You might have thought twice if you’d known…
With about half of all marriages ending in divorce, and many of the rest turning into bitter and unhappy unions, it seems like all of us need all the help we can get. And as someone who’s been divorced, and who hopes to get married again someday, I’m a sucker for any expert opinion on how to make marriage work.
Psychiatrist Scott Carroll MD, author of Don’t Settle: How to Marry the Man You Were Meant For (Balboa Press, 2016), offers a list of nine things you should know before you get married. I’ll get to them in a minute, but before I do, I have a couple little disclaimers of my own.
First off, I thought I did know most of these things before I got married. For example: marriage is difficult. Well, duh. Who doesn’t know that? It seems like every bride and groom who write their own vows end up reciting some variation on the ‘for better or worse’ theme. They know they’ll have hard times, but they love each other so much that they’re sure they’ll work through it. Uh-huh. This is one of those things that you can’t really know until you know. Then again, maybe I’m just one of those people who can only learn things by doing them. And I did learn a lot from my marriage.
Second, reading Dr Carroll’s list made me realize that as much as our culture holds marriage up as the ideal and makes a huge fuss over weddings – a gross and fake fuss, if you ask me – the hard truth is, marriage isn’t for everyone. If more people were honest with themselves, there’d probably be far fewer weddings and many more happily single folks in this world.
If you’re thinking of getting married, or even if you already are married, you’ll want to read what Dr Carroll has to say about it…
1. Marriage is difficult
Dr Carroll, who’s been divorced twice and therefore knows whereof he speaks, says being married is a skill, and you can only learn it by actually being married. “In fact, when I was last single, I tended to avoid dating women who had never been married before,” he says. “Plus, what seemed like an endearing quirk when you were dating turns into a major annoyance after you are married and have to live with it 24/7.”
2. Marriage is boring
For one thing, says Dr Carroll, parties won’t be as fun. “You won’t flirting with anyone at parties, which half the reason you used go to them in the first place.” So true. For another, you’ll be doing more things with other married people, who are also boring, and their kids – even more boring. “You’ll be spending a lot of nights on the couch, watching whatever Netflix documentary you can agree on,” warns Dr Carroll.
3. Marriage is expensive
Maybe you were fine in your cute little bachelorette pad, but odds are, once you’re married, you’ll want to upgrade your living situation. “As you start hanging out with more married couples, you’ll want nicer stuff,” says Dr Carroll. “You’ll also start wanting a house (or something you own) instead of an apartment, which is a major expense. Then you’ll want to start taking real vacations instead of hanging out with your friends. The list of expensive things you want just keeps growing and growing.”
4. Marriage means kids
Even if you don’t have kids, or plan to have them, Dr Carroll points out that you’ll likely start to be around them more once you’re married, because you’ll be hanging out with other married people. Plus, you’ll be asked about it constantly – so you’d better be ready for the baby talk.
5. Marriage doesn’t (necessarily) mean tons of sex
Even if you can’t keep your hands off each other now, it only takes a couple of years for the sex to drop off, according to Dr Carroll, leaving you with a sad, sex-starved marriage. “Imagine only being able to eat in one restaurant for the rest of your life. You’ll always have the best seat in the house reserved for you, and you can even work with the chef to change the menu, but you can never set foot in another restaurant again for the rest of your life.” If you’re someone who needs lots of sex, or lots of variety in your sex life, Dr Carroll says marriage may not be for you.
6. Marriage needs to have a purpose
Every marriage needs a reason to be, says Dr Carroll. “Just enjoying each other’s company isn’t enough. Every couple hits rough patches, and you need a purpose that keeps you both focused on the journey, rather than every bump in the road.” But if your purpose is raising children together, make sure you have another reason to fall back on – because, hopefully, kids eventually grow up and move out.
7. Lots of people get married for the wrong reasons
Whether you wanted a different lifestyle, or you thought getting married was expected of you, or you just wanted to get out of your parents’ house or your hometown, there are plenty of issues that people would be better off resolving on their own, rather than by getting married, says Dr Carroll. “After all, how long can you stand being touched by someone if you married them for their money or their connections? The ironic truth of marriage is: the less you need to be married, the better your marriage tends to be.”
8. Marriage means letting go of being ‘right’
Dr Carroll invokes the old saying, “You can be right, or you can be in love, but never both,” calling it “one of the truest statement about love and marriage.” He says in order to have a happy marriage, you’ll have to get past your need to be right all the time. He also warns that when you are right, you’ll end up having to apologize twice as much as when you’re wrong. “That’s because honest feedback from you hurts your partner far more than the same criticism coming from anyone else.” (So maybe I was actually on to something with my New Year’s resolution not to criticize my partner…)
9. Marriage means therapy
Face it, says Dr Carroll: odds are, one or both of you will have to go to therapy at some point during your marriage. He recommends making a standing rule that if one partner asks the other to go to therapy, they need to go whether they think they need it or not. “Emotionally healthy people aren’t threatened by therapy, and don’t refuse to go,” says Dr Carroll. “The worst an emotionally healthy person will say about therapy is that they didn’t get much out of it, or they didn’t click with that particular therapist. They don’t get defensive or pissed off about it. Just know that both of you need to go if the other ever asks.”
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Comment: What do you wish you’d known about marriage before you got married?