Three years ago, I wrote down some marriage advice for my nephew and his bride. It turned out to be one of my most visited posts.
My nephew and niece-in-law are still happy three years later, and though I don’t think it has anything to do with my advice, I wanted to share the post with you again today. After all, we’re in the midst of wedding season, and perhaps your nephew/niece/daughter/son is set to marry soon, and you’d like some ideas of what to share with the happy couple. So here it is again. If you think I left anything out, please add your own nuggets of marital wisdom in the comments at the end of the post.
My dear nephew and his bride,
Your wedding is tomorrow. You won’t have time to really read and take this in today, but it’ll be here when you do.
It’s hard to imagine that the little blond baby I fell head over heels in love with at the hospital not that long ago is ready to take a bride, but the two of you have declared your intentions to walk together from now on. Your new life as husband and wife begins tomorrow.
To wish you well along your journey together, I’ve asked some friends to share their advice with the two of you. I’m including some of my own thoughts, as well as some “white wedding-y” flower photos, all taken since you two first met.
You may hear, especially this first year, that the first year of married life is the hardest. That may be true for you, as your final year of college will bring its own special kind of stress and difficulties. But don’t get complacent after you’ve made it through the first year: it’s not necessarily true that the first year is the hardest. Marriage will always take effort. Expect ups and downs throughout your marriage. There will be good days and bad days, good years and tough ones. Agree from the start that you will weather these together.
Marriage is not a contest or a competition. At times, one of you may bring more to the relationship than the other. Accepting that you won’t always contribute 50-50 will save you from many tears and frustrations.
You are at the same time still young but also grown and ready to make life-changing decisions. Know that you will both change—possibly a lot—in your twenties. Your hopes will change. Your dreams will change. Your goals will change. May you grow stronger together as you encounter these inevitable changes.
Because you are marrying now, before you have figured out your vocations and avocations, you will likely have to make sacrifices for the happiness of your spouse. It may feel too hard sometimes to put your personal dreams on hold, but expect there to be times (maybe years at a time) when your personal goals and dreams do not get to come first.
I know it’s hard to imagine not wanting to be together all the time, and you should enjoy each other’s company and enjoy many of the same hobbies and activities. But also give yourselves time and space to cultivate interests that you don’t both necessarily share. Think of this space in your marriage as a way to bring out the best in each other. As counterintuitive as it may seem, these differences can enrich your marriage and make you stronger together.
Your marriage isn’t all about you. You are part of something greater than just the two of you. I hope you’ll find a way to bring your strengths as a couple to share with those around you. And I hope you’ll lean on your faith to help you learn how you are to love yourselves and others as fully as possible. Henri Nouwen wrote it beautifully:
… I have love to offer to people, not only here, but also beyond my short, little life. I am a human being who was loved by God before I was born and whom God will love after I die. This brief lifetime is my opportunity to receive love, deepen love, grow in love, and give love.
Finding My Way Home, 139-40
Speaking of faith, I hope you won’t ignore its importance in your relationship. God’s love is a perfect love and can teach you how to love each other even when you don’t really much like each other. A faith community is also a vital way to grow together, develop abiding friendships, and find mentors and other couples who can hold you accountable for your actions within your marriage. Many of my friends who married young attribute their successful marriage to a strong faith and the communities of faith that have supported them in difficult times.
I could ramble on, but I’ll stop here. I wish you joy. I love you. I pray you will, together, be exceptional.
As promised here is some advice from friends across the country. Some have had long and happy marriages. Some have learned hard lessons in divorce and remarriage. All have walked the road ahead of you and have wisdom to share with you.
On changing (for good and for bad)
- “My grandmother told me when I got married (at 19 years old) that whatever they do when you get married they will keep doing. Whatever they do NOT do, they will continue NOT doing. Don’t expect people to change when you get married.”
- “We are always developing as individuals and as couples. Never stop trying to ‘get to know’ your partner. You are both new people every day.”
On inevitable fights
- “Using slogans such as ‘How important is it?’ would have resulted in fewer stupid arguments and less resentments resulting from the petty stuff we might notice when we are younger.”
- “Pick your battles. Everything is NOT worth a disagreement. This advice has helped us to have almost 20 years of happiness.”
- “I think the word ‘blame’ should be eliminated from the vocabulary. The idea of blame is intrinsically crippling. That is why it is spelled B LAME.”
- “My mantras: 1. Accept and embrace imperfection, in myself and others. 2. Refrain from personalizing—other people’s feelings are usually not due to you. They are feelings. 3. Pause before reacting. 4. Choose encouragement, not criticism. 5. In discussions, say ‘I feel’ rather than ‘You should.’ 6. Approach your days with kindness, savoring and gratitude. 7. Give as you would like to receive (an iteration of the Golden Rule, of course!). 8. Let go. Let love.”
- “You don’t always have to be right. In 35 years it won’t matter anyway. When we got married our theme was ‘Divorce is not an option.'”
- “My advice is to be honest and truthful but not hurtful in the process. Remember, the person you are speaking to holds the other half of your heart. So treat it with care. There is a gentle way to address all situations and you can NEVER take back words said in spite disguised as honesty.”
- “Marriage is a compromise where things don’t turn out like she or he wants, but instead how the couple, as one, wants. It’s worked for 32 years and counting. There’s no more you and me; it’s now us and we.”
On your future together
- “Talk about money, and save money together. Start now, not later.”
- “Do not hurry to have children.” [I would add: be willing to revisit your decision not to have children, as your desires may change over time. They may not, but be open to an honest conversation on this huge decision.]
- “Make time to do things together. Plan mini vacations.”
- “Remember that in marriage there are many ups and downs. There will be days you wake up and are so in love with your spouse and others you can’t seem to stand to look at them, but these times are normal and will ebb and flow. It doesn’t mean the love is gone; it returns! Stay patient and work and remember it isn’t always easy, but with God in the center of your marriage, you can conquer all!”
On luck and blessings that will keep your marriage going
- “I know this isn’t a very Christian perspective, but I feel extremely ‘lucky’ that our marriage has been what it is. We were so young and naive.”
- “These are the only things I can think of that are authentic and sincere: May you laugh together every day, find things you love to do together and separately, and grow up together.”
To all the rest of you reading this, what advice, blessings or well wishes would you add to send off this young couple into their marriage?