Something I realized in the process of planning my wedding? Being married and marriage are two totally different things.
I had thought about the former—the state of being legally bound to someone—on and off for years. It became more than a passing thought in my late 20s as my timeline became a stream of soft-lens wedding and baby announcements.
But I didn’t think about marriage—the hard work that comes with being legally bound to that person—until a month or two after my then-fiance, now husband, had proposed.
I knew instinctively that Scott and I had been doing that work in a very intentional way for the two years we had been together. There were BIG conversations that cemented our values and expectations, and then there were smaller moments where I learned who we are as individuals, as a couple, and, one day, as a family.
But now that there was a (gorgeous) ring on my finger and a wedding date set, my all-too-familiar frenemies anxiety and self-doubt dropped their bags off in my head, and settled in for an extended stay.
Your biggest fear is failure, Anxiety hissed. Wouldn’t the ultimate failure be getting divorced?
We haven’t accomplished nearly as much as we thought we would by 31, Self-Doubt cooed. Are we sure we’re able to handle the responsibility of marriage and starting a family?
There are just so many unknowns that come with marriage—hell, that come with being alive. The control freak in me was having a hard time trusting in the foundation Scott and I had built. The What Ifs? started piling up and those—coupled with decisions I had to make about venues, caterers, and vendors—did not lead to carefree bride-to-be.
So I did what I always do: I reached out to women who know far more than I do.
I asked seven of my favorite married women three questions:
What makes a happy marriage?
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about love / marriage / yourself in the course of your relationship that you think is important for a newlywed (or anyone in a relationship really) to know?
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about marriage?
Their answers—along with couple’s therapy and regular conversations with Scott—helped to put me at ease. I started to realize that no one has it all figured out, but I trusted enough in what Scott and I had sorted out together to let some of the anxiety and self-doubt drop away.
When I walked down the aisle to Scott and our family, I had never felt more confident about the decision I had made, and will continue to make in the years to come.
Here’s what these ladies told me:
“Laugh. A LOT.”
We’ve been married since 1999 and here are some of the things I’ve learned.
- The wedding is not your happy ending… It’s your happy beginning. I hope it’s a beautiful and magical day that it’s everything you dreamed. But I also hope it’s not the most beautiful and magical day of your marriage. May your journey together be filled with beauty and magic.
- Growth is inevitable. Growth is the goal. Keep communication open and courageous, committed and clear, so that you can grow together rather than grow apart.
- When disagreements or tough times or problems arise, try really hard to get on the same side of the problem, and fight it together. Try to work that into your language as early as possible (not fighting each other, but fighting the problem) and try to build the verbal correction into a habit, the way guided meditations tell you to notice errant thoughts nonjudgmentally and “bring the focus back to the breath.”
It’s not always easy—it’s very rarely easy, especially in the midst of an argument, lol—but it’s an incredible practice and helps to refocus on the fact that this person is your partner, not your enemy, and ultimately you really are on the same side. A few years ago we actually did a video about this called the art of arguing; you can check it out here if you like.
Laugh. A LOT.
“Choosing to love and learn is a choice!”
Never stop learning one another. I honestly feel like life-long partnership requires us to be students for just as long. A love that is healthy takes practice and constant evolution. It won’t always be easy, either. Choosing to love + learn is a choice!
“Nurturing…is among the most important things to do…”
Marriage is a relationship that needs continual nurturing, commitment, and most importantly, communication. I believe that nurturing is one of the hardest because of time constraints, but it is among the most important things to do to keep a relationship fun, and to be sure both are not taking each other for granted.
“It takes a village.”
Congratulations! Marriage is a beautiful thing but can be very trying at times. Growing up, and even with my own mother, I had never seen someone be in a “healthy,” ideal relationship, let alone marriage. My husband grew up with a stepfather who is now divorced from his mother, and they too weren’t as healthy as I think a marriage should be.
So when it came to us we knew we had to look from within to figure his journey out together. We have had our struggles, but we have been married five years this year with 11 years under our belt. (Thanks, God.) It’s hard to narrow it down but there are a few things that have really worked for us.
- Giving up is way harder than trying. We wake up everyday to make a conscious effort to still stay in this relationship. There are times that giving up would have been a option, but trying is where the real magic happens. That also goes for continuing to date one another. We are never too busy for one another, and we always make time to continue to learn one another.
- Stop trying to work on one another and instead focus on working on yourself. When I was consumed with making him a better man, I was only fearful of my own flaws. I had to step back and allow myself to trust that he was in control of his own personal journey. When I stepped back, he was able to step up, and I was able to self-reflect. We were strong individually and a force together.
- Don’t make permanent decisions due to temporary feelings. I am a woman who works off of emotions. That can be great because the intent is good, but sometimes the outcomes are nasty. We both had to learn to process our emotions healthier, [whether] that’s him living the house, or me going to work out. We have learned to make sure we both are level-headed before entering any conversation with one another.
- Lastly! It takes a village. We are nothing without the team wrapped around us. Our parents who provide us with breaks, counselors who play mediators, friends married and not married. Our children who keep us grounded and focused. We have tons of people who root for us, pray for us, cry with us, and win when we win. It truly keeps us going and we value that people believe in us!
“Every day, treat each other as if it’s the last time you’ll see each other.”
What makes a happy marriage? Both partners have to have a strong sense of self and purpose–and aim for larger individual artistic or professional goals that reach beyond the confines of the marriage, while being supportive of each other.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about love / marriage / yourself in the course of your relationship that you think is important for a newlywed (or anyone in a relationship really) to know? Leave enough room in the relationship to allow each other to grow and evolve. In many ways, I’m different from the person I was when I first got married 16 years ago. My husband has grown as well. We haven’t changed, but we’ve evolved. We basically grew up together. As adults, we don’t stop growing. That growth process involves a lot of mistakes, misspoken words, and moments of silence. Those are growing pains. They heal over time.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about marriage? I got this advice from an elder who’d been divorced and has four children: Every day, treat each other as if it’s the last time you’ll see each other.
It’s about the marriage, not the wedding day…
Planning a wedding can be one of the most exciting times of your life. But, I think It’s really important to remember what it’s about: the marriage. And, if there are things you have concerns with, it is so important to talk about them now and not just assume things will change because you’re getting married. Openly communicating before the marriage and wedding can help avoid any disappointment or future disagreements.
“The hard work and effort is real.”
What makes for a happy marriage? Friendship first. True and honest friendship. I’ve always said that if anything were to ever happen to our relationship, I would mourn the loss of my best friend before anything.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about love / marriage / yourself in the course of your relationship that you think is important for a newlywed (or anyone in a relationship really) to know? Marriage requires tenacity. The man you marry on your wedding day will not be the same man next year, five years from now or beyond…neither will you. Simply put, it’s evolution and it’s inevitable.
Since getting married in 2002, we have experienced new life and death, financial success and challenges, promotions and downsizings, distance and growth. Today, when I look at us, I see a couple who through it all stood steadfast and fought to stay close and grow together. The hard work and effort is real. Through sickness and health, richer or poorer is real. But if love, respect and honesty exists, the bond will always be real—and unbreakable.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about marriage? Never end the day angry at each other. Resolve it today and start anew tomorrow.