Marriage might technically begin with the uttering of two little words, but that’s not where it actually takes root.
Five years after my husband and I said “I do” in our traditional church wedding, I’ve realized marriage in its true sense begins long after the guests have finished the last glass of champagne. Real marriage begins after the overly expensive, excessively beaded white dress has been tossed in a closet and the wedding favors have been discarded. It begins after that top layer of wedding cake has been shoved behind the fish sticks and ice cream in the freezer, after the tux has been returned after the bridesmaids have donated their dresses they swore they could “definitely wear again.”
Real marriage comes long after the wedding, in the midst of actual day-to-day living. It comes on a Wednesday in front of television re-runs when no one feels like moving to actually cook dinner. It comes when you’ve got 6 bills to pay and a dwindling bank account. It comes on the weekend before Christmas when the water heater breaks, the cat needs to go to the vet, and your back is hurt from shoveling snow.
Real marriage isn’t a swirling, magical fairyland of roses, sparkly shoes, and eloquent wedding cake. It’s a mucky, difficult traverse through mud-coated trenches, where, just when you think you’ve made it, life tosses you another obstacle.
Real marriage, as I’ve learned in the first five years, is a lot more work than just saying “I do” and making promises. Real marriage is put to the test when you have to actually put in work to keep those vows and to cling to the love you had on that starry-eyed day.
In five years of marriage, here’s what I’ve learned, good and bad:
1. Scheduling time to focus on each other is a must.
In the first weeks, you feel like you could never want to be a part. Once real life kicks in, though, and you’re drowning in to-do lists, demands at work, and pressures of adult life, the story changes. We now schedule a Thursday night movie night where we put everything away and just sit together. It seems silly to schedule time for each other, but we’ve found it helps us keep our priorities straight.
2. Money is truly a hot-button issue.
The experts usually say money is a big fighting topic in marriages. I can now concur. Our biggest fights have always involved dollar signs. I tend to plan ahead with money, while Chad is a spender. These two philosophies led to many explosive fights. We learned in the first year to find ways to communicate about money without getting overly emotional. We also found a system that allows us each to have some freedom while working toward common financial goals, but it took us a while to sort through it.
3. Marriage changes you, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
In the past 5 years, we’ve changed each other. I was definitely a worrier, a planner, and a bit rigid in my belief systems. Chad was always a more free-spirited optimist. I think we’ve rubbed off on each other. I’ve learned to let some things slide and to stop worrying about things out of my control. Chad’s become more of a planner, thinking ahead on the big things. Change is a part of life. I think if you find someone who changes you for the better, that’s not a bad thing.
4. No one is ever truly prepared for the hard work marriage requires.
No expert, book, or article can tell you what to expect. Going into marriage, we’d been together for over a decade. We thought we knew everything there was to know. Marriage is a whole new level of a relationship, obviously. Thus, you’ll never be fully prepared for the challenges that come with it.
5. The one-year-old wedding cake is gross.
This is one wedding tradition I think we would pass on if we could do it again. Freezer-burnt, dry cake to celebrate one year? Ew.
6. Sometimes you have to let the little things go.
It makes me crazy that he puts empty boxes back in the pantry or that his laundry sits in baskets for eternity. I annoy with my tendency to leave half-empty coffee cups everywhere and to coat our bathroom sink with makeup products.
You have to learn to let the little things go so that, as a couple, you can tackle bigger issues together. However, you can still vent about his annoying habits in a Huffington Post article, so there is still that…
7. You will drive each other crazy sometimes.
Those commercials and movies that show the couple walking hand in hand down the beach every second of their lives?
No. Just no.
There are times I wish I could use a Harry Potter wand to zap him into another realm. There are times I just need space. I know there are times he feels the same. Living with someone can exhaust even the most unwavering love. It’s okay to crave individuality, to crave time apart sometimes. In fact, I think it’s healthy.
8. Creating your own family traditions can be stressful.
The first year presents its own special challenges. Whose family will you spend Christmas with? Where will you go for Thanksgiving?
It was difficult to merge two sets of family traditions. However, we’ve found ways to create our own traditions as a family unit over these past five years.
9. Romance changes as your love matures.
The candlelight dinners, the surprise bouquet of roses, the random kisses…these have faded with time. Still, our romance is still there. It’s just different. Our romance means a surprise bag of M&Ms on a particularly tough day or a funny text during a work day to cheer each other up. Our romance is cuddling on the couch watching our favorite Netflix show we only binge watch together.
Romance changes in marriage, but that doesn’t make it inferior. Learn to appreciate the small things, the simple romantic gestures.
10. Having a hand to hold through life unconditionally is worth it all.
Marriage is tough. These past five years have presented obstacles, tears, “I’m done” conversations, and all sorts of turmoil.
However, they’ve also presented me with a hand to hold when I’m scared, laughter every day, and a sense of undying connection. At the end of it all, I would do it all over again.
When you find someone who is worth working for and struggling with, you’ve found the one. The feeling of having someone you admire, cherish, and love beside you through thick and thin is one of the deepest human emotions two human beings can feel.
So in five years, I’ve learned nothing can prepare you for how tough marriage is, but love will make it worthwhile.