All those things you thought were super cute about your spouse before you got married will turn into behaviors and patterns that make you want to scream in the day to day of marriage. Your spouse will want to scream about you, too. Jack’s clutter is apocalyptic. It takes me an eternity to make decisions. It’s an actual miracle we haven’t killed each other yet. Some of the annoying stuff you let go of, some of it you compromise on, and some of it you will suck up and change because you love each other and it's not worth the fight.
A fun way to prevent insanity is to dig into personality typing like the Enneagram or DISC or Myers-Briggs. The more you understand about how you each are wired, the easier it is to cut each other some slack. We’re all programmed differently and we come to marriage with presets from our families of origin that may or may not be compatible or sustainable without some intentional focused effort. Talk about it and work it out. See #8 and #9.
This is the lame excuse we like to use for why we get divorced. I know, because I said it a million times in 2017. This “becoming different people” is a guarantee in life – not one of us avoids change. The key is figuring out how to grow through it together. One foolproof way to walk the road together is to keep God at the center because He’s the only constant in a lifetime of change. It takes two… well, actually three. Especially in seasons where it feels you’re drifting further and further away from each other. Stay rooted, stay focused, stay committed, and stay the course.
But it will also help you understand yourselves and each other from a whole new perspective. Our son is the most hysterical split-down-the-middle of both our personalities and he knows exactly what to say and do to get under everyone’s skin in this house.
When I see him max out and cry hot tears of frustration, I see myself in miniature form, angry that no one seems to understand what I need. So I stop what I am doing to ask better questions and truly hear what he’s trying to say. When he deliberately torments the closest person by poking or pinching, I see my husband’s mini-me need for touch and connection. So I pause to give him a hug or tickle him back.
Our adopted daughter G is a magical blend of nature (how she was divinely created by birth) and nurture (quirky combinations of the two of us). We have learned more about each other through challenging conversations with her simply because she is curious and highly perceptive – and we want to be honest in every response. The world is a different place for our children than it was for us growing up. So much hits them hard and fast so much younger. Tackling their tough questions stretches us in the best ways and we're most successful when we wrestle through the hard ones together.
It’s like dating all over again. Chemistry matters. It’s a rare gift to find couples you enjoy talking and laughing with, who love your children like their own, and most importantly: you never have to clean your house or put on makeup for them because they do not judge your mess. Love and feed them well and thank them often. Make time for time together.
Communication in my humble and honest opinion is the #1 problem that can lead to The Unraveling of a marriage. He does not know what you’re thinking. She has no idea what you need. Saying the hard thing is one billion times better than not saying it. Speak up. Your needs matter and your ideas count. Want to make it to forever? Get the words out even if they feel awkward or mean. If you feel misunderstood it is your responsibility to communicate it better in a way the other person understands. (this is one of the hardest truths I’ve ever had to swallow. My happiness is up to me.)
Ugggghhhhhh this just doesn’t seem like a big deal until it’s out of control, at which point it’s nearly impossible to fix. What you focus on will grow, whether it’s career success or your bank account or your mental wellness or your spiritual life or your marriage. If you are intently focused on something other than your marriage, and that is okay, be sure you are checking in and nurturing your marriage regularly. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:34) So we better make sure our hearts are in the right place. That foundation of safety and trust in your marriage will be the starting block for anything good you choose to accomplish in any other area of your life.
Regarding the kids vs. marriage tug of war: It’s easy as parents to get preoccupied with meeting our children’s needs. We are drowning right now in fall ball and keeping a baby alive. However: we get 18 years with our children… and a lifetime with each other. That’s a lot of “leftover” that I’d still really like to love my life and the man I chose to spend it with.
An important end note on this one: infidelity can happen to anyone and it can happen faster than you realize. Invest in your marriage with time, words, connection, surprises, honesty, and willingness to mess up and try again. Love your spouse well and they will never want to search for love somewhere else. (That is never okay either - See #5.)
Men need it to feel connected, and women need to feel connected to have it. WHAT IS THIS TRICKERY? I hid this one in the middle hoping my grandmother isn’t reading it. I’ve never dug into this topic here because #churchgirl but there is just some important stuff I think we should all be talking about. Secretly and buried in the middle of a list, of course.
If marriage is forever, your sex life may as well be fulfilling. Just like anything else, there are specialists and experts to help navigate changes and problems when they surface, and healthy people get help. Body image, hormones, life changes, and stress all dance a part in this weird ballet because sex is part of our physical and emotional (and really, spiritual) health.
And then there’s the possible reality that one or both of you may have encountered sexual trauma at some point in your lifetime. If you are too angry, hurt, or otherwise emotionally blocked up to make your married sex life what you want it to be, get help. Everyone hurts and everything gets complicated when you withhold this God-given gift from each other. (I am not an expert or anything resembling a professional. These are my own observations, pulled from my own experiences and many, many, many conversations with honest people I trust and respect.)
Sex should never ever involve anyone but the two of you. This means respecting your spouse enough not to talk with friends about your sex life. It also means pornography has absolutely no place in your marriage. Perhaps this sounds like a prude or old-fashioned idea but I challenge you to find one redeeming value in the billion dollar industry that is profiting from exploiting sex, women, men, and children for goodness’ sake. I could link to a thousand articles explaining how porn is scientifically and psychologically bad for your brain and bad for your heart and bad for your spiritual life and bad for your marriage and your family.
There’s my soapbox and I’m sticking to it. There are a zillion other ways to keep sex fun and exciting. And truthfully, the best way to make it amazing - real trust and emotional intimacy - costs little to no money at all.
My only reference point is my own collection of first-half-of-life experiences here: being newlyweds, weight gain, pregnancy, grief, bed rest, postpartum, depression/anxiety, raising small children, post-infidelity, and the exhilarating exhaustion of entrepreneurial life. We haven’t yet run into mid-life, empty nest, retirement, menopause, etc. So there is still a lifetime of change and learning ahead. But what I do know is that a safe and connected relationship has to have this component right, whatever that looks like for your marriage. Even if it's simply what my favorite expert, Dr. Celeste Holbrook, calls ABC sex: Anniversary, Birthday, Christmas.
Exhale. We all just got through that together. (Sorry, grandma.)
The right balance of humor, truth, and real conversation is tough to find. Keep trying. “Never go to sleep angry” is a myth I think… but be willing to revisit and resolve the argument the next day. The most morbid joke at what we thought was the end of our marriage was the first time we had really laughed in months. And it helped. Speak up when you need to say the hard thing, and then bite your tongue to listen, lighten up, and ask yourself often: am I willing to sacrifice this relationship for the sake of being right?
I will never regret the time spent scowling at each other on a therapist’s couch. It was worth it to try, really try, for the sake of our future together and mostly for our children’s future too. They deserved every ounce of “fight” we had in us (the good kind). When it gets so bad between you that you can’t see a way out together, you need a third party to mediate and help slog through the layers of muck you’ve buried yourselves under. PAY THE MONEY and MAKE THE TIME and ARRANGE THE CHILDCARE and STOP MAKING EXCUSES and JUST GO. I cannot emphasize this enough. Your whole life will change because of it. And if it doesn’t work?!!! Then at least you will know you gave all you had to the cause, and you will never live with regret that you didn’t try.
If you meet a married couple who say they never wanted to throw in the towel, I bet they are lying. With all due respect. Sometimes the “death” in “’til death do us part” feels like it might come sooner rather than later. This deal is hard. But it's worth every ounce of the work to make it great.
What do you wish someone had told you about marriage? OR, what do you wish you could tell someone else - or prepare your children for - about marriage?
Jessica is a writer, musician, entrepreneur, wife, and mom. Jessica's mission is to write "real" - shining light into the dark places of the tough stuff we all experience. She and her husband Jack live in Houston, Texas and have weathered the storms of grief, infant loss, adoption, and a marriage that almost fell apart. Jessica and Jack have 4 children, LJ in heaven, Grace, Jackson, and brand new baby Elisha.