“It is one thing to talk about the importance and sanctity of marriage, and another thing entirely to create such a marriage, day in and day out . . . It requires nurture and time and very much effort.”President Gordon B. Hinckley
I went to a bridal shower recently, and I left feeling a little remorseful. Do you know what we, the bride’s closest female mentors, did to prepare her for marriage? We equipped her with cookie supplies and glow-in-dark-condoms.
It was light-hearted and fun, but it was NOT a fair representation of marriage.
So I came home and did what an angsty Jenny does: I wrote the things I couldn’t say.*
Marriage is really, really hard—in ways that you can’t foresee when you’re doped up on oxytocin and dopamine. Just expect that. When things get hard, don’t assume that you’re the only one who had ever struggled: we all have. In fact, we all do.
Marriage is HARD, even for perfectly-matched people. Unromantic, but true.
Do yourself a favor and ditch your bad habits, addictions, and attachments now.
Your “personal” choices (past and present) affect a vast network of people, beginning with your spouse and spreading outward to your future children, in-laws, and neighbors. Marriage is a magnifying glass. It will enlarge your flaws and demand change. Everything from your digestive health to your personal hygiene is going to be on display for another human being to experience. Privacy is a myth that ends at the marriage altar.
Consider how you deal with emotions. How you respond to stress. How you manage money. Your study habits, eating habits, indulgences and insecurities. None of these things are inconsequential; they all impact the people around you. Your family and society deserve the best you that you can be, so start now on the path of self-improvement. For them.
If you can’t shake your weaknesses (some will be your constant companions in life), then share them with your spouse. Battle your demons together.
Learn to forgive and repent. Practice daily.
Repentance and forgiveness are good for daily annoyances and for serious struggles. Before marriage, people warned me about flatulence and dirty socks, but that’s just the beginning. You marriage might know the griefs of mental illness, religious discontent, career indecision, financial mismanagement, addiction, anger, sexual angst, chronic illness, infertility, etc, etc, etc. The need to repent and forgive will be constant. Stay close to God so he can change your heart and enlarge it.
Be the first one to apologize. Your love will do much more to soften his heart than anger or criticism ever could.
Surround yourself with examples of healthy relationships.
We’re impressionable beings, so it’s imperative to create an environment that is saturated with healthy relationships.
First off, find marriage mentors. Watch the old people at church who still hold hands. Hang out with young couples who are similarly devoted to marriage. Review what modern prophets and apostles are saying about marriage. You’ll need these models of happy marriage to survive a pathogenically selfish culture.
Secondly, stop endorsing lies about romance and marriage. Get away from music, media, and friends that applaud cheap relationships. Be aware that “sexy” is too often code for “selfish.” If song lyrics depict romantic relationships as self-centered, transitory, or objectifying, then stop listening. If your favorite shows are crude and unrealistic, then stop watching.
Seek for the Spirit of God.
Revelation is the lifeblood of your marriage. Stop doing anything that keeps you from it. The Spirit will teach you to speak your spouse’s love language. It will chasten you. “Put down your phone.” “Listen to what he has to say.” “Greet him with a hug.” The Spirit will grant you feelings of affection. It will propel you to have hard conversations seasoned with grace.
God’s advice is current and contextualized and personal. He is the Therapist that your marriage can’t live without.
Build a joint vision of your marriage.
As the proverb says, where there is no vision the people perish. We need something to look forward to when marriage feels monotonous. So create a vision of your future together. How many children will you have? How will you celebrate holidays? Where will you vacation? What are your career goals? What will your future home look like? How do you want to spend your retirement? How do you want to serve God?
Your dreams—as a family and as individuals—matter. Write them down, stick them to the fridge, talk about them, prioritize them, pray about them, budget them in, and support each other making them happen.
That’s it, my starry-eyed friend. Enjoy the cookies and the condoms. And when chemical high wears off, revisit this post.