By the time my husband and I walked down the aisle, I had read something like three dozen books on love and marriage, gotten weeks of premarital counseling (which I highly recommend), and hoped, dreamed, and fantasized about marriage for, oh, 25 years.
While I didn’t think I knew everything, I felt like I had a pretty good idea of what marriage was all about and what it would be like with my future husband. Boy was I wrong.
Two-and-a-half years in, the surprises of marriage are definitely not all bad—the good times are even richer and sweeter than I imagined—but there have also been times when those hopes, dreams, and fantasies got doused with a cold bucket of water. Here are just a few of the ways in which marriage has proven different from my expectations:
Expectation: We will never be too tired for physical intimacy—in fact, we might have trouble getting anything else done.
Reality: Sorry, romantic dreamers. My husband and I did enjoy a nice long honeymoon period, but eventually life intervenes. One spouse will be out of sorts, or conflict will shake things up, or a life event – like a new baby – will absorb every ounce of energy for awhile. There are two nice discoveries that came with this dose of reality, though: first, marriage becomes more and more as it goes on. The honeymoon may not last forever, but the companionship, friendship, and partnership elements of marriage only grow, and those are the things that sustain you through all seasons. Second, physical intimacy does get even better over time as your emotional closeness deepens.
Expectation: When I get married, I’ll make breakfast every morning/keep the bedroom clean/do a daily devotional with my husband.
Reality: The things that were hard before marriage don’t magically get easier. He has made far more devotional plan that we can stick to. If I had to do it over, I would have tried to establish better habits before I got married and made the transition a little bit easier.
Expectation: We might eventually run out of things to talk about. What then?
Reality: It happens, but it doesn’t feel like a bad thing. When dating, it sometimes felt like we were in performance mode as we evaluated each other as future life partners. Whenever the conversation died down, I worried that we might hit a point where we had nothing left to say.
I didn’t realize that one of the nice things about marriage is the connectedness you feel when you’re just sitting together and reading, or doing housework, or making dinner. We still have long conversations, but we’ve learned to enjoy being with each other in silence, too. Dating tends to be about events and activities as you get to know another person; marriage is much more about co-existing and learning to carry out life with another person in love.
Expectation: One of the best things about being married will be having someone to celebrate Valentine’s Day with and to take out on romantic dates on birthdays, anniversaries, and other special events.
Reality: Since we’ve gotten married, we’ve made less and less of a big deal about Valentine’s Day and birthdays every year. Our anniversary celebration went from a weekend retreat on year one to a last-minute dinner out on year two. But it’s okay. We’ve both found that spontaneous moments of romance or just-because dates are way more delightful and meaningful to us than pre-planned outings to celebrate special holidays. I think I’m going to vote next year that we skip Valentine’s Day altogether.
Expectation: The most intimate parts of marriage will be the romantic ones.
Reality: Negative. My husband once let me mistakenly use his toothbrush, thinking it was my own, for two months. When I found out and asked him about it, he responded that he hadn’t brought it up because it didn’t bother him and he thought I knew.
While that still totally grosses me out, it also somehow makes me smile every time I think about it.