We walked the aisle, said “I do,” and stuffed cake in each others faces when I was 24.
I wasn’t 25 before I realized that I had absolutely no idea how to be married.
I brought a lifetime of bad ideas and bloated expectations to this enigmatic relationship, and the deeper we got into marriage, the more ridiculous some of my most basic assumptions about it proved to be.
After slamming doors and screaming matches became regular hobbies of ours, I knew I needed to put some of these basic expectations to the test.
My personal exploration hasn’t ended—and ideally, never will. But here are a few things I’ve picked up along the way that could save newlyweds at least a few hard days.
1. Happily Ever After is a Perk—Not the Point.
Our modern obsession with being happy often makes it far easier for us to love happiness more than we ever love another human. And though being happy is a very real by-product of a healthy relationship, the value we put on personal fulfillment is so inflated, it’s causing us to miss one of the more beautiful purposes of marriage.
In Hebrew, the word used for marriage actually means “Fire.” And not-so-coincidentally, fire is also the element used throughout ancient Hebrew culture to represent personal reformation. In this light, marriage, and its necessary—but often unhappy—friction, is seen less as a doorway to happily ever after and more as a tool in God’s hands to help us become increasingly beautiful—increasingly our best and brightest selves.
2. The Perks of Marriage are Incredible—but They Take Work.
Many experts say young people simply expect too much from marriage. But I tend to think that it’s not what perks we expect, but how we expect to get them that sets us up for disappointment in marriage.
We walk the aisle, recite a few vows and subconsciously expect marriage to be a genie in a bottle without a price tag—freely giving out sustainable happiness, breathtaking sex and emotional security.
But you aren’t entitled to the benefits of love just because you put a ring on it. Those perks only come with intentional investment and personal sacrifice.
3. Good Consumers Make Bad Lovers.
The Hebrew word for love, ahava, has little to do with what one feels or receives. To the contrary ahava is actually a verb that means “I give.”
Love is not the fleeting butterflies we get when looking into the eyes of our significant other. It’s far simpler—and far wilder—than all of that. It is the big, small, mundane—but generous—choices to give to our spouse. And as we begin to orient ourselves to this brand of love that requires us to show up continually, we’re sure to discover the beautiful paradox that it is.
4. Love is a Journey—Not a Free Fall.
Many of us think we meet someone, date, fall in love and then get married. We then expect to reap the rewards of love immediately—and inevitably learn that true love isn’t, in fact, something we fall into. This state of “Love” (and all of its benefits) is developed over years of learning to relate to one another—it’s a journey.
These benefits are very real perks of love, but we don’t simply fall into them. Why? Because trust requires time, true companionship comes from years of conversation, and the kind of romance that doesn’t fade only comes from being intentional over the long-haul.
5. Marriage isn’t Just a Choice.
With those words, we choose to embark on a journey to learn how to give, to value and to care for another human as much as we do ourselves. But marriage isn’t just a choice we make on our wedding day. Its a choice we make every day.
A good friend says it this way, “Marriage isn’t something we accomplished the day we said ‘I do.’ It is an ongoing action of marrying our individual lives—with all of our thoughts, responses, fears and strengths—together.”
6. Marriage is Designed to be Priority No. 1.
One of the most useful tips I’ve been given on marriage comes from a rabbi who said, “All of your problems (financial, relational, marital, etc.) are because your marriage isn’t your highest priority (this is not considering relationship to the Divine). The gains that a spouse will feel on both a spiritual and material level defy description, once they make their marriage first place.”
The moment our spouse feels less important than our work, friends or hobbies—our efforts of love suddenly mean very little to them. But when marriage is given its rightful place in our priorities—our spouse becomes a partner and asset to every other area of life.
7. Your Spouse isn’t the Problem. You are.
It took me a long time (and an absurd number of yelling matches) to see my wife’s “issues” were actually just a reflection of much deeper brokenness in me.
This is the phenomenon Solomon of the Bible alludes to when he says, “As in water, face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects man.” Or the truth of what Rabbi Shalom Arush is pointing at when he says,
“You didn’t get married to correct your spouse. You got married to be corrected, by using your spouse as a mirror.”
8. The World Needs Love.
Social & scientific studies show that for better or worse, your marriage changes you, determines your spouse’s growth, affects your kids development, alters the future of your community and has implications on your economy.
Marriage is not simply a private endeavor between two people. When looking through the lens of research, healthy marriage is clearly a social good.
Our modern world doesn’t need any more millionaires or leaders or pastors or soldiers or philanthropists—not primarily, anyway. What the world needs are better lovers—husbands and wives committed to learning the unnatural art of loving another person.
Tyler Ward released Marriage Rebranded: Modern Misconceptions & the Unnatural Art of Loving Another Person this week, where he explores more modern myths about marriage, tells awkward stories, and offers unorthodox best practices that are sure to help anyone write a better marital narrative for themselves. Watch the book trailer here.