I’m not one to live in regrets. My feeling is, if I’m happy where I am right now then everything before this point, good and bad, got me here. That’s good enough. But every once and a while, I come across the “what I wish I knew before ….” articles, including ones on “what I wish I knew before I got married.” As if someone’s else’s marital experience would be the same as yours. Probably not — especially if they seemed so specious.
I never felt that way, maybe because when I married the first time I was a few months shy of my 21st birthday (yes, how silly!) and I didn’t give marriage too much thought. In retrospect, it probably wouldn’t have hurt; oh well. When I wed the second time, I was 32, had a life and a career and experience. I had my shit together!! But did I have more perspective? Well …
Yes, this time my husband-to-be and I talked about what we wanted — careers, kids, life goals, etc. — and we also talked about what we learned from our past infidelities. Even that, however, didn’t change the trajectory of our marriage.
The advice I wouldn’t have listened to
I can’t say there’s anything I wish I knew about marriage per se before I married, and I probably wouldn’t have listened to any advice anyway. I used to think that marriage in and of itself didn’t change us, and I still think it doesn’t have to. But now I believe we can allow it to, consciously or not.
These are not things I would ever be able to put in the “wish I knew” category, because I’m not sure I could have known them. That said, I have observed patterns among women (of my generation, anyway) and so I put it out there:
- We can lose our sense of self. I have heard from men that they, too, lose part of themselves in a marriage. I have no doubt that they do. That said, women are often expected to be the caregivers — and then are judged harshly if they care for themselves. We’re supposed to be selfless, I guess. And, as Moira Weigel points out in her book, Labor of Love, so much of romantic love is actually free labor on the part of the homemaker and caregiver, historically women. That’s a conversation all couples should have.
- We can believe being “nice” will get us what we want. I was a people pleaser for many years. This seemed to be a good thing — I was nice to everyone! I wanted everyone to like me! I especially wanted my husband — and later, my boyfriends — to see me as the cool gal, the “easy-to-be-with” partner. I went along with everything my man said because “I am a nice person.” Well, B.S. on that. Oh, well, I actually think I am generally a pretty nice person, but the kind of people-pleasing nice person I was for many years was not authentic. It’s what what Divorce Court judge Lynn Toler calls “The False OK.” It’s what blogger Mark Manson observes as the way “nice” people sabotage ourselves — and our relationship — when we “do everything” for our partner and don’t set healthy boundaries for ourselves.
- Being the best person doesn’t guarantee anything. I know that we want it to. I certainly wanted it to, and I think I kind of expected it. But being the best you you can be won’t necessarily protect you from bad stuff in your marriage, no matter what so-called experts may say. Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be the best we can be; it just means we may not want to have expectations about how our partner may act because of it.
Not unique to being married
None of these are things that fall into the “what I wish I knew before I got married” category. All of these were lessons I learned exactly because I went into my marriages without a lot of expectations and with a certain obliviousness. And honestly, these are not unique to marriage; any long-term, live-together romantic relationship might create similar dynamics.
You may feel differently.
So I throw it back to you — if you’re married, is there anything you wish you knew before you said your “I dos,” and in what way do you think it might have changed your marriage — for better or worse? You can answer the poll below or you can leave detailed answers on my blog or you can email me your answers if you wish to be anonymous; I guarantee you will.
It’s not scientific by any stretch of the imagination; just some insight. Thanks, as always, for sharing.
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