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There seems to be a prevailing notion in our culture that marriage is hard. If you don’t see how it can be that bad and express as much, you are met with a smirk at your cute naivety. As such, I was a little afraid in the weeks that turned to days leading up to my wedding that somehow a switch would flip and suddenly this relationship, that I couldn’t really see being contentious or strained or difficult, would change.
Even on the second day of our honeymoon, the guy driving us in his boat out to a reef to snorkel said, “I was with my lady for fifteen years; `then we got married and we were divorced within six months.” Thank you, boat man. You could’ve just said “congratulations” and left it at that.
But let me just say, marriage is an absolute delight.
I recognize that I’m very new to the whole thing and as yet inexperienced, but so far it essentially just feels like an extended afternoon play date with your best friend in the world. The kind that, as it drew to an end and your mom came to get you, would have you saying “Please? Just a little bit longer?” Only, no one comes to get you. You just get to stay and play.
That said, I am learning all kinds of new things about myself, about my husband and about the nature of the married state that might be worthwhile to someone besides myself.
Saying goodbye to being single isn’t as easy as I thought
I’m mostly including this thought because it was something I experienced that no one had ever mentioned to me, so I was blindsided by it. About three days before the wedding, I was sitting on the couch watching the “X-Files” and I suddenly felt a flood of yearning for all of the times in my life where I’ve just gone off by myself somewhere and had adventures without being tied down by any other person’s tastes or anyone else’s schedule.
I loved that freedom. I loved spending entire days going down new streets just to explore them, walking into a building I didn’t realize was a museum and whiling away an afternoon looking at fossils and rocks and butterflies. And I’m not going to lie; I really liked flirting with lots of people. I liked the attention. I liked connecting for the first time with a new person, wondering what they meant by a text, and freaking out about what to do. (I also hated it.)
In that moment on the couch, three days from being a bride, I began to mourn the life I was leaving behind. And I wondered if that was supposed to happen. If I feel some sadness about this turning page in my life, does that mean I’m not happy?
I sorted through these things by saying them out loud to my fiancé and his tender and understanding response reminded me why I chose him exclusively for life.
Change is jarring and being jarred by it, doesn’t mean you’re doing the wrong thing. I was an extremely happy single person, and leaving that behind was scary. It really is a moment that I will never have back in the same way again, but now I have a new life that I could never have had where I was. Mourning the passing of the old doesn’t mean you aren’t going to appreciate the new. It’s ok to be grateful for what has been and then move boldly forward into all that can be.
Trust what you know
Getting married really is a time of life where everyone jumps in to offer advice and anecdotes and horror stories, and it is frankly a little overwhelming. There is a sort of quiet confidence, that I think everyone possesses underneath all of the outer layers, that lets them know which stories are relevant to them personally and which aren’t.
For instance, when people told me about bawling their eyes out on their wedding day, I knew that that just wouldn’t apply to me. I am a private crier. I also occasionally break down about things publicly, but it is never when they are still happening—it always at totally inopportune, later dates.
But sometimes, the more people tell you “the way things are,” the more you begin to believe them. And so, anxiety begins to build around things you didn’t think would even apply to you. People say you will definitely fight with your husband about which way the toilet paper roll goes or whether to refrigerate open mustard and your quiet confidence says, “but, we’ve never fought and I’m not particular about those things…” Still, all the outer layers start to wonder if fighting over mustard is inevitable. Maybe you are just naïve and these people know more about your life than you do.
No one but the Lord knows more about your life than you do. If you feel a certainty that you don’t need to be worried about things that others seem to think are worrisome, trust yourself. That doesn’t mean no one has good insight to offer you, but if you’re choosing between allowing anxiety in or hanging on to faith, choose faith.
Don’t be threatened because your weakness is showing
When you are single and socializing with lots of different groups of people, you are showing a little slice of yourself to each group, and if there are inconsistencies between the slices, no one is the wiser. When you get married though, all of a sudden, one person is getting to see every part of you, and you are hard-pressed to retreat and conceal things from someone who is there all of the time. The flaws become painfully clear.
I complain about my upper arms a lot. I’m self-conscious about the way they look and I have done my best to hide them over the years. Well, about four days into being married, I made yet another comment about hating my arms and my new husband said, “Why don’t you start doing push-ups?” Of course, in my mind, I immediately rushed to a bunch of explanations about why it’s not that simple. I mentally pulled up statistics about women’s skin and how the collagen content makes it less likely to show muscle tone and how everybody’s body is different and the same kind of work doesn’t guarantee the same effect and a slew of other excuses that Steven Pressfield and my parents would call “resistance.”
Ultimately though, he’s right. If I got into a consistent routine of working out those muscles, there is a very high probability that they’d improve and I’d like them more. Being married, it turns out, means that it’s harder to get away with complaining about things or expressing helplessness to the person that knows exactly how much you’re not doing about it and knows that you aren’t helpless.
The trick, in those moments where it feels like someone is shining a spotlight on your weaknesses and you’re frantically searching around for something to cover them, is to choose not to feel threatened. You have to remember that you invited this person to come and see all of you. And they didn’t choose to accept the invitation because they just wanted to hurt or humiliate you, they accepted it because they love you.
Being vulnerable can make you defensive and being called out on your contradictions can spur you to anger, but choose to accept it as an opportunity to grow and improve from a place of safety. In fact, having someone that loves you that much, means you have a partner to help push you beyond those weaknesses and believe that you can actually become all of the things you vaguely hope you can. Sometimes I feel like my husband believes in the reality of my accomplishing my goals more than I do. And his belief makes me believe.
Another advantage of the married state
I didn’t know until I was officially wed, how much of my brain used to be occupied with thoughts and anxieties about guys. I worried whether I was desirable enough. Worried that I wasn’t being asked out or wished that this guy friend or that one would be more than just my friend. I worried about my appearance and if losing weight would improve my dating life. Wondered how to avoid getting my heart broken or avoid breaking someone else’s heart.
When I got married and those things became moot points, suddenly all of this space was cleared up in my brain. I feel smarter. I feel like my capabilities and my focus have increased. I feel like I can accomplish more than I could before. I only wish I had let go of those anxieties on my own and not had to have another person step in to tell me I was worthwhile and that everything would be ok.
If I could go back and tell my former self that it would all work out so she wouldn’t be such a stress cadet, I would. Although sometimes that uncertainty and those anxieties drove me to greater boldness and franker honesty which thing directly led me to finally landing this man that I adore. Maybe it’s better not to know ahead of time, but it does make me wonder what things I’m letting take up unnecessary space in my mind now and how I could clear them out to make room for more creativity and progression.
Don’t take what you have for granted
My courtship was an unusual one. We were acquaintances who lived very far apart and then I decided to be crazy and go visit him for a week in Alaska. It was too logistically difficult a situation for the usual “will we or won’t we?” We were either all in or we were out. Turns out that by day three of that first trip, we were all in.
We developed a pattern of extremely open communication early on and it only increased as we spent months of our courtship only able to talk on the phone or text or vox. We trusted each other from the get-go and that trust has grown with the time that has passed. Humbly put, we’re pretty much the best communicators in the whole world.
Turns out though, that even the best communicators in the world hurt each other’s feelings sometimes. Other times, they end up in a tense discussion that ultimately comes down to one person assuming the other person knew something that just hadn’t ever been discussed. The point is, don’t assume that the areas that are your strong points as a couple will never need your attention. Just because a certain area has always been easy, doesn’t mean you’ll never have to actively work on or continue to cultivate it.
Marriage so far doesn’t seem hard, and I’m not even going to add “knock on wood” or “fingers-crossed it stays that way,” because ultimately, though I’m new to this, I know that life itself is just hard. I’m beginning to glean that the inherent difficulty of being alive and making your way in the world can either be exacerbated by trying to coordinate that effort with another person or it can be enhanced by it. Making sure that your partnership falls into the latter category takes some doing, but I think it can be done.
And I am exciting to keep trying to do it.