Why didn’t anybody tell me this? I asked myself that question several times during my first few months of marriage. I entered marriage early in the fall of 2017, and while I felt I was pretty grounded about most things, I had high expectations for myself as to what it would take to be a good wife.
I’d devoured countless books about marriage from Christian publishers. In fact, even recently, many came pouring into my office for review. The First Few Years of Marriage, by Jim Burns and Doug Fields, girds up young couples to face some of the challenges that come in the early years of marriage: all the way from wishing to change the other person to finding time together after a baby comes. In Enter the Ring, D.A. and Elicia Horton open up a little more on specific issues that they experienced and how to work through it in a Christian marriage: for example, building unity as a family. Let Me Be A Woman, by Elisabeth Elliot, translated to me the importance of respecting your husband as the person he is. Fighting For Your Marriage, by Howard Markman, Scott Stanley, and Susan Blumberg, is a book our counselor recommended to us that dealt a lot with establishing effective communication.
All of these books and others were beneficial and underscored both how hard and how great marriage can be. I came away from their pages feeling well equipped for marriage and ready to face all of its ups and downs. But the one thing nobody ever told me and no book prepared me for was that marriage is, well, a lot more like normal life than I would have thought.
It seems we’re always being shown two pictures of marriage: On the one side, there are all the dire warnings about how tough marriage will be, along with endless rules and guidelines laid out as necessary for success. Paralleling that, marriage is painted as if it should be the fulfilling and defining epoch of life. Distinct from both of those is the experience: normal, even ordinary.
That is not to say I have not had my shortcomings and struggles even in the short timeframe of my marriage. It’s true; some parts of marriage are hard – just not the things I had expected. When we had our marriage counseling, we were advised to “do the hard work of loving.” What I understand now about what I expected the “hard work” to be has been turned to the flipside. The things that I thought would be hard are easier, and the things I assumed would be effortless are harder.
For example, here are a few things that have been turned inside out in my outlook on marriage, and why:
Fighting – I expected this would be one of the main challenges in marriage. The reality: Easier. Yes, we still have disagreements, but they don’t carry the same weight. We both know that neither of us is going anywhere and our relationship is not going to end, and so we find a way to bear with each other and work things out.
Personal preferences – I never gave this a thought. I grew up in a family of seven and thought I knew everything about sharing a home with other people. The reality? Harder. It seems a spouse’s likes and dislikes are more unavoidable and more desirable to accommodate, even at the expense of your own preferences.
Decision making – I make my decisions painstakingly and am quite independent in my thought processes, and so I was unsure how I would be at acting in unity with another person in this area. The reality? Easier. I enjoy the support and the togetherness of acting as a couple instead of going it alone.
Time together – I find it much easier to spend unlimited time with my husband than I, as a very introverted person, would have imagined possible. It is totally satisfying just doing little, unimportant things together. At the same time, there is less free time for other things because I am content to spend so much of it with my husband. The reality? Both harder and easier than I expected.
All told, it is much easier not to worry and just enjoy my marriage than I believed it would be. With all the bad news about marriage floating around and marriage rates at a record low, indicating that more and more young people are hesitant to enter into marriage, it seems like this is a story that would do good for people to hear more often. Why don’t we tell people this side of it? Marriage is a lot less like the fulfillment or failure of all dreams and a whole lot more like normal life.