Skip to main content

Photo Credit: Shannon Lee Miller

In my twenties I had lots of ideas about what I wanted married life to look like. My future husband and I would be a healthy, well-balanced, fun-loving couple that makes juggling work, friends, and babies look like fun (if not always easy). I expected that marriage would have some hard times, of course, but nothing that couldn’t be overcome by conversation and our can-do attitudes.

But as I worked and socialized through my twenties and then coasted into my thirties, I realized that my marriage vows would require magical properties to transform me into that future self I yearned to be. As it stood, with my erratic schedule, sporadic exercise spurts, and far-too-frequent delivery dinners, I hardly resembled my future married self.

Then I began to wonder: How is it that some of my friends were really peaceful married women and moms; they didn’t constantly contend with mess; and they seemed to be able to make dinner, exercise, and have time for their marriage and personal life? They weren’t necessarily the norm; there were others who appeared to be the antithesis of what I wanted--disheveled house and home, microwave dinners, and constant exhaustion. Sure, that may be common, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that way of living. But it doesn’t sound all that appealing to me.

So, what was the difference?

The more women I talk to about this, the more I notice a trend: Those women who had the most together married lives didn’t magically transform after marriage. They worked really hard to be that way while they were still single.

I know, mind blown.

You see, these ladies were already pretty disciplined in their single life, not searching to make new habits as a married person. They exercised, socialized, and were able to take care of their apartments long before they had to share their lives with their spouse and eventual kids.

Pondering this phenomenon, it began to make some sense. Think about all the things that married life and parenthood entails: needing to wake up to take care of kids, dealing with someone you may not be happy with right now, or quickly making dinner at the end of a crazy day. I realized that those are situations necessitated by family but certainly not exclusive to being practiced with a family. Perhaps my more together friends hadn’t magically become great because their lives forced them into it—it’s because they learned to live like that long before they necessarily needed those skills.

So this past year I set about asking my married friends what they wished they had ingrained as habits when they were single, and I set about to be better in those areas. Here’s what I learned.

Become a morning person.

I am a night owl. Like, a really, really bad night owl. I get another burst of energy at 9 p.m., my brain sizzling with lots of ideas and crazy productivity. Even when I am dead tired, I could get into a groove and just pump out work until 1 or 2 a.m.—and often did. Is it any wonder that I had a hard time getting out the door by 9 a.m.?

But talking to married and mom friends, I realized that my night-owl tendencies are not going to help me fulfill my worked-out, meditated, and ready-to-take-on-the-day morning-person aspiration when I am married.

Word on the street is that having a good marriage takes time and effort, and it means making sure that you schedule quality time with one another daily. With a busy work schedule (and maybe kids), quality time is likely going to have to happen in the evenings or early in the morning. Among my gourmet dinners, keeping up with friendships, and hopefully some exercise, I’m going to need those morning hours for things such as prayer, exercise, and coffee—or all three!—with my hubby.

Beginning to wake up early—and going to bed early—has meant that I don’t have to squeeze in all the want-to-do-but-can’t-find-time stuff later in the day—if not drop them entirely. And I can tell you, after several months of adjusting my sleep schedule, I look forward to my morning quiet time and have even found the time to do some creative writing, which I used to be too burned out to do in the evening. Major bonus!

Learn how to cook quick, simple meals.

Yeah, about those gourmet meals . . .

Maybe “gourmet” is a longer-term goal, but being able to pull together something homemade and tasty is still a far cry from dining out and takeout. From what my married friends tell me, the need to throw something together quickly for your family is a skill worth its weight in foregone takeout gold. Whether trying to throw something together after work just for the two of you or in between shuffling kids to school and activities, knowing how to cook something relatively fast that is also not from a package is a real skill. As it turns out, it’s a skill that is perfectly honed when you’re a busy working single person.

This was actually something I started learning the hard way a few years ago. After a stint on Wall Street—think lots of late-night dinners at the office—I became an entrepreneur living off my savings. Nightly takeout was definitely not going to work with my budget, so I dove into the overwhelming world of meal planning and learning how to cook well.

This was a challenge with my busy single-woman schedule. I can’t imagine how hard it would have been to learn once I had a kid or two in tow. Over the past few years I have learned—mostly through trial and error and a little Internet research—how to cook some basic, yummy things for one or two people without letting good food go to waste. So rather than another round of Chipotle or sweet and sour chicken, start learning some basic, easy ways to spice up frozen chicken breasts and veggies. Your wallet, your health, and your future family will thank you.

Learn how to be organized and clutter-free.

I’ll admit, I’ve always been an organizational freak. I love having a place for everything. But that doesn’t mean I was always tidy. Tidy came once I managed to purge enough of my junk that it became easier to put those things away. Having less stuff makes it easier to find what I have, select clothes in the morning, and refrain from buying unnecessary stuff (because I know what I have!).

But I know being organized won’t just be a source of peace for me now. It will help me in my future family life as well. If you haven’t heard, kids can be a big mess. Toys, messy eating, a husband—all makes for a whole lotta stuff. Throw your own closet and messiness into the mix, and it can be an overwhelming amount of mess to tidy on the day-to-day. I’m thankful that, by the time a potentially not-so-well-organized hubby and maybe even the creative mess of kids comes on the scene, I will be equipped to put my organizational talents to use. No crash course in keeping a sense of order needed here!

Learn the art of decluttering now (especially in your closet), and you will find getting ready for your next date to be downright relaxing compared to the anxiety-ridden disaster it was before. And having a place to put everything will be a godsend when all you want is to get the kids’ stuff out of the way.

Practice selfless giving.

The single phase of life is marked by an ease and excitement to give. Your friends or boyfriend are the natural objects of your affection, who feel joyful to give in return. Bonus: They’re adults who appreciate what you do for them (or should).

But in marriage, and parenthood, easy loving doesn’t come so easily. Once the honeymoon phase passes, it’s harder to feel compelled by emotion to shower your spouse with affection. That takes being intentional, working at it, and knowing that to love doesn’t always mean you’ll be loved back in the way you want to be. Not to mention raising kids who will likely be completely oblivious to the sacrifices you make for them to grow up happy, healthy, and safe. Learning how to give—without expecting something in return, even when I don’t feel like it—is a disposition that will serve you to hone during your free and easy single years.

Practice selfless love now. See how you can help in your community. Offer to babysit for the parents at your church, volunteer at a soup kitchen, commit to help a fundraising committee, or mentor at-risk youth. You might even find that giving without expecting in return is good for the soul.

I took the opportunity to volunteer. Making a commitment to something that I sometimes don’t feel like doing is actually a refreshing change from the usual autonomy I get to exercise over my life and time. In those moments when the people I’m trying to help aren’t especially gracious, I remember that loving them anyway is a unique privilege and something I’ll spend my entire life learning how to do well.