What they should tell you when you are dating.

Fall2014-242Two days after Christmas our bank called us to tell us that we were the victim of credit card fraud, that some person had spent almost three thousand dollars on our card. This person wasn’t very intelligent, using it to book a flight and pay bail, making their name very easy to track down. The story ended up ok, but it did mean headaches of hours on the phone with the bank, cutting up cards and awaiting new ones, and generally stressing. In the moment that it happened, I looked up at James and we both had kind of the same expression: Of course. Of course this would happen now, at Christmas, after a year that – if you have been following along – has presented itself as rough in multiple ways. Of course.

When you get married, you don’t think about things like “how will my spouse and I navigate tense moments like finding out someone blew through our credit cards.” You imagine all the happy things, and you imagine hard things too, but of the grand variety.  Those things can break you, but they also prompt people to rise to the challenge. What I’m talking about are the little things that eat away at you, slow water over stone.

Honestly, when people said that the first year of marriage was hard, I laughed at them and I still do. The first year of marriage was so easy, so effortless and fun. The second year started out the same, but as we started rounding into that third year, this year, it got hard. I guess marriage didn’t get hard, but life got hard, got uncertain and stressful, got messy and busy, and marriage exists in real life, is made up of real life questions. The last 6 weeks of 2014 were by the far the hardest in our entire relationship. James was home, which was awesome, but we were still waiting to sort out some important job stuff and that stress hung over us, making us tense and on edge. Plus he was HOME, as in, constantly in the 600 square foot space where I work most days.

In those trenches of 2014, I learned a lot about marriage, a lot about the things that are essential that you don’t realize until it is too late and you need them. Humor me for some reflections on “What they should tell you when you are dating.” The alternate title of this post was going to be “You should break up,” but I learned the hard way that if you give a post a spicy title, people will just skip reading it and jump straight to vehemently disagreeing with you in the comments. But I’m serious – many, many people should break up instead of get married. Because I believe in a forever sort of commitment in marriage, I believe in not committing to just anyone. Everyone is always trying to “work things out” while they date, and I am in the background chanting – “Maybe don’t?”  The traits that I have come to value as essential to marriage over the past year are the ones that we too often overlook in dating, and thus the ones that end up ending marriages. My mom used to remind me of the three most important characteristics of someone you marry, and I still think she’s right. Some things are non-negotiable. But on top of those things are other things, things that have nothing to do with the other person by themselves, but with the couple you make, the team you become. This year we learned a lot about how to be a team and what it takes to be a good player.

Marry someone who is patient with you. If someone loses their temper with you when you miss a turn while driving, when you forget to go to an appointment, when you don’t take out the trash even though they told you five times – this is a problem. We all have (should have?) patience when we are dating, but whatever patience you have in dating will be cut in half by marriage, and probably again in half by children. Start with a lot. Someone who is prone to anger will be someone who is miserable to walk through life with, because there sure are a lot of reasons to get angry. And before you get lofty ideas – I am NOT a patient person. But I married someone who is, who diffuses my frustration and elicits calmer responses in me, and then calls me on my crap when I fail. We might not be patient in general, but we are patient with each other.

Marry someone who is your advocate. You are supposed to be each others’ biggest advocates, to always want the best for the other person. Sometimes in marriage it seems like no one else, or nothing else, is going for you and you want someone in your corner who cheers you on, pushes you further. Someone who makes you better, but loves you when you fall short of that. Someone who is encouraging. I feel like that should be a given, but I am startled by the number of people I meet who are dating someone who discourages them. Life will discourage you, so pick someone who doesn’t.

Marry someone whose career you can get behind. This proved really true this year when James’ career meant he left me for 6 months. I remember sitting at Applebees in Coldwater, Michigan (because we are classy and love us some fiesta lime chicken!) when we were in college, hearing him talk about career plans. I remember the moment when I realized – wait, he will not be like my professor father who was able to be home at 6 for dinner. He will have a job that is constantly stressful, that is at the whim of voters, that doesn’t respect regular hours. I chose that, which meant when his career made our lives rough, I didn’t resent it (much). The same is true if you love someone who doesn’t want a career or constantly switches or has no clue what they are doing with their life. Figure out if you can get behind that.

Marry someone you like talking to about things other than your relationship. We all know those couples, right? The ones who are always having drama, and we all know it’s because they secretly like drama and don’t actually have much to talk about beyond defining the relationship? Yeah… that get’s old real fast in marriage. The relationship is defined. When we were back to talking on the phone and writing emails, it reminded me that I like James, as a friend, not just as husband. I think he’s interesting and funny. If I didn’t, life would be boring blah punctuated with a little romance. There was a point in James’ work where I may have said that all I knew about his job was that he sent emails all day long. In return, James gave me the gift of three questions I could ask each day that allowed him to share with me the key parts of his day, questions I wouldn’t have known to ask by myself.

So there you have it, my thoughts from my lofty wisdom perch of a whopping 27 months of marital bliss. I am no expert. Even beyond that, there are many different kinds of good marriages, and part of maturity is accepting that relationships don’t all look alike. But there are similarities in what helps couples navigate the frustrating times, and those are what I have tried to list above. I’ve been taking the time lately to take stock of my marriage, to be thankful for the blessing of it and be mindful of the areas where it needs more attention.Fall2014-241

(A note: Married people are not an elite special race. The above qualities, invested in relationships with roommates, friends, co-workers, etc., also kind of just make you a nicer person. The only real difference is that if you realize late in the game that your friends are poor teammates, it’s a lot easier to walk away.)

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34 Responses to What they should tell you when you are dating.

  1. Cheers and good advice. I didn’t do all that, but by God’s grace we are both becoming more of that person. Being in marriage for the long haul is both amazing and very hard. Go for it. I find it so encouraging to hear you say all this! 🙂

  2. Elise says:

    Well said, and thanks for the reminder that marriage is teamwork. And a great opportunity to give and receive grace!

  3. Ann says:

    I loved this post, and for some reason it almost made me cry. After 1 and half years of marriage I agree with your points. I mean when you think about it, it’s pretty amazing to have someone in your life with those “qualities”. My husband too is now working away, and our phone talks really don’t have anything to do with “how is our relationship going” and everything to do with food, funny comments about work day and colleagues and general moaning (just me). Back when I still wasn’t sure what we were going to be, I remember thinking that I wish this agonizing dating period was over so that we could just sit on the sofa together in the evenings without any wierd unresolved stuff between us. Now that I think of it, that was one of the good signs that this could really work; for the first time I was ready to skip in my head any (or most) romantic day dreaming and just wanted to be with this man because he’s such a good companion.

  4. J.R. Baldwin says:

    Will and I were always upfront with each other about breaking up if it wasn’t going to work out… which, it obviously did. 🙂 Your points are so true! I’d say that our first year of marriage was very fun and tough at the same time – we did not live with each other for the first six months and then we made the leap of faith to move 1k+ south to pursue an M.S. and then the extremely competitive emergency medicine residency. I try to remember how hard we both worked in achieving this dream job for Will. How much we both sacrificed, and learned, and loved all the while. I can’t complain about moving south for one more year of school because that meant Will had so much time with baby Grace, vs. in the first month of Bebe Deux’s life, Will is going to be working an easy 14-16 hours a day in the surgical ICU. That being said, the patient-with-each-other is the greatest thing in our marriage. It doesn’t matter how much a person prepares for residency: it sucks on both sides of the relationship. But I take care of him, make sure he eats and has clean scrubs and gets pictures of Grace through the day, and he doesn’t care that the laundry is stacking up by our door with no chance of being folded before Friday, spends time with Grace and I (while trying not to fall asleep), and keeps up with us throughout the day.

    This is very long-winded! But I feel you. Marriage isn’t hard as much as it is a learning curve. We learn what we can handle. We learn what we need. We (should) grow. We learn to give more, and serve differently. My mom and dad’s hours were more flexible for us growing up; we ate dinner early and they helped with our homework. In a good way though, this is the chance to really make our marriage and our lives together our own – the nitty gritty bill-paying, laundry-washing, vacuum-cleaning, loading-the-dishwasher, saying goodbyes at 5 am and hellos after 7-8pm…. here’s to good teammates! 😀

    • Hannah says:

      I think the career thing is ESPECIALLY true when you are committing to a long haul of school, committing to almost single parenting young children while a spouse works long hours…. I’m not sure how you all do it!

  5. Kate Zickel says:

    Hannah, it’s so true. The first year of marriage was SO EASY for us!!!! It’s the following two that have really knocked us for a loop. I’m assuming this is in preparation for the remaining 50 or so.

  6. Jenn says:

    Hannah- we are friends and you don’t know it all because you write so, so beautifully and have such rich things to say. Thank you for letting us learn from your experiences.

  7. Anna Kate says:

    Good thoughts. So far I’ve only been in the “maybe don’t work things out” phase, and even though it’s been EXCRUCIATINGLY painful, I am convinced that I have dodged a few major bullets (and honestly, the way we were together, they dodged a bullet in me too). SO hard. WHEN will one work out (oh gosh now you’ve said that I won’t be comfortable with those words ever again, haha). But so worth waiting until it’s natural, obviously right. It’s hard to consider what the future might be like with another person, but if you don’t, you simply can’t fathom how detrimental it could be to your future self (and children/family). Just a little ramble. I appreciate your thoughts, and it encourages me that it’s okay I’m still single despite a few relationships that didn’t “work out,” for good reasons. I want a wholehearted yes, not a half-hearted-settling-for-my-children-are-doomed yes. 🙂

    • Hannah says:

      It is TOTALLY worth it! NOTHING would be worse than being trapped with someone who makes you miserable. When you are single, you are free. When you are married, you aren’t. That can be awesome, if you marry someone great, or absolute misery, if you don’t. I’m not being preachy, because I hate when singles are talked down to about “enjoying the wait.” I’m just saying love that free you have now, and use it to cultivate wisdom.

  8. joelcowen9 says:

    This is great! Thanks so much for the wisdom.

  9. abby hummel says:

    Yes, yes, yes.

    I dub you Annie’s romantic relationship godmother.

  10. Glenda says:

    Being a senior citizen with nearly 50 years in a “happy marriage” until now, it is so encouraging to witness you so eloquently express these timeless truths and have them be accepted and appreciated by your peers. May God continue to bless you as you honestly, humbly and vulnerably share by writing what He is teaching you in your life. All of your postings are Beautiful!

  11. Bailee says:

    I have been a silent and fascinated follower of your blog ever since the infamous “my husband is not my soulmate” post you wrote some time ago. While the topic of that post initially bought my intrigue; your writing and photos kept me engaged and prompted me to return to your space and read more often. I have continued to enjoy your writing ever since! Thank you for sharing your thoughts, your humor, your musings, and your insight with the vast internet world! I appreciated this post (having only been married one and a half years myself) and thought, “This blogger needs to know that her posts inspire people in ways she might not realize!”

    So, from one small reader (located on the other side of the nation), I commend you for your excellent writing, and thank you for your creative and inspiring posts! Keep on! 🙂

  12. Pingback: 4 Things They Should Tell You While You are Still Dating | Glorious Intimacy-Single Christians News Magazine

  13. Jess says:

    I love this so much and I pinky swear to use all of this advice if I ever get married.

  14. Ashley B. says:

    Goodness, I like you. Couldn’t agree with this more!

  15. Katy says:

    Great post! I love how you said marriage didn’t get hard, life did. Thats how I describe our first year of marriage– happy, but hard – not because marriage was hard, but because our circumstances were hard. The circumstances can definitely affect the marriage, but what was stressing us out was a move 16 hours from home, job searching, not much money, etc.

    Sometimes what’s hard is the marriage — and the longer I live and the longer I am married, there will be hard marriage years (as we all are guaranteed to have them) – but I think more often than not, its hard years of life — and for those years, I am glad I married who I did, because its a bit better to wade through those hard times with him!

  16. Laura says:

    Yes. Yes to all of this. Life is hard, and you have to think of your spouse as your teammate, not opponent, otherwise it will never work. I’m sorry you and James have had a hard year, but I’m glad that you are learning through it and choosing to love each other in spite of the hard circumstances.

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