’s fabulous, but it certainly wasn’t for me. I was way too caught up in the lovey-dovey-ness of it all that I either didn’t notice, or chose to ignore, the red flags I see now that were there.
So, I think a better rule of thumb is make sure you really, truly know the person you say yes to, without all the blindness of being in love, but really asking yourself if this person is going to match up with your values and goals. How do they act when they are angry? How do they act when they are lonely? Are they honest? Do they communicate well? Are they clean, ambitious, like to travel, want to have kids, etc? Do they support you? Not to make a checklist, but these are things that will be important for you to know, if they aren’t already now. And if you are thinking, “my God, Samantha, that’s ridiculous, who really examines a relationship that much that early on” then I am speaking directly to you. Because you might not think these things matter now, but I promise you, as you get older, they will. And figure these things out before you accept a ring, no matter how exciting the prospect of planning a wedding is. Because the engagement isn’t really the time to get to know someone. That should come before you say yes to forever.
Realize marriage is meant to be a forever thing. I went in with the obvious idea that I was so in love and would want to spend eternity with someone, without actually sitting there and thinking about the stages of forever. I mean, how many times have you been head over heels for someone and said “I want to be with him forever”? Let’s talk a bit about what actually happens during forever. You’ll hop between jobs. You’ll change—mentally, emotionally, and definitely physically. You’ll make really big financial decisions that may stress you both out to the point where you want to rip your hair out. You may own a pet that barks constantly or piddles on your clean floor all the time.
I’ll fast forward to parenthood, as that was a large caveat in my divorce. A lot of couples really struggle in those first years of parenthood, and then there are those that don’t make it through. You want to know why? It’s freaking hard. Everything changes (and I do promise in a good way) but seriously—life changes. YOU change. And it’s great and it’s ok, but it’s, you know, a change. And a big change can bring with it some other good or bad side effects.
I had never actually sat down and thought about what I would expect of my significant other during times like that (and when I say “times like that” I mean times where I would seriously want to rely on someone else for things because I was too tired or stressed, and need someone to love me during a really crazy period of my life, like when I was 40 pounds heavier than my wedding day). And that was just foolish, because when you commit to someone, you commit to forever, and that includes all the good and bad things that happen during that forever.
Make sure your significant other knows your hopes and dreams. This is a tough one because in my personal experience, I tried to make this clear at the beginning of our relationship, and my ex-husband seemed to be on the same page with me. It was only a couple years into the relationship that I realized we didn’t actually want the same things. You know how they say something along the lines that you are never your true, complete self when you start dating someone? Like you are always this best version of yourself because you want them to like you? That was what I think sort of happened in my case. I told my then-fiancée that I had this thing I always wanted to do, and that was to one day build my dream home, and he said he was cool with it. Long story short—two years later, he said he actually wasn’t ok with it, and suddenly it was a fault of mine for wanting to do that. And that’s not fair. Get your goals, dreams, and ambitions out on the table so that you both know what you want in your future. If they mesh up, that’s great. If they don’t, now is the time to figure out what you are willing to give up on and what is worth fighting for.
Understand you really ARE marrying their family. They mean it when they say you are marrying your spouse’s family. That means you better really like his sister, his brother, his father, his mother (oh, the memes you could find on Pinterest), and anybody else that comes along with it, because they are there for the long haul, whether you like it or not. And if you have issues that come up with any of them, I suggest you figure out a coping mechanism to solve them, because those aren’t people that ever just “go away”. Take a look at a time you reached a disagreement with them, evaluate what worked to solve that disagreement, and remember that method so you can implement it in the future.
Identify your values and expectations and make them known. You know what I learned about myself over the course of my marriage and divorce? Pretty much everything. I learned that I wanted to become an independent, successful, ambitious, and strong woman. I learned that I like to be organized and ahead of the game. I enjoy a clean house, some alone time with my family, and I want to have lots of kids. You could say I recreated myself during that time frame, and grew leaps and bounds as far as moving from a naïve 21-year-old to a 25-year-old who acted more like she was 40. You know what else I learned over the course of my marriage and divorce? My husband did NOT actually like me. He didn’t like what I liked, he didn’t care about what I cared about, and who I became was not the type of girl he wanted to love. This probably doesn’t require much more explanation than that, but make sure you figure out your values, and I would encourage you to stick to them. I valued open communication and ambition in my relationship. My husband did not. Get it out there. If you can’t get on the same page, you may struggle and find yourself trotting down a dead end.
Marriage truly is work. When I grew up, I carried with me a notion that there was really maybe one soul mate out there for us, and that love would conquer all—or something to that effect. But spoiler alert—that’s not true. There are many “soul mates” out there, and it’s a matter of finding a good fit at a good time and riding it out for the long haul. And because there isn’t a soul mate, there probably isn’t a “true love conquers all” sort of set up in the universe either. Sorry if I burst your bubble there. You can most certainly disagree with me. Disney probably does.
However, I’ve learned that marriage truly is work. A friend of mine said recently that she doesn’t think if you really love someone, that a relationship should be that much work, and I disagree wholeheartedly. The truth is that it isn’t (necessarily) the love that requires the work. Life throws a ton of unexpected things at you and nobody just breezes through those without hitches or difficult conversations without any challenges. Think of a time something bad happened in your life and the stress, anger, or sadness turned you or your spouse in to a metaphorical bear. Then you had to deal with each other. And the situation. It probably required a little more than just sitting back and letting the universe wave it’s magical wand of rainbows and happiness to fix it. No—you probably had to communicate, argue (constructively, people!), sacrifice, or compromise. That’s the “work” I am referring to. The kicker is that if you come out happy and still in love, then yes, it will never feel like that much work at all.
But! Not only is it the functional parts of deciding what roles each person will have in the household, or remembering not to go to bed mad, etc., but it’s also making sure to keep the romance alive. Date your spouse! If you would do something while you were just starting your relationship, keep doing it! Don’t stop cuddling or going to dinner or just sitting out and talking under the stars, because if you let those things fades, you might find yourself in a position where I was—feeling like I was just cohabitating with a roommate. If you are sitting here thinking that you have no problems with this and you still do all those things, then that is wonderful! But I was also there when I was 8 months pregnant and felt lonely and my husband didn’t want to touch me because I was massive. I was also there after the birth when I still had the baby weight and was nursing and never wore make up and I was more interested in sleep than cuddling. Those game-changing moments come and those are the moments when you need to remember this. There isn’t a “if he/she loves you it will just work out.” Please tell me when anything you’ve ever wanted suddenly just floated in to your hand without any effort whatsoever. No example? Ok. The same applies here.
Once you have kids, it’s about so much more than just you. When you get married, it’s really just you and your spouse, embarking on a lovey-dovey adventure. It’s a partnership. That’s fabulous. Enjoy it! Travel, do exotic things, stay up way too late and act like you’re 21 for as long as you can. But when you decide to settle down and have kids, remember this–your marriage then becomes about so much more than just you. I really don’t think I can stress this enough. You’ve taken what essentially was a partnership and now created a full-blown family that is all your responsibility. That little unit you’ve created has now taken over the definition of your “immediate family”, and that means it has to start to come before all else. If you aren’t ready for that commitment, then you aren’t ready for kids. And I obviously wouldn’t expect people who are unhappy to stay in a marriage just for the kids, but do be sure to realize that all the choices you make after you have a child affect a third party that has absolutely no say in the situation. It’s important to remember that now you have to do things for the sake of the wellbeing of the family. That’s the responsibility you sign up for when you decide to have a child in your marriage.
There really is no all-inclusive list of things to think about or know before you get married, but these are a few I wish I had given more thought to before I dove in. I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts that I certainly don’t regret my marriage, but at the end of the day, things could have turned out a bit differently if I applied a bit more thought to it all than my 21-year-old self did.
Thoughts? Comments? Or perhaps you have some other tidbits of advice you’d be willing to share? Write ‘em below!!