10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Got Married

10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Got Married

Thinking back, there are so many things I wish I knew before I got married. I loved my husband, but lots still came as a surprise. So today, for top 10 Tuesday, I thought I’d share some of the biggies. And thanks to everyone on my Facebook Page who chimed in with what they wish they knew before they were married, too!

And so, in no particular order, here we go:

1. Sharing Finances is Hard–so Talk About it Early

Don’t wait until you get married to develop a budget, talk about saving, or make financial plans. Start doing this right after you get engaged, so that you’re on the same page. Figure out how you’ll budget and how you’ll decide what to spend money on. Money is one of the hardest things to learn how to share, and it’s so much easier if you talk it through first.

What if one of you has debt and one of you doesn’t? Then you both have to start working hard at paying off debt! And you need to have those serious conversations BEFORE you marry about setting a plan in motion to become debt free.

These things are not easy, and most people don’t know how to do them. So ask whoever is doing your premarital counseling (likely a pastor) if there is someone smart with money that you can sit down with who can help you work through basic budgeting and make some of these plans. Get some help now–before you walk down the aisle!

Oh, and here’s another gem: once the debt is paid off, live on one income. ALWAYS live on one income. If you expect that one parent will eventually stay at home with kids, then you need to learn how to live on one income now. Take the second income and save it for the house, or a car, or whatever. But live within your means early, and it will put you on such better ground moving forward.

2. In-laws matter more than you think. Get along with them now!

When we’re dating and engaged we’re so focused on the person we’re marrying. But, as one Facebook reader said,

You marry a whole family, not just one man.

Once you’re married, that family will be a part of your life, whether you like it or not. So make an effort to be friendly and get along with them as much as possible. You don’t have to be best friends, but it is so much easier if you have goodwill between you. Often when you’re dating you live away from in-laws, so they don’t seem like a factor in your life. But that changes. So Skype with them now. Go with his sister out to get your nails done. Do a craft with your mother-in-law, or ask her to help you cook a turkey dinner. Reach out. Don’t wait for them to make the first move, and pout at home because they’re not. You make that first move and build that relationship.

3. Great sex isn’t automatic–but that’s okay. You have decades to get it right!

We start marriage with such “great sexpectations”. We figure it will be just like the movies, where it works perfectly and it’s always amazingly passionate. But it’s often not.

One reader wrote,

I wish I knew that things in the bedroom would not just happen as spontaneously as we thought and communicating about intimacy and our expectations of it would be much harder than I expected.

Good Girls Guide My SiteI wrote The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex to help women transition to great sex once they’re married–but it does take time. And here’s one neat thing I found: if you take the women who had lousy wedding nights, and then you take the women who had great wedding nights, and look at how they rate their sex lives ten years later–it makes absolutely no difference. No matter how great or awful your wedding night was, ten years later it will be good. So don’t fret the early stuff! Just relax and have fun getting to know each other. And if you’re wondering how to do that, get the book!

But once you do get married, one big piece of advice: I know you’re shy, but tell him what feels good and what doesn’t. Tell him early. If you don’t speak up on the honeymoon, it gets harder and harder to say anything. So try to talk about it then.

Oh, and another thing about sex:

I wish I had known that the man is not always the one with the greater sex drive.

In about 24% of marriages, according to my surveys, SHE has the higher sex drive. If that’s you, you are not a freak. And with good communication and lots of grace, you can still have a great sex life.

4. Marriage Isn’t 50/50. It’s 100/100.

Don’t go into marriage thinking, “we’ll each do our share”. If you start marriage measuring who does more work, you’ll always find that he doesn’t measure up. That’s because all of us have unrealistic expectations, and all of us expect our husbands to do things our way. At the same time, he expects us to do things his way. So since we’re expecting what is virtually impossible, we’ll find that he never does enough.

We have to get over this idea that we each put in half the effort, and think of marriage more like 100/100. We each jump in and dedicate ourselves to making the marriage great. The more you do that, the more benefits you’ll receive. One woman wrote:

Marriage isn’t always a 50/50 deal. Most days it is 60/40 or even 80/20. It all depends. BUT being married means meeting that other person wherever they are at that time. The more you tend your marriage the more it will flourish. You absolutely need to be totally selfless at times for it to work. It took me awhile to realize this and now that I do my marriage is the best it has ever been.

5. Marriage doesn’t necessarily change everything–especially him

Here’s an important one to understand, that has both a warning and a reassurance. First the warning.

One woman writes:

Pay attention to “habits” and don’t overlook them so easily just because you’re a starry-eyed girl in love. Sometimes, that habit is really an addiction and no matter how hard you try or how much you think they love you, you can’t and won’t make them stop. Please heed addictions (to anything) and give them time to get help and get healed before you marry them. I can’t stress that enough.

That is so true! The number of women who write to me saying, “he used porn before we were married but he said he’d stop”, or “he’s on video games six hours a day still, just like he was before we were married” is so sad. Before you’re married, don’t just date. Do life so you can see how he actually lives. Do errands together. Do mundane things together. Hang out. If you find there’s a major habit he has that annoys you, remember: this will only be magnified tenfold when we marry. It won’t go away. Marriage will not change that habit. So keep your eyes open.

Now for the reassurance. Another woman writes:

I wish I knew that marriage doesn’t always start a new chapter in your lives. Sometimes you continue in the chapter you are in and have to learn to grow together and be content where you are. For some reason, I just expected that getting married would bring us new and exciting things.

We had been together for almost 4 years before we finally got married. I just thought that marriage would be something new. It would close the old chapter, and we’d walk hand-in-hand under a rainbow into this new and glorious chapter filled with prosperity and travel and babies and a super clean house. But it just didn’t happen. Life kept going as it had been going. We both had our individual struggles and had to learn to grow together…and we have!

I’m thankful that it wasn’t as I imagined it. I’ve grown so much these three years. Above all I’ve learned that marriage–and life– is hard work, but with Jesus, it is made light. I love my husband and I’m so thankful that God kept certain doors closed and let us grow and know each other first! Now we are ready for that next chapter!

If you’re super close before you’re married, it’s not always that you develop an extra level of closeness once you’re married. Sometimes life just continues. And that’s okay.

6. It’s not easy sharing toothpaste

Sharing a life isn’t natural. Sharing a bed and sharing a bathroom sink is even harder–especially the older you are. When you’re entrenched in your own home and you’re used to having your own space and your own way of doing things, marriage is a hard adjustment.

One woman wrote:

I wish I knew that the move in together part of a marriage doesn’t just happen smoothly and automatically– How to share space, split household duties and manage joint time and money is something you should think and talk about before the wedding.

So true!

7. Plans don’t always work

Friends of mine had a ten year plan when they were married. They married in university, and planned to both get their graduate degrees and start teaching for one or two years before starting to have kids around age 29. That way they could have a downpayment on a house, and school would be done before the kids came.

But she got pregnant six months after the wedding.

Another friend of mine, within a year of getting married, was all of a sudden caring for a mother-in-law who had had a stroke out of nowhere.

It’s wonderful to plan and dream, but never invest all of your joy into any one plan. Remember that life happens, and the neat thing about being married is now you have someone to have it happen with.

My own girls have always said that they want 3-4 years with their future husbands before they have kids, and I completely agree with that. But when you’re walking down the aisle, you need to know that there is never any guarantee, and you need to be able to go with the flow.

8. Conflict can make you stronger. Don’t run from it; work through it.

Your first fight when you’re married may scare you. But that’s okay. Conflict isn’t always bad as long as you handle it well. One woman wrote:

Marriage is like two rough rocks being thrown in a tumbler. You smooth each other out as you bang and hit against each other.

Talk through your conflict. Tell him about what you’re thinking. Keep communication open, even if it’s hard. Before you’re married, develop a plan on how you’ll have these difficult talks. Maybe every Thursday after dinner you’ll go for a walk to “check in”, and that will give both of you time to bring up anything you want to. Maybe you’ll have breakfast Saturday mornings and plan through the next week and talk about these things. Plan beforehand, and arrange natural times to talk, knowing that there will always be something to talk about, and life is smoother.

And don’t shy away from conflict! One woman writes:

I wish I had known too, that trying to please him in every way possible, even going against my beliefs, to placate and prevent arguments is not the solution.

Conflict is always either a win/win or a lose/lose. Don’t aim to win an argument, because if you defeat your husband and he loses, you lose, too. You lose intimacy. Instead, find the win/win in everything. When you do that, conflict doesn’t seem so scary.

9. Listen to the little things

Don’t focus on yourself; before you’re married, practice focusing on him and what he’s thinking and feeling. Let those things matter to you.

One woman writes:

I wish I had known to really listen to the little things your husband says; I’ve found if I pay attention to the little things, the “big” things are fewer and far between.

When you pay attention to the little things he wants, he feels important. And that makes big conflicts less likely to happen.

Another woman says,

Un-met expectations are likely unknown expectations, speak up!

Don’t expect him to be a mind reader; ask for help in the little things. You may just find he’s more than happy to oblige, but he just didn’t know you needed anything.

10. It’s wonderful to go through life with somebody else.

Finally, we hear so much negative stuff about marriage. Marriage is hard. So many people divorce. You’ll never work harder at anything in your life.

I suppose that’s partially true, but overall, what I’ve found after 23 years of marriage is that it is such an amazing privilege to have someone else to walk through life with–someone who knows me inside and out, someone who has been there for everything, and someone who is always sticking around. That joy makes up for so much.

Let me end with this woman’s words:

It doesn’t have to be hard! If you are willing to learn and show grace, marriage will be such a joy. 3.5 years in and my husband and I have only had one minor fight because we have this perspective

It doesn’t have to be hard. Love in the little things; do 100/100; know that there will be transitions–and you just may find marriage is one of the best rides of your life!

Now it’s your turn: What do you wish you knew before you got married? Let me know in the comments!

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  1. And adding to #3… as women it is not uncommon to think of sex as ‘icing on the cake’ – a special occasion thing, when life/relationship is going well, when we are not too tired… but I really believe that a healthy sex life is more like ‘the grease in the engine’ – makes the day to day stuff of life easier to live with, at least partially because the two of you have taken the time to connect. And my DH really appreciates the ‘car’ analogies… our inside joke has to do with oil changes!

    Another note – start early in your marriage going to events that will build your relationship or reinforce what you are aiming for in your marriage…when we went to our first marriage conference, he looked shocked when I told him I’d signed us up, because he thought I felt there was something wrong, that needed fixing…when really, all I was asking for was some ‘preventative maintenance’ in our marriage. Explained that way (another car analogy), he really understood why I was interested in going – and 20 yrs later, he seeks out those opportunities for us as well!

  2. I’m only 2 months in, but already I can attest to every one of these!!!

    I think God saved our marriage before it started by putting our church’s young adults group through a finance class. DH and I were both ignorant, with completely different mindsets and histories in regards to debt, saving, etc. I can’t imagine how stunned I would have been to learn all that POST committing-and-submitting! But instead, so far our budget has been a source of teamwork and the debt a “common enemy” rather than a source of conflict.

    And just as helpful was reading your book and unrooting some of the bad “sexpectations” as an engaged woman. I just passed it on to another bride!

  3. HI Sheila,

    GREAT post. Definitely words of wisdom.

    So interesting you put $ at Number One – probably not a coincidence! My husband and I had financial counseling before we were married and I can guarantee you that has saved our marriage, time after time. And I second your advice to live on one income. It’s fine to plan to wait for kids, but sometimes life happens. My bro and SIL married late in life, weren’t going to have kids, and WHOOPS pregnant the week after the honeymoon. No kidding.

    And the in-laws – definitely a bigger factor than I ever realized. HUGE. Make sure you and your husband are BOTH committed to your marriage relationship over family-of-origin. Not that they’re mutually exclusive, and we hope and work for good relationships all around, but when there is conflict, your spouse trumps your parents.

    Keep up the “preventative maintenance” (good analogy, Kristi :D). Going to counseling or to a marriage retreat isn’t failure 😀

    Thanks so much for encouraging us all in our marriages.
    julie recently posted…Grasshopper DaysMy Profile

    • I actually wasn’t thinking finances would be #1–but then I looked at the answers on Facebook, and the majority of them were about finances! So I thought I’d better put it up there. :)

      • In a lot of ways, finances affects the other things. It really is the number one issue.

        If you don’t live near the in laws, how often do they expect you to visit them? What will that cost? How will you pay for it? Will you need to stay in a hotel when you visit, or does staying with them work? (family dynamics as well as space in their house can be a factor here!)

        If you’re tense about finances, it messes with your sex life. ’nuff said. :)

        How you each manage finances is hard to change, and important to discuss ahead of time or you’ll both be assuming the other will change!

        Financial plans don’t always work, either. We planned to completely pay off the car (using my salary) before the baby was born, and then live easily on one income. I got laid off part way through the pregnancy. So much for that plan!

        Financial conflict affects everything – how often you eat out, whether you eat steak or beans at home, what cable package (if any) you subscribe to, where you shop for clothes and other items…. Having a financial plan is preventative medicine for so many other conflicts.

        I especially love #10. It really is wonderful to have someone to go through life with, who has known me for 20 years and still loves me, who knows all the things I’ve walked through; all the joys, sorrows, victories, and failures.

  4. I can attest to #10. After nearly 40 years of marriage (we did not become sexually involved until our wedding night) I can confirm that it just keeps getting better and better. Retirement is wonderful, it means we can be together so much more. We simply enjoy sharing or lives and having someone with whom we can be totally at ease.

    • @ P: I can understand and appreciate that over time, sexual intimacy can become less awkward, and that as a couple there’s greater love and appreciation for each other. But given the fact that time takes its toll on your physical bodies, and after a while (as the saying goes) “familiarity breeds contempt”–surely these aspects adversely affect sexual intimacy?

      I know Sheila has mentioned this truth often, but I still struggle trying to wrap my mind around the hows and whys that it’s possible when it seems so counter-intuitive; i.e. the newness of discovering each other, etc. are what’s so frequently touted as where the excitement is; after the honeymoon it’s all down hill, etc.

      • Greg, I disagree.
        We know each other so much better now than when we got married. We like each other much more and we love each other much more. The fact that we know each other so well (in the biblical sense) makes it actually more thrilling than ever.

  5. Meredith says:

    I’ve been married more than 25 years and, although I wish we had been wiser and more intentional with our finances, it is #8 that is my biggest regret. I told myself that when I deferred to his wishes in order to avoid conflict, I was doing the Godly thing when really, I was afraid of the bad feelings that conflict brings.

    Twenty-five years later, I find that I am angry with myself that I gave in when I should have made a greater effort to tell him how important some issues are to me and with him because he states his preferences as the “right way” or correct choice. I also regret that I didn’t do a good job of listening to him when he was not happy with something I was doing. We created habits that we are trying to break now, but it is so hard!

    • Thanks for sharing that, Meredith. That’s something that I preach a LOT on this blog. Being a pushover and letting others treat us with disrespect does not honor God or the marriage. I’m glad you’re working through things now, but I know it’s so tough!

  6. I wish I had known it would be 16 months after we got married that she would even try sex.
    I wish I had known that it was just foolishness on my part to believe “Lets try to have a baby, that should get things going” was a lie.
    I wish I had known that once she got pregnant, that was it for 18 months.
    I wish I had known that it would be 10 years before you even touched me below the waist, and only with a grimace on your face.
    I wish I had known that when you say “I’m too busy” that you really meant you’re too busy for me.
    I wish I had known sex, when it did happen, would be the same thing each and every time, without ever trying anything new.
    I wish I had known that money and time spent on “romantic” vacations would be wasted money.
    I wish I had known that she would spend more time at church on one sunday then she spends naked with me in a year.
    I wish I had known that my entire sexual life would be wasted on someone who just doesn’t give a damn.

    • I’m sorry to hear that, it sounds like a really rough time for you.
      I just wanted to say, when I read that list the first thought that popped into my mind is that it sounds like she was abused. (actually it popped into my mind when I was less than half way done reading) I could be wrong. Even if I am, I would definitely see a Christian counsellor. Separately, and together.

    • Anonymous says:

      I second what Vicky has said. Therapy could help. Even if she won’t go, go on your own to start. You may get some valuable information on how to encourage your wife without being a “threat” to her. I went through a stage of really low libido several years ago. Nothing as extreme as what you’re describing but enough to be a concern. I went to counselling and to my doctor right away to figure out the problem and both helped. The counsellor also gave my husband some helpful tips on validating who I am, how I feel, and what I do. His approach since then has made a world of difference.

      • As far as I know and as she has told me, there is no abuse.

        We’ve gone to 2 counselors over the years (Pastor+wife). The first time after being married for 6 months, I had to go through 6+ months of hearing “there’s no point to it except babies”, “couldn’t care less”, “shouldn’t have to do what I don’t want to do”. And this wasn’t just sexual counseling, but whole marriage counseling. Gave up after that. The second time was about 10 years later, and I had to listen to basically the same thing, but she also added, telling the pastor and his wife to their faces: “Of course you would say that, you’re a man.” and to the wife, “What would you know? You’re not me.” After which she insisted we leave that church.

        As for “validating who she is, how she feels, and what she does”, I have been nothing but her biggest supporter. Everyone, even her MOTHER tells me so. Whenever she feels like doing something outside the house, I encourage and support it. Girls night out, working (I’ve accomodated my schedule so she can do what she wants), church, doesn’t matter. Need help at home with the kids? I’m there leaving work early, working from home, taking off, etc. I clean bathrooms, scrub floors, wash dishes, clean the kitchen, emtpy dishwasher, cook meals, do laundry etc etc etc. Whatever needs to be done. Plus all outdoor care. We serve together in the church, believe it or not, we teach a kids class (we do have 4 kids, all healthy, well-adjusted, one is going into ministry!). I trust her with all our finances, and everything else in our family.

        Besides the sexless marriage (which no one but me and the counselors knows about, of course), I will state bluntly that she is a crowning beauty of a christian woman. All those gifts of the spirit, Proverbs 31, Titus 2, she is exactly that woman. Except for sex about 4 times a year.

        I just don’t know what else I can do. The only “christian” failing I would readily admit to is my lack of praying with her. I’ve tried over the years, but I just can’t do it anymore. I can’t sit there and pray, and listen to this woman’s godly prayers, and know that its been over a year since she’s even touched me, and has refused me many times. I’ve just given up. And I know we’re growing farther and farther apart, and its like she just doesn’t even care (or probably doesn’t even notice). and I’m beginning to not care anymore either.

        • Lisa Donald says:

          I just prayed for you and your marriage and family.

          If not abuse, then perhaps she has other associations with sex being sinful from before marriage. Sexless marriage is not normal and is not a sign of godliness. Our godliness will NEVER exceed our service to our spouses, because marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. God created sex as a picture (like a shadow) of His own nature and the nature of our relationship with Him. We are seriously distorting God’s image we deprive each other (1 Cor 7:5) or behave arrogantly in any way with one another. In the same way, not caring anymore or not loving as Christ loved the Church (selflessly and to the point of giving His life) is giving in to to sin, too.

          Only God can change us. At times He allows us to come to hard places at the ends of our own ropes so we have nothing else to look to or trust in but Him. Then He can step in and change us in ways we never thought possible and have much to praise Him for. It sounds like you belong to Christ, and she at least claims to. Perhaps a starting point is to embark on a journey of learning to study the Scriptures (together if possible) with intentional humility in order to draw near to God. Each time as you open your Bibles, both of you ask Him to open your eyes to His Word and change you. I believe this is the kind of faith action God will honor as you rely on Him to do His transformation in His way and timing.

          Psalm 42

          Grace & Peace

        • We need to stop referring to women as Titus women or Proverbs women, unless we will also refer to men by Scriptural names. Let us be fair and balanced to men and women. .

          There is indeed a man made doctrine or a religious trend where we over use the messages: Women submit. women you must respect, women you are each Titus women or Proverbs women. This trend is so wrong and so unfair to women. God expects for men and women to live an obedient life, not judt women. We need to stop scolding women, unless we will also scold men.

  7. This is funny–we celebrated our 30th anniversary yesterday and at dinner I asked my hubby what surprised him most about marriage. We had a great discussion and lots of laughs about all of our ‘misconceptions’ the day we said our vows. This is a great list! So true!

  8. I wish I had known that The Pill can kill a woman’s libido. And that sex is something you do regularly, not just once in a while. And that it is super important to him.

  9. Aimee DD says:

    After four years of marriage, the inlaw thing is still hard. I’d only met his family twice before we married. My mother is still telling me I should have gotten to know them better before we married. Little personal pet peeves, like smoking, become huge contentions when children come along. After four years of marriage, one child, and many disappointments, I’m still not sure how to deal with my husband’s family. It is a much bigger deal than you think, even if they live 5 hours away and don’t visit. My one huge suggestion concerning finances: take a Dave Ramsey class together. We took one starting the week after our honeymoon. All our preconceived notions went out the window with the dirty bath water. It forces you to discuss those little difficult things without it being because one of you wants to talk about it. It’s all class homework.

  10. There were plenty of red flags before we were married, but I ignored them because ‘love conquers all’ and I was committed. I was very aware that marrying him would be a great challenge.. but what I didn’t realize was that it’s a challenge I didn’t need to accept.
    I thought I could help him.. fix him.. save him. I thought, if I don’t stand by his side.. if I don’t show him the unconditional love of God.. then who will? I thought he NEEDED me.
    I thought wrong.
    He didn’t need me.. he needed God. I wish I knew that I am NOT his ‘holy spirit’ or his ‘savior’. I can’t change his life.. only God can!

    After a decade together, I can say I was right about one thing: True love does conquer all.. even the heartache that I wouldn’t wish upon ANYONE. I will love him forever, even if he never changes! <3

  11. This is so great and ironic. I just finished reading a new book by the Smalleys called “The Wholehearted Wife: 10 Keys to a More Loving Relationship” It’s 10 keys even line up with these 10 things! I really recommend this book. It’s about ten keys that can move us toward a more vibrant relationship, beginning with what we can influence and change – our own attitude and commitment as wives. It’s inspirational and affirming, and I think it’s great if you’re married, engaged, thinking about getting married, or even including hubby. I love how some of your points line up with this book. Check it out – I highly recommend it.

  12. Great post! I just forwarded this to my newly-married daughter (May 31st).

  13. Tw agree with almost everything on this list. Except the idea of always living on one income. That is not always possible. And she days world, many marriages need two incomes just to pay the bills. It’s a great idea, and if possible the couple should do it. But that’s not always possible and you shouldn’t feel like a failure if you need two incomes

  14. These are fundamentals that no one should get into marriage without the knowlegde.Most people think,I Included that Marriage starts a completely new chapter but in reality most of what was taking place During coatship continues.

  15. sDear John,
    Firstly, I don’t want to assume that what I am going to say will necessarily help. I hear the heartache, disappointment, perhaps bitterness (I am not sure) that this aspect of your life has been sooo disappointing. Lord help you with this very painful hurt.

    I’d like to suggest to you two books that I have read that may help you.

    It sounds like you have tried very hard to be a great, understanding, supportive husband. I wonder if your wife is taking you for granted. It concerns me that you said something like she may not even notice….

    The first book is by renowned Christian author and Psychologist Dr James Dobson. It’s called Love Must Be Tough. You can also listen to the audio version.

    The second is by an author who I don’t think is a Christan but is pro marriage. There are many editing errors in this one but it’s still a very worthwhile read. It’s called something like Rekindle Her Desire. (I read the male one) available in Kindle on Amazon.

    May Jesus help you. I commend you John for sticking in a very very hard, hurtful situation. God bless you, your wife and your children.

    PS maybe you might find some support yourself to go to a pro marriage professional counsellor, not all pastors and their wives are the best counsellors.

    PPS some people have repressed in their memories past abuse.

    Bless you

  16. Hi John, correction to the Kindle book title I mentioned, the author is Richard Thomas, the book is called Reawaken your love life. A practical guide for men in low sex / no sex marriages.

    Something like that.

    This man has walked though it himself.

    Please let me know what you think and if it’s helped. Available on Amazon. I don’t know the author or anything

  17. The last thing is the conclusion of 23 years of your experience. People don’t want to work hard on relationship because it requires tolerance capability and couples of today are lacking it. Wonderful article. Thanks for sharing..

  18. This is such a great post. I love the one about habits. Habits don’t change. Who he was ( or who you were ) before marriage, is the same person that he will be ( or your will be ) after marriage. Don’t go into marriage with the hopes of changing those habits. It won’t happen.
    Tammy Greene recently posted…5 (more) Sexy Date Night Games That Will Heat Things UpMy Profile

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