I thought I knew a lot about marriage before I actually got married. I read a lot about what makes a happy marriage, and I asked those couples I admired for their secret recipes. But, if I’m honest with myself, most of what I knew about marriage had been shaped by rusty old maxims that I had always assumed to be true.
Looking back on my first year of marriage, I realize that what I thought I knew was folklore. Like many myths, this tale about what marriage is like has some factual context, but it’s been romanticized so much that, from the inside looking out, it looks very far from my reality.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from disillusioned. It’s just that, in my experience, marriage is actually far better than the popular narrative of what is or what should be.
I know I have a lot more to learn, but in my first year of marriage I found these three popular narratives about marriage to be generalizations—and in some cases, total fiction.
01. Marriage is going to be hard.
I heard this a lot before I got married, and from an outside perspective, there seemed to be a lot of evidence to prove that it was true. But the truth is, while marriage is hard for a lot of people, it’s not necessarily going to be hard for you.
For some people, marriage is difficult, to be sure. Sometimes two people’s personalities clash over certain things (or everything), and sometimes two people have to learn to speak a new love language to accommodate for their spouse. Sometimes two people’s differences or their struggles to communicate make times of suffering, grief, or anxiety that much harder.
But this is not everyone’s reality. And it hasn’t been mine.
It’s only recently that I feel more confident about telling my friends that my marriage is easy. I used to worry that I didn’t know better or that I would make people who are struggling feel bad. But I have since realized that there are actually a lot of couples who don’t think marriage is hard, and it’s really good for people to know that marriage won’t necessarily be all pain and toil. It might even be easy.
That’s not to say that couples who do find marriage to be difficult are worse off or that those who don’t find marriage to be difficult will never face challenges. My husband Joe and I are babies when it comes to our number of years weathering it together, but a year has given us a taste of the kind of challenges life can throw at us. Looking back on the first year, we have faced many real-deal hardships, but mostly I thank God that I am going through them with him—because being married to him makes the hard stuff a lot easier to bear.
02. Marriage will complete you.
This myth is as old as any of the Disney fairy tales . . . but probably much older than that. From the time we were toddlers, we have been dreaming about our happily ever after, culminating in a kiss and a wedding dress. In my twenties I told myself I was too old to believe in happily ever after; still I would catch myself yearning for my prince in shining armor, carefully disguised as an emotionally intelligent hipster who yearned for love and marriage.
Even though I told myself it was a lie, I couldn’t help but feel that finally meeting and marrying my future husband would suddenly quiet my restless heart. I know you know that marriage doesn’t satisfy your heart’s every yearning—but seriously, it doesn’t.
It’s certainly fulfilling to have finally committed yourself to a good man. It’s one less question mark in your life, and there is a lot of peace and comfort that comes with being loved unconditionally. But after the wedding dress is stashed—or trashed, as some people do—your heart will still reach for something more than you and something more than marriage. For me I found out pretty quickly that it wasn’t just marriage I needed to be happy, but it was also a family. I know that once I have a little family of my own, there will be something else that I feel I need. Even though I’ll know it is not the final missing piece, there will always be something that I secretly feel will satisfy my every desire.
Marriage doesn’t complete you, and even though deep down you know that, it’s always helpful to hear it one more time.
03. Marriage will make you a better person.
The idea that marriage makes you a better person, like some magical spell that’s cast upon you as you say “I do,” is the most romanticized narrative about marriage of them all. But I definitely bought into this piece of marriage lore hook, line, and sinker.
I couldn’t wait for the day I would marry Joe. I would become a morning person (like him), I would become an amazing cook (like my mom), and I would become super-organized (like my married sister). My assumptions about the person I would be when I was married were based on the idea that it was marriage that inherently changes a person, not the decisions she makes every single day.
Within the course of a year, I quickly learned that marriage does not magically make you better and that it can work in reverse, too. You could let your propensity for selfishness become a monster in the face of the many sacrifices in marriage, or your insecurities could breed distrust, and, yes, your own fondness of the snooze button could actually rub off on your morning-lover husband. Marriage does have a way of showing you who you really are and challenging you to do better. But the choice to become a better person or not is all yours—just as it is before you get married.
Photo Credit: Du Castel Photography