With my first year of marriage officially in the books this Sunday, I am an old pro at this married life stuff. Actually, that’s not true at all, but I have come a long way from where I was in September 2014. So without further ado, here is my list of the Top 10 Things I Didn’t Know About Marriage Until I Got Married.
10. There’s no such thing as a routine.
Given our hectic schedule during our dating life, I’m not sure why, but I thought that finally professing our marriage vows would serve as a calming agent that would settle us into a marital routine. We would both come home from work, make some dinner, watch some TV and do some reading before going to bed.
Marriage has been nothing like this. There are always reasons why it’s easier to order takeout or meetings to attend or missed trains or classes to teach or friends in town. Perhaps it’s ironic that I felt like we were most settling into a routine thanks to cancer—the greatest disruption of my life. We spent many a chemo week evening settled into the couch to indulge in our latest Netflix choice. But now that I am healthy and we’re able to leave the house again, that routine has gone out the door along with us. That said, I am happy to report that Theresa and I have made a point of either enjoying these disruptions together or ensuring that we carve out some quality one-on-one time with each other despite the disruptions. Sometimes this means disrupting something else to make that time, but I think this has been essential to the success of our communication—which has been essential to the success of our relationship. We need that time to catch each other up… leading me to my next point.
9. There are no secrets.
I tell my wife everything and she tells me everything. There are no secrets between us…and why should there be? It’s only been a year, but it’s obvious to me that honest and transparent living can save you from a ton of stress and heartache. This was clearly my goal for the relationship, but I don’t think I realized the full extent of this rule. Embarrassing-but-illuminating stories from our past, strange bodily functions (cancer helped this one along…) and hard-to-explain inside jokes that you have with other people are all free for the sharing. I want to tell her everything. I want her to know and understand every part of me and vice versa—and together we can help each other understand the parts of ourselves that maybe we don’t even understand.
8. Despite your best intentions,you’re going to hurt your spouse.
What’s that saying? You only hurt the ones you love? Well, unfortunately it’s all too true. And why do we hurt the ones we love? Because we can. And because we know exactly how to do it. When there are no secrets, you have an invaluable file on your spouse. You know where all her buttons are and exactly how to push them. You know everything that is on her Permanent Record. Under normal circumstances, you would only use this information to protect her. But on special nights, the file can be used for far more hurtful purposes.
So why would we access the file that way? Because we’re human. I love my wife more than I’ve ever loved another human being, but I don’t love her perfectly and I know that I never will. Being at peace with that knowledge makes it a lot easier for me to forgive myself for those imperfect moments and to more readily seek her forgiveness. I want to love her perfectly, but I know that I never will, so I have no illusions about the fact that sometimes I do things that hurt her. I have no perfect track record to uphold, so I can acknowledge my failing and make things right. And that’s a two-way street.
Fights are inevitable. Real fights about serious stuff, as well as real-seeming fights about stupid stuff. Sometimes the latter can be more dangerous than the former. It’s a lot harder to forgive someone when they’re unnecessarily cruel in a stupid fight. Even the most harmless disagreement can quickly escalate it if you let it, or if one of you happens to be in a bad mood about something else. (Side note: Our stupidest fight-of-all-time-so-far was about whether or not Theresa enjoyed Frasier enough to “like” the TV show’s page on Facebook. Since I had basically introduced her to the show, I was taking it personally that she wasn’t a huge fan. You know, like you do.)
The fights will happen, so it’s all about dealing with them and not letting small issues get out of control or fester into big issues. We have a firm rule about not going to sleep mad. I know that sounds like a cliché, but it’s a cliché worth clinging to. If the air isn’t clear, I can’t sleep well anyway.
7. Marriage prep is essential…and lacking.
When we had been dating for several months, I think we both knew this relationship would result in an expensive and heavily planned trip to the altar. Before I was seriously dating someone (and was just seriously lamenting my single status), I sometimes found myself arrogantly thinking about what a great boyfriend I would be and priding myself on the potential I had to be a fantastic husband. Boy, would my wife ever hit the jackpot…if only she would ever show up. Once she did show up, I started to eat those words. As we grew as a couple and grew closer to tying the knot, we were intentional about preparing ourselves for the biggest commitment we would ever make.
Contrary to popular opinion, marriage prep doesn’t mean moving in together to see how well you can share common spaces, share the covers or share a sock drawer. If anything, I would argue that living apart does more to prepare you for marriage because it teaches you about sacrifice, responsibility, time management and, in our case, sitting in traffic after work in order to see each other. Marriage prep is about asking the difficult questions and moving closer together on the answers. There’s no point in delaying the inevitable—look for the deal breakers before you make the deal and the deal is far less likely to break. Before we got engaged, we actually purchased a book to help us ask the right questions and force conversations that we might not have tackled on our own. It really helped with that “there are no secrets” part of the equation.
When I see the state of marriage and relationships in our country or even among my own friends and family, I wish more people would be proactive about preparing before they enter into such a union. From a Catholic perspective, the Pre-Cana program that Theresa and I attended was useless and downright heretical at times. For those getting married in the Church, I believe the Church would be doing the world a service if they enforced a more rigorous form of wedding prep that did justice to the holy vocation that husbands and wives are swearing before God to undertake. Theresa and I are light years ahead in our marriage now thanks to the disagreements and revelations that arose before we said “I do.” We continue to encounter new challenges and make new discoveries about each other, but we know how to handle that because we solidified a foundation of open communication when we were dating.
6. It’s OK to be weird.
Pro tip #1: I’m kind of a weird guy. I do impressions of celebrities and people in my life. I have committed to memory and sing along with saxophone solos in Frank Sinatra songs and guitar solos in Barenaked Ladies songs. I have a masochistic love for the Cubs. I use social media too much. I can be lazy, but also kind of a perfectionist. I usually wear white socks with dress pants to work. And these are just a few of the quirks and foibles that I’m willing to openly admit.
Pro tip #2: My wife thinks I’m awesome. She doesn’t care about any of the above or the hundreds of other idiosyncrasies that she continues to encounter. She actually likes some of my weirdnesses. And I feel the same way about her. Sure, there are things that we do that get on each other’s nerves, and we work those out and try to meet in the middle whenever possible on preferences and behaviors that don’t match. But I don’t have to worry about her finding out that I know the lyrics to almost every song that ever appeared on Animaniacs. And she laughs at the fact that I own more than 20 Cubs hats and regularly wear about 4 of them. I even get to keep them on the shelf in the top of our closet.
We can completely be ourselves with each other. In fact, we insist upon it. And that freedom leads to a lot of the other positive aspects of our relationship that I mentioned above. It also leads to a lot of good-natured ribbing and inside jokes. Before I was married, I often wondered what weird things about myself I would have to change for my wife. It turns out that if you find the right person, acceptance is one of the most beautiful gifts of marriage.
5. Laughter is the best medicine.
In a lot of ways, I feel like our relationship is built on laughter. When we first met at that swing dance class, I remember trying desperately to make her laugh in the few short minutes I had with her as my rotating partner. When she came back around the circle, I tried again. And I’ve been doing that ever since. Best of all, she makes me laugh, too. We can be witty, sarcastic, off-the-wall outlandishly silly or all of the above. The point is, we laugh a lot. Even in dealing with cancer this year, we spent far more time cracking up than any cancer patient and his caregiver normally would. When things got intense with hospital visits or endless stays in a waiting room, we could turn these into lighter moments or find the humor in the situation such that we in some ways look back fondly on the struggle. We have decided to together take a more light-hearted approach to life…and it’s making everything a lot more fun.
4. Marriage is the best medicine.
As I dealt with my cancer diagnosis and treatment, I was always so thankful to be going through this with my wife by my side. On one level, I was just glad that she was around to have a front row seat to such a traumatic and potentially defining moment in my life. If I had gone through this when I was single, I’m not sure how I could ever make a future spouse understand what it was like. (“Read this blog, honey. Cancer is hard, see?”) Thankfully, my cancer fight was Theresa’s cancer fight, too. She has shared in all the ups and downs, and now together we have conquered it. I truly believe that having cancer join us for our first year of marriage forced us to grow in warp speed ways that might otherwise have taken a lot longer. I’ve blogged about this before, but the sacrifices and selfless acts of love Theresa committed on my behalf over the last eight months have shown me the true meaning of love. Her love and support was just as effective as the chemo (and with fewer nasty side effects) in helping me to get healthy again.
3. Love is patient. Love is kind.
When I was single, I was selfish. My time, money, possessions, interests and everything else were mine and mine alone. And when I say “selfish,” I don’t mean it in a mean way. I’m saying that much of my life was about me. A single person can make decisions as simple as what to have for dinner or as complex as what condo to buy without consulting anyone else for their preferences on side dishes or corner units. Being married has taught me that love makes you give up some control in order to gain a co-pilot. I’m revisiting the skills I honed growing up as the oldest of four brothers—the art of compromise. You learn to let go of preferences that don’t really matter if another option will make your spouse happier. And that’s where something incredible can happen. I’ve found myself—gloriously selfish Matt—purposely making choices that I know will make her happy. Sometimes that happiness can be won by unexpectedly emptying the dishwasher or starting a load of wash (she hates going down to the basement). Or sometimes all it takes is an unexpectedly sweet text message or sending her a stupid video of me lip syncing a song.
I want to make her happy and I know she wants to make me happy. While stereotypes may sing the praises of a bachelor’s ultimate freedom, it’s been a lot more fun for me to live with someone who is actively seeking my happiness while I also seek theirs. I’m just waiting for our Gift of the Magi moment where I surprise her with Chipotle for dinner and she already picked up Portillo’s.
2. Prayer is vital.
This list would be remiss if it didn’t include the overriding importance and power of prayer in our relationship. This is not something new since we got married, as we have always attended Mass together each week and prayed together since our earliest dating days. That’s what happens when you meet at a Catholic young adult event. But the first year of marriage—and, again, the fight against Lumpy—have shown us that prayer is truly powerful and a source of unending strength. This is another area in which we both encourage each other at various points in the race, as we both feel blessed beyond measure but can easily forget to stop and be thankful for everything that we have been given. God has ordered our lives in such a way that we came together exactly when we were supposed to. Even in the midst of difficulties, we both feel so divinely led on the path that we are taking as a married couple. I can’t even explain it. I can’t even.
1. I married the right person.
The number one thing I learned in my first year of marriage is that Theresa and I were meant to be. (Phew.) I don’t know if she was the only one out there for me, but she was certainly the only one I’ve ever met who is such a seemingly perfect fit. In fact, we are an imperfect perfect fit. Things are not perfect, but they often feel that way, until a few months later when we’ve applied a few more relational software updates and can’t understand how things seemed so perfect before when they’re actually perfect now.
We often laugh about a journal entry that Theresa wrote in our third month of dating in which she theorized that we would look back on that time as “a real golden age of our relationship.” Good one.
It’s hard to attend a wedding these days (our own wedding included) without slow dancing to the sappy country song I Thought I Loved You Then. Say what you will about the commercialization of marital love, but the lyrics ring true every time I hear the song. Each day of marriage finds us revealing a bit more of ourselves to one another, being a bit better at living out the sacrificial love of this holy sacrament, and coming a bit closer to understanding God’s plan for our life together.
We have packed so much into our first year of marriage, and I’ve learned so much about myself and about us. I cannot wait to see what is in store for the next year and the decades to come. Happy anniversary, Theresa. To quote the song you sang to me in the first lip sync video you ever sent me (those make me happy, too!): I love you more today than yesterday. But not as much as tomorrow!