What to Expect When You Get Married
- 2003 26 Jul
"Your mother tricked me," my dad says with an impish grin. "She didn't tell me what she was really like until we got married. One time, I asked her if she wanted to go on a picnic. Do you know what she told me?" Laughing now, he raises his voice to a scratchy falsetto, "'What? And sit on the grass with the ants?'"
Mom also nixed my dad's idea to rent motorcycles and ride across Canada for their honeymoon.
Before my own wedding, I wondered what cute anecdotes I'd have to tell my children years later ― how our lives grew together, giving us funny stories to tell. Not long after our honeymoon, I learned what was really behind my father's stories.
I had expected that my new wife and I would argue over leaving the toilet seat up or not taking out the trash, but I didn't expect many more differences than that. Marriages were only difficult for difficult people, I thought. We got along so well, and I loved Clarissa so much that I expected most things would stay the same. Once we were married, we would spend evenings together reading or watching old movies and then fall asleep on the couch. I looked forward to this sort of casual romance ― walks, picnics, cooking for guests, and no real interruptions to my comfortable life.
Accustomed to reading a new book every week when I was single, I continued this habit after the wedding. I didn't pay much attention when Clarissa would ask me questions, see if I wanted to play a board game, or suggest a trip to the mall. Actually, I found it distracting. It seemed I couldn't read a chapter undisturbed. Unfortunately, I didn't realize she expected much more of our marriage.
"I wanted a relationship," Clarissa told me later, "but instead I got a roommate." My perspective was that since our wedding, we had been spending more time together than ever. During our engagement, we didn't see each other every day. Now we spent every morning and evening together.
"I was miserable," Clarissa later said. Though she had friends and some family nearby, she felt terribly lonely. I knew something was wrong not long after our honeymoon, but I hoped the problem would fix itself.
Several times, aggravated with her repeated interruptions, I ignored Clarissa. I thought she was demanding too much of me. Naturally, my silence exacerbated the tension until one night we finally had it out. In the middle of our first real argument, Clarissa decided we wouldn't spend the night together. She headed for the living room with a pillow. After several apologies, we made up, and I decided to be honest. "I feel like you're not letting me be me anymore," I told her. Furious, Clarissa grabbed a blanket, and slammed the door as she left the room.
I felt horrible. I wondered if I'd made a huge mistake in getting married. I assumed I was a terrible husband. Nevertheless, I thought my wife had overreacted and expected too much of me.
It was a long night, but we finally talked about what was wrong. I discovered what my dad had learned when my mother said she wouldn't be picnicking or cruising on a Hog. My idea of marriage was not the same as Clarissa's. To her, marriage meant evenings deep in discussion or giddy in laughter. It would be a lifetime of sleepovers, fun and romance.
Counselor H. Norman Wright says, "When people marry, they bring with them a hidden agenda of expectations. ... Unfortunately, these expectations create the hidden, painful surprises that spring up later." Eventually, we discovered most marriages began like ours, and that it takes a lot of talking and effort to flush out differing ideas about what a marriage will be like.
Why didn't anyone tell us how much we would have to adjust to being married? we later wondered. We had attended premarital counseling, which included chats on finances and sex. We had talked about preparing for marriage, and I had even started keeping our future apartment tidy. Together, we had read books on marriage ― written from a Christian perspective. On several occasions we had met with a mentor couple and talked about married life, but nothing prepared us for the fundamental shift that occurs once you've said your vows. I had based my decision to marry Clarissa on how I felt, but our marriage could not depend on my feelings.
In marriage, God teaches us the virtue of loving someone else more than self. Mike Mason writes in The Mystery of Marriage, "The Christian faith, like marriage, aims at teaching us that the time when we are most ourselves is, paradoxically, when we are busy losing ourselves in another." He says, "A marriage lives ... upon those almost impossible times when it is perfectly clear to the two partners that nothing else but pure sacrificial love can hold them together." As a married couple, we have the perfect picture of true love: Christ.
Over time, Clarissa and I discussed our marriage and what was and wasn't working. I learned I would have to give up a lot of reading time. We found things we liked to do together and we began taking walks each evening. I learned not to start reading until we had spent some quality time together. After we spent time together, Clarissa was happy to grade her students' papers while I read.
It was only after I put down my books that I began to experience the true joys of marriage. When I learned to first love my wife, the sacrifices I thought I was making turned out not to be so difficult. Soon, walking around the block was much more exciting than reading, and I realized what I'd been missing while I had my nose in a book.
My parents have many more stories from their first years together. I now have a better understanding of why my father always laughs when he talks about my tricky mother. He knows ― and I'm learning ― that you marry someone because you fall in love with them, but you nurture that love by practicing Christ's example.
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