“Write a letter to yourself on your wedding day: what advice would you give yourself about marriage now that you’ve been married for awhile?”
My husband and I were asked this question during a circle group meeting with about five other married couples from our local area. As I began to write my letter, I couldn’t help but wonder, “If I’d known then what I know now, would I have been too scared to walk down the aisle, or would I have saved myself a lot of disappointment and discouragement?” That thought kind of formed the basis of what I wrote. And I am sharing some of my letter here in the hopes that it might help others who are engaged or hope to be married, or who are already married, but maybe experiencing tough times. Because let’s face it, marriage is hard, but so worth it.
Dear Me on My Wedding Day:
On this special day, I know you have beautiful dreams and ridiculously high hopes about marriage and what life with Brian will be like! You believe that if you do everything “right,” you will have an easier time in marriage than your parents did. You have visions of a perfectly attentive husband who will romance you all the time with flowers and long walks and talks. You think that your love for Brian is enough to help you weather any storm, and you believe that because you are both Christians and committed to never getting a divorce, you will be able to keep from repeating your parents’ marriage mistakes.
But you have unrealistic expectations about married life, which is kind of ironic considering that your parents are divorced, and you have very few examples of healthy marriages in your family. All you really know about marriage comes from romantic movies or novels, the endless marriage-prep books you’ve studied, and the stories you’ve heard about your great-grandparents 50-year marriage (the only one that lasted). The reality of marriage is nothing like you expect, and if you hold on to these expectations, you will be gravely disappointed—not just in Brian but in yourself. And that disappointment can turn into discouragement that could destroy your relationship. So even though it sounds weird, lower your expectations because marriage is harder than you imagine right now.
Whatever you do, try not to expect perfection from Brian or from yourself. No matter how invincible you feel today, you will not be a perfect wife. And even though he was the perfect boyfriend/fiancé, he won’t be a perfect husband. You will both fail often, and failure hurts. In fact, you will be surprised by how hard it is to be a wife—to give yourself to another person in the selfless way that marriage requires. This is partly because you’ve never seen a wife love a husband in a healthy way. You’ve only watched your mom or other female family members stay too long in unhealthy relationships with men who treated them like doormats, or hurt their kids, or abandoned the family altogether. This caused you to build up walls that you don’t see now. Don’t expect to learn how to be a wife on your own, and realize that you will struggle at times. But just because you can’t be perfect is never an excuse to stop trying to do better.
Most importantly, please don’t try to do marriage alone. Reach out often to other married couples, especially those who have gone through hard times and made it through together. You don’t realize this now, but another way that your parents’ divorce hurt you is by robbing you of the support and hope you need to make it in your own marriage. Sure, your parents love you and want your marriage to succeed, but they don’t know how to help you, and they did not give you an example of how to do marriage well. This is a weakness that will harm your marriage unless you are willing to reach outside your family for the mentoring and encouragement you need. Please don’t wait too long to get that help, and never be ashamed to ask for it.
Finally, don’t let the fear of divorce consume your marriage. Hard times are normal, and you and Brian will fight and let each other down. It will be so easy to give up in the difficult times because that’s all you’ve ever known. And because you have such high expectations of the “perfect” marriage, you’ll feel like anything less than perfect means failure. You’ll be tempted to believe the lie that no one else has been through what you are going through and actually made it, even though so many others have. During these times, there will be a voice in your head that constantly reminds you of your family’s broken past, a voice that whispers, “Your marriage was doomed from the start. Just look where you come from—a legacy of divorce.” Don’t listen to that voice! Instead, replace it with the voice of hope by looking for examples and encouragement from marriages that have made it, and especially by getting on your knees before God in prayer for each other often. Whatever happens, remember that with God’s help, you have the power to overcome your family’s past, and build a legacy of lasting love for your children.
For me the best part of the exercise was exchanging letters with my husband, whose reflections about marriage were very different than mine. Sharing our thoughts helped us to understand each other better, and strengthened our resolve to build a forever family.
Writing a letter to my younger (and more naïve) self gave me the opportunity to reflect on some of my own weaknesses and what I’ve learned. For example, having more realistic expectations about marriage gives me the room to make mistakes, while encouraging me to keep striving to improve. While reaching out to other married couples for support is not easy for me (or Brian), it encourages us in our relationship by giving us real-life examples of marital success. And the fear that divorce is inevitable in my family is something I did not expect to face when I got married, but fighting that fear is a constant and necessary battle.
It also reminded us of the one thing I did not write in my letter but would tell my engaged self if I could: although marriage is harder than I expected, it is the best thing I’ve ever done or will do (along with having my children), and worth every bit of work.