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 standards for myself as to what was required to be a good wife and I was dedicated to applying myself to them scrupulously.
It didn’t even take two weeks before my husband was encountering my weeping remarks, rooted in a sense of inadequacy at measuring up to my own preformed rules-for-wives. You didn’t miss me when I was gone. You like your mom’s cooking better than mine. I’m not a good wife. In the blink of an eye, I could cross the line from my target of being a noble wife to one that was nagging and needy. The surprising part was the realization that my prior expectations were not only unfeasible but really not all that necessary to a happy marriage.
It seems we’re always being shown two pictures of marriage. One the one side, marriage is painted as if it should be the defining epoch of life. And then, of course, there are the many dire warnings from friends and countless marriage-help books about how tough marriage can be, along with endless rules and guidelines laid out as crucial for success. But no words of advice prepared me for the reality. Distinct from both extremes of how we typify marriage is the experience: normal, even ordinary.
That is not to say it comes without difficulty. When my husband and I had our marriage counseling, we were advised to, “Do the hard work of loving.” It’s true; some parts of marriage are hard – just not the parts I had expected. What I understand now about the “hard work of loving” has been turned to the flipside. The things I had thought would be hard are easier, and the things I assumed would be effortless have been harder.
Keeping peace has been much easier. My past experience with arguments has always been emotional and climactic. I worried this would be one of my main challenges in marriage. But I’ve found that while we’ve had a few disagreements, they don’t carry the same weight because our relationship now is not tenuous. We both know that because our relationship is not going to end and neither of us is going anywhere, we will find a way to bear with each other and work things out in the long run.
At the same time, accommodating and adapting to another person in as close a relationship as marriage is harder than I expected. I grew up in a family of seven, so I thought I knew everything about sharing a home with other people. But marriage makes a person closer and their preferences more unavoidable and more desirable to try to accommodate than simply living with siblings, friends, roommates, or parents. Everything from turning down the heat to deciding what to eat for dinner is no longer dependent on my own whims but must take someone else’s comfort and preferences into consideration.
The opposite is true when it comes to arriving at a unified front to face truly important decisions or solve a problem. I’ve always been very independent and self-sufficient, and so the change marriage brought couldn’t be more of a surprise. I enjoy the support and the togetherness of acting as a couple instead of going it alone. Still, we each retain our own plans, goals, and desires. So compromises must be made. Marriage demands sacrifice, for sure, but making that sacrifice for the sake of your spouse is almost a joy.
Finally, marriage has changed our level of emotional intimacy, and there are several aspects to this. For one, communication has been much better. While I felt I knew my husband well before we were married, I learned more about him in the first five months of marriage than I did in five years of dating. Furthermore, spending unmeasured time together, just doing little unimportant things day by day, makes our relationship at once less thrilling and more satisfying. However, because I am content to just spend time with my husband, I find I have less free time I am willing to dedicate to other pursuits. Being together involves less effort and pressure than it did while dating, and perhaps because of that, it is easy to allow it to take up more time and interest.
All told, it is much easier than I knew it would be to not stress about measuring up and doing things right and instead just enjoy my marriage. Some will probably say I’m still on my honeymoon, and that may be true, but my point is - and it will hold up no matter the years or moods or stages that pass - marriage neither demands all nor fulfills all. Instead, it is nice, normal, and neither totally better or totally worse than living as a single.
Now, why don’t we ever hear that side of it? With all the bad news about marriage floating around and with marriage rates at a record low, it would do good for people to hear this rather than be left under the unbearable burden of believing that marriage must carry them either to highest pinnacle or the hardest struggles of life. Instead, let’s tell about a reality that is less likely to sweep them off their feet or scare them away. Marriage is not the path to ultimate fulfillment or the ultimate fiasco; it’s just one route to normal life.