The fairytale of marriage. We grow up either seeing movies, TV, or our parents’ presence play out this institution with expressions devoid of love serve as a role model for what that could mean in our lives. Think Like A Man or Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too? are examples to name a few. Our world plays on the tropes found in popular culture that I believe sometimes gets it wrong. Or maybe just isn’t telling the whole story. While art can be a reflection or commentary on the parts of living some of us might be too afraid or scared to name, this chapter called marriage and the act of it, I take seriously. A priest said something that I thought was interesting during a wedding homily he gave in 2016: “Marriage is not a vocation for wimps.” To me, it’s not a business transaction, not something to be touted as a title. It’s when we signal that dating is over. That phase of a relationship has ended, and together, a couple enters their new chapter and union—as something new.

Disclaimer: I’m not married yet. But I hope to be one day. In advance of that time, I make deposits of time in good company around engaged and married couples. Consider it a marriage experience by osmosis. Nuggets of wisdom I’ll be waiting to apply to my own union in these upcoming years. The kind that helps me be a better man, future father, and future husband.

Lauren, it would be awesome to hear your perspective. How has your relationship grown and what has the journey been like so far? When you look back, what are the elements that make a good marriage work to you?

“We would be together
and have our books
and at night
be warm in bed together
with the windows open
and the stars bright.”
– Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

There are a lot of things that take precision in life.

Baking, for one, involves careful, readable measurements. A career as a surgeon or pilot involves learned specificities that could create a life-saving or life-threatening outcome. Profit, I wish I could name every stipulation that equates to a perfect marriage. But there isn’t really a precise formula that will result in a life that feels like a romantic tryst every day of the week.

There are, however, some things to consider if one wishes to truly benefit a marriage. Two people coming together as one is a concept that, while both excessively normalized and magnified in our culture, is actually brilliant and utterly holy. There are elements to marriage that remain a mystery, even to those who are already married. It’s an adventure that changes at every turn of season. Isn’t that why we pick one another? We want to live through those bright and starry nights, those tumultuous waves, those days of agony right alongside those gentle, warm mornings—together.

Here are a few jewels of wisdom my husband and I have picked up over time, both as we educated ourselves about marriage and as we’ve lived it out in real-time. We’ve had to grow and journey together throughout the years, and the voyage only keeps ongoing.

Trends versus commitment.
A lot of people want to get married because everyone else is doing it. It’s trendy. They want that shiny rock on their finger—they want the status, the title, the social media extravaganza. It can be easy to assume that marriage is the next step simply because everyone else in your life might be heading down that road too. However, it’s really important you don’t get married just to get married.

One of the really beautiful things about marriage is that it’s a commitment to one another. Truly committing to be there for one another, to walk through the storms together despite the circumstances, to serve each other even when it’s uncomfortable or hard—releases you to step into a certain realm of safety. It creates a sheltered space where both individuals are free to love purely, to be themselves fully without fear of abandonment, and to flourish because both parties know that no one is just going to up and leave. An all-encompassing covenant makes space for each person to become the other’s standard of beauty, for each person to devote time and space to help the other become who he or she was created to be.

If there’s anything you remember from this soliloquy, remember that your individual happiness should not be the reason you decide to get married. That will fail you time and time again. When the going gets rough in everyday life, it’s obviously easiest to simply say, “Well, I’m out!”, but anything worth having takes work, and marriage is one of those things that you have to be all in for. We take vows at a wedding, in front of all our family and friends, for a reason: they hold us accountable to the covenant we’re making with this other human. Commitment can be hard work. It’s permanent, which can feel scary in its endlessness. But there is purpose in the permanence—it’s how two human hearts were originally created to come together as one, and it’s the safest and healthiest way such a union can exist.

Communicate.
If there’s one thing I could recommend to make a marriage work, it would be to flex your communication muscle as much and as often as you can. Even if you think you’re a stellar communicator, you probably have some room to grow—at least in the marriage department.

Most disagreements in marriage happen when there’s a gap in expectations. One person thought one thing was going to happen, and the other person expected it to go in a completely different direction. When we expect others to follow through with our expectations (but we haven’t communicated those clearly), there’s going to be some strife.

Sure, it’s romantic to assume that your significant other will just “get you” and will “know you so well” that he or she will know exactly what you want Valentine’s Day to look like, or how to make you feel loved, or what he or she did to make you feel grumpy last Tuesday. However, while there’s certainly room for surprises and growth in how we learn to love each other well, the most important thing we can do to care for one another is to sit down and talk about it all. As. Much. And. As. Often. As. Possible. You won’t regret it.

Cultivate friendship.
There’s something full of majesty that results from the companionship of another. To be known and seen and delighted in is a marvel, and it’s something that can grow deeper roots in your marriage than romance or sex or status ever could. It’s the foundation for which all things continue to move forward, even when the other parts of your marriage flounder and life gets beyond hard or confusing.

How to tend a friendship protected by covenant? Have fun together. Invest in intentional time doing intentional things together. Don’t get so caught up in work, in life, in kids that you forget to enjoy one another and enjoy this life. Be students of one another. Study each person’s love language. Learn what makes each person tick, and learn about yourself individually as well. Understand what you need and how you both can care for each other in the best way.

It’s important that couples don’t absorb each other as identities. There is such value in each individual nurturing his or her own interests, hobbies, and desires so that your oneness doesn’t become unhealthy, but continues to mature and becomes life-giving. Champion one another in living out what each was made for in his or her purpose. Invest in mentorship and support systems that will help you grow—both as a person and in your marriage.

Marriage is prestigious. It’s honestly amazing. It’s an ever-evolving terrain that keeps opening up to new summits of understanding and intimacy. Your wedding day is most definitely a peak. A miraculous day of its own and deserves to be documented, but it’s only the beginning of greater heights yet to be reached. Keep the journey close to the heart as you commit to this mysterious and beautiful thing called marriage.

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