My 15-year marriage failed miserably and my second attempt at it lasted less than a year, so I realize I’m pretty unqualified to give advice on creating wedded bliss—which is exactly why I’m not. I might not be an expert in lasting unions, but I’m more than experienced in what a healthy marriage isn’t. If you’re considering saying “I do,” read this first.
Marriage isn’t a band-aid.
It won’t heal you or fix your other problems. It won’t complete you if you’re not already whole. If you have scars that are healing, marriage won’t salve them. It won’t exorcise your demons, ghosts, or skeletons. It won’t lighten your emotional baggage or the weight of the proverbial world that hunches your shoulders. Love can do a lot of things and it may support you while you heal or make yourself whole, but it isn’t instrumental. The work falls to you, and while love and marriage seem synonymous, I assure you, they aren’t.
Marriage isn’t an escape.
Not from your parents, your living situation, debt, poverty, boredom, or staggering loneliness. I’m sure that you don’t consciously intend to marry someone for the sole purpose of escape, but ask yourself, is it a small factor in what makes marriage so appealing? If so, carefully consider how to make your own escape. While the initial freedom of such a marriage may be blissful, it’ll quickly fade. What won’t is your resentment of being married to someone who’s served a short-term purpose with long-term commitment.
Marriage isn’t a fairy tale of domestic bliss.
I know Pinterest makes it look good, but the reality of domestication is washing dishes, scrubbing floors, wiping pee off the rim of the toilet bowl (and the floor around it), and cleaning moldy leftovers out of the fridge. And yes, you’d probably be doing (most of) these things whether you were married or not, but it’s one thing to clean up after yourself and another to find yourself demoted to housekeeping for someone else.
Marriage isn’t something you should feel obligated to enter into.
I speak from experience and I don’t care if you’ll lose the deposit on the reception hall or your family will ostracize you. If you feel obligated, even if you once wanted nothing more than to marry this person, don’t do it. Listen to that little voice that growls in your gut. It’s wise and it’s trying to tell you something. It’s trying to keep you from making a mistake because marrying someone out of obligation leads straight to resentment and regret.
Marriage isn’t a distraction.
I don’t care what you’re dealing with. Get a puppy. Read a book. Read a hundred books, but don’t use marriage as a way to divert your attention because you feel like you deserve a break from misery or monotony. You do deserve a break and you do deserve happiness so you’re right, but no one should sentence herself to a life-long commitment in the hopes of alleviating a temporary situation.
Marriage isn’t all wine and roses.
Notice I said “all.” Yes, at times it will be wine and roses and romance and goo-goo eyes and back massages that lead to fooling around, but there will also be times of chaos, deceit, disappointment, and fury. It’s the double-edge of love that the passion you feel will also be funneled into the negative aspects of your relationship. It’s why no one pushes your buttons as perfectly as your partner and the very fact that you love this person is precisely what makes you vulnerable to their misdeeds and glaring flaws.
Marriage isn’t always a partnership.
I learned this lesson the hard way when I went into my first marriage naively believing that my husband and I were a team. I thought it was us against the world and the world didn’t stand a chance. I was also incredibly wrong. For him, our marriage was a competition and if he could make me look bad, he believed it made him look better. When we had children, he began openly counter-parenting me to win even more. Not every marriage has this problem, thank God, but it’s worth taking an honest look at your partner’s behavior before that long walk down the aisle because no one wins in a marital competition.
Marriage isn’t easy.
“It’s not always easy” is marital advice code for suffering and unhappiness. It’s right there in the traditional vows: through good and bad, rich and poor, sickness and health. Marriage doesn’t dissolve life’s problems. They’re still there and still painful and at times, your unhappiness will be caused by your partner. It’s inevitable and why people say marriage is hard—because marriage is staying together despite the hurt and finding a way through it. Choosing not to isn’t marriage, it’s divorce.
Marriage isn’t a point system.
I assure you, no one other than you (and possibly your partner) is keeping score in your relationship and even if you are, I’d bet you both have different scoreboards with vastly different point totals on either side. My point? Keeping a mental tally of slights and successes in your marriage will not improve it. This road instead leads straight to that competition we talked about where no one wins.
Marriage isn’t a status quo thing.
Before I got married, I’d never had the presence of mind to challenge my conditioned beliefs. I was young and didn’t even realize it was an option so I never questioned whether marriage was something I actually wanted. It was just what was done. Thankfully, things have changed and we now encourage people to challenge their conditioning and blaze their own path so I expect fewer women face this blind belief in the way I did. Still, it deserves to be said: question your conditioned beliefs to be sure they actually fit. Even marriage.
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