I’ve got a whole lot of friends getting married in the next year. Love is in the air in my circle of friends, meaning rehearsals, weddings, receptions, excitement, new hope, and maybe, just maybe, some nervousness or confusion. Don’t sweat it; it’s natural.
Among my friends, my wife and I were some of the first to get married. We were high school sweethearts and dated for 5 years before we got married. We dated our Senior year of high school through 4 years of undergraduate college, with our wedding popping up right after graduation. We just celebrated our 2 year anniversary (or 7, depending on how you count it), and I realized I’ve learned a whoooooole lot about marriage in that time. Not everything, by any means, but enough to write a helpful blog post for those who are newly and soon to be hitched.
As another disclaimer, my wife and I did not live together before we got married, and we both lost our virginity (to each other) on our wedding night. I’m extremely proud of both of those facts, and I would highly suggest doing the same if you can. Just know that if you’ve made different choices, your mileage may vary on parts of this post.
Context established, let’s jump into the most politically incorrect, and therefore, most honest and helpful, posts on young marriages you may ever see.
Lesson 1: Sex is really awkward at first
This is why, regardless of your religious or moral opinions, the commitment should come before the sex. Sex is just like anything else — the first time you do it, you suck at it. No, that’s not an innuendo. You’re bad. It’s going to be weird.
It may not be a romp through pleasure town like you’re hoping for, but it is an experience. It’s fun in an adventuresome sort of way. Enjoy the goofiness and awkwardness. Eventually you’ll learn what works for each other and things become fun in that other way.
Lesson 2: Sex is not more prominent in the first year
If you’re about to get married, I can pretty well guarantee you’ve heard the old story: if you put a penny/marble/whatever in a jar every time you have sex in the first year of marriage, then after the first year you take out a token each time you have sex, you’re never supposed to run out.
Total crap. Let me ask you — do you like to do things you’re good at or bad at? Okay, most of us like doing things we’re good at. Now, how do you get good at something? Practice. And practice takes time, right? It’s really that simple.
In the first year, you’ll be getting used to the weirdness, learning about each other in many ways, sex being just one of them, and settling into the pace and norms of your marriage. Set your expectations around that idea, and be sure to enjoy the journey.
Lesson 3: Your partner really doesn’t care about _________
In my case, it was personal finance (go figure). I desperately wanted my wife to engage in our budgeting and financial planning to the degree that I am engaged. Who was I kidding? I’m engaged in other peoples’ personal finances more than they’re engaged in their own. To expect my wife to match my financial nerdiness was stupid.
You need to have these types of conversations, and always be honest and transparent. I enjoy being the one that handles the money in our relationship, but my wife still has the ability to see everything I spend money on and where all our money is just as well as I do. She just doesn’t care. And that’s fine.
Spend time early in your marriage finding what things are important to each of you. There will be things that are important to both of you, so you’ll need to talk about them regularly and share the responsibility. There will be things that your spouse doesn’t care about at all, and things that you don’t care about at all. What’s important isn’t what those things are, it’s being open and honest and knowing what things fall into each person’s circle of concern.
Lesson 4: The best times won’t be what you expected
One of my favorite things is seeing my wife asleep in bed on mornings when I wake up and get dressed before her. She always lays under the covers in a way that just her head pops out. It’s adorable.
This too is about setting expectations. Don’t try to force things to be a certain way in your marriage. Be flexible, and don’t think too much about stuff. The best moments are going to be the ones that you couldn’t script and don’t expect.
Lesson 5: Good and bad, everything is supercharged when you’re married
There are things in your relationship that you know are hot topics. You should know those things if you’re engaged or considering marriage. There are things about your relationship that are easy and you can talk about naturally, and there are those things that just seem to cause trouble whenever they pop up.
When you’re married, the good times are better and the bad times are harder. Marriage isn’t a fix-it button for a relationship.
That doesn’t mean you have to resolve all of your issues before marriage; that’s impossible. But you do need to know what your troubles are, and you do need to know how to fight fair with each other. The things you disagree on now are probably the things you’ll disagree on for years to come. Ease the pain by recognizing it and crafting productive ways to discuss the issues.
Lesson 6: Spend some time apart
I still think this is one of the most important lessons. When you’re dating, especially when you’re a new item, it feels like you could just bottle up with your partner and spend every minute of the rest of your life with them. That feeling will either carry over into marriage or will come back in full force after you’re married.
But you can’t spend every minute of the rest of your life just with your partner. And quite frankly, you’ll have times when you don’t want to. Be fully committed to your marriage, but maintain your individuality. Have your own friends. Keep doing the things you like to do that your spouse doesn’t. It’s really okay. They’re your husband or wife, not a Siamese twin.
A practical application that Tana and I have found works well in our marriage is to try to arrange our schedules so we each have a day off alone and a day off together. I think it works great.
Lesson 7: Spend time with other people
If you’re close friends with me or you’ve followed my blog for a long time, you know this is one of the relationship items I really harp on. There’s a tendency for new, freshly-in-love couples to isolate themselves because they just love each other so darn much. Giving emotional energy or focus to other people is a waste when I could spend that effort on my snuggly-boo.
Don’t do that.
Why? First of all, it’s boring, and if you find that out only after pushing all your friends to the wayside, you’ll be screwed. Second, just like no single person can be socially healthy if they don’t spend time with other people, no couple can be socially engaged if they don’t. You need outside input. Other people provide new perspectives, different opinions, and a different kind of fun than your spouse provides.
Oh, and combine this with #6. When you go and hang out, you don’t have to act like you’re not a couple, but don’t follow each other around holding hands all the time either. Socialize, enjoy, interact, laugh, learn. It might work to be an island for a while, maybe even years, but long-term you’re compromising your ties to the outside world, your influence with those around you, and yes, even your own relationship.
Lesson 8: Learn how your partner communicates affection
You probably already know this by now, but it helps in a big way to know how your partner really says “I love you.” This isn’t a cheap advertisement, it’s been a huge eye-opener in my own marriage — if you haven’t yet, pick up a copy of The 5 Love Languages and read through it with your partner.
My love language is Words of Affirmation, and my wife’s is Quality Time. I can tell her in so many words how much I love and appreciate her, but it’s not until I reward her with genuine, focused time that she feels that love and appreciation. On the flip side, I know that I just want to hear her say how she’s proud of me and grateful for me on a regular basis.
It’s hard to break out of the norms you’re personally used to. But the payoff is well worth it when you know how to properly communicate the most important things.
Eight seems like enough for now. There’s much, much more, and I’d love to hear lessons and thoughts from other married people or questions from those who are about to enter their new season of life. Marriage is a good, good thing. It’s sad how often it ends poorly. I think that’s because of people having expectations that are impossibly crazy or because they failed to prepare beforehand and just coasted into their nuptials without proactive thought.
I asked my wife for inputs on what she thought about this topic, and one thing she mentioned was that marriage isn’t as hard as it’s made out to be. I couldn’t agree more. Be loving, be reasonable to deal with, and be committed. The rest you’ll figure out as you go.