When you’re about to get married, you suddenly receive plenty of marriage advice. Although well-meaning, most of it is unsolicited and not at all helpful. The task to separate the good from the bad marriage advice is a daunting one, and sometimes you can only really know what’s what once you’ve experienced it for yourself.
That’s definitely what happened to me.
My marriage might not have survived in the long run, but I know the lessons I learned will stay with me forever. My experience helped me validate some marriage advice, and invalidate others.
There were also a few things no one told me that I learned on my own anyway. Those were the most important lessons of all.
Saying “I do” doesn’t mean you and your spouse are on the same page
When you get married, the act of standing face-to-face making promises to each other makes you feel like you and your spouse are on the same page about everything. How can you not be, when you’re promising to love and cherish one another until death do you part?
You are standing there, promising to support each other in the pursuit of a common goal. You are becoming a unit, a team. From that moment on, it’s the two of you versus the world.
If only it were that simple.
Feeling like you’re on the same page doesn’t mean you actually are. Just because you said “I do” to one another on your wedding day doesn’t mean you can skip saying “I do” to one another every day, over and over again.
Just because you generally want the same thing: to have a happy marriage, it doesn’t mean that adjusting the details of how that looks on an everyday basis will be easy.
To my surprise (and disappointment) I soon discovered my husband and I were not on the same page about a lot of important issues in life. Given we’re both stubborn, we couldn’t find a way to make it work and our difference in ideas ultimately doomed our marriage.
Not all marriage advice is created equal
What works for a couple might not work for another. What has kept a couple together for 30+ years might be exactly what tears another couple apart in 30 days.
Some couples live what they perceive as a happy life for decades, not knowing how codependent and dysfunctional their relationship actually is. If you try to replicate what works for them in your own marriage, you might end up frustrated, depressed, and divorced before you can say, “I don’t think this is working for us.”
You need to understand who your partner is as a person, who you are as a person, and what kind of couple you are together before you take marriage advice from a third party. Any third party.
You don’t have to copy your parents’ marriage
My parents have a great marriage. Growing up watching their example made me want a similar relationship. My ex-husband, however, grew up witnessing a completely different kind of marriage, one he also thought was great and wanted to emulate.
Our attempts to emulate what we thought were good examples set by our parents blinded us to the reality that our relationship was not their relationship.
What we should have copied were the good principles of respect, communication, and understanding, not the specifics of how our respective set of parents behave towards one another.
The guiding principles are the most important examples, the day-to-day mechanics of how to live together as a couple are not.
You get to define what a happy marriage looks like to you
As long as you observe the basic principles of mutual respect, communication, and understanding, the details of what a happy marriage looks like to you and your spouse are between the two of you.
Do you sleep in the same bed or in separate bedrooms? Do you cook dinner together or order takeout most nights? Is one of you staying home with the children or are you both going to be working parents? That’s up to you to figure out.
Everything about your life together, from your sleeping arrangements to your sex life, from how you divide household chores to deciding if you should have children or not, from whether you should vacation together or separately; it’s all between the two of you.
I wasted so much time and created a lot of unnecessary stress in my marriage because I tried to fit it into a fixed idea of how I wanted it to be, instead of creating my marriage with my spouse from scratch.
Abuse and dysfunction aside, your marriage isn’t necessarily less happy, or wrong, just because it looks nothing like somebody else’s marriage. Your marriage should be a reflection of who you and your spouse are, both as individuals and as a couple.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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Photo credit: Andrik Langfield on Unsplash