Marriage Lessons to Read Before Your Wedding Day — What One Couple Learned About Money and Relationships Through 2 Years of Marriage
My wife and I have been married for two years now. I know that in the grand scheme of things that may not be exceptional on its own. But, we have already begun to see our trajectories evolve, with regard to our personal growth and our future together.
Whether you are considering marriage or are already married, I thought it would be valuable to share what we've learned and how we have grown together, even in such a short time. Below are eight marriage lessons we've picked up so far– I hope you find them insightful as you enter into your own union!
The Biggest Marriage Lessons We've Learned After Two Years In
1. Be transparent and vulnerable about your expectations
My wife and I did pre-marital counseling to help us be intentional about preparing for our marriage. We knew that the idea of marriage comes with many emotional ties and expectations.
Even after hours of discussion with our pastor and on our own, we still found that we had different expectations for life together. Through more time together, we've learned to adjust to each other's needs and preferences, and it's been a fulfilling experience to grow together.
If you are not yet married, I strongly encourage you to discuss your expectations for marriage. This will require vulnerability, but it's appropriate because you need your spouse to be someone you feel comfortable sharing intimate details with. You always hear that a successful marriage is all about communication, and that couldn't be more true.
Be sure to discuss financial, family, leisure, spiritual, and physical expectations with your partner.
Ideally, discussing expectations in each of these areas will be a sweet time of sharing and unity. But, it's likely that these discussions will reveal some incompatibilities.
It's important to realize that anyone you marry will be a real human being with flaws. So it's not helpful to expect perfection or an exact match. However, understanding mismatches in expectations is critical. You will both need to decide if these incompatibilities are issues you can overcome or overlook, or if they will create significant problems for your future.
Breaking off a dating relationship or engagement is sad and difficult, yet it's still preferable to a broken marriage.
2. Understand that you will both change
I went to college in a different state from where I attended high school. During college, and even now several years past graduation and into my career, I feel uncomfortable seeing my high school classmates. The problem is that they no longer know me — they only know 17 year old me. Likewise, I no longer know them, either! This was the first time that I realized how drastically people can change over time, even beyond childhood.
As you gain new knowledge and have new experiences, your worldview, knowledge base, and personality shifts. You need to continue to get to know your spouse, even after years or decades of marriage. This is one of the biggest marriage lessons you'll learn, and continue to learn, over time as each of you grows and changes.
Also, because of this constant changing, you need to…
3. Identify your core values — they need to be compatible with each other's
Not all of your priorities and values will be identical to your spouse's, but your goals for your lives do need to at least be compatible.
In many cases, you may be able to compromise or accommodate for both of your goals. But in other cases, you may not be able to — this can cause resentment.
If you want kids and your spouse does not, that will likely become a point of tension. Your ambitions are not compatible. There's not a true compromise available.
However, if you want kids in 2 years and your spouse wants kids in 4 years, you should be able to reach a compromise and decide on a timeline that is palatable for both of you.
To give an example in the personal finance space, if you want to save aggressively and retire early but your spouse is not interested in saving money, that will likely cause tension too.
Even non-financial values ultimately affect your financial decisions. Your goals affect how you will want to spend your time and money.
Talk with your spouse. For each of you, how important is it to prioritize the categories below? Each of these will compete for your hours and your dollars.
- Having an expensive wedding
- Time with family and friends
- Career development
- A large living space
- Luxury goods
- Arts and culture
- Paying off debt
- Saving and investing
The best situation is if your values are aligned with your spouse's. Then, even while you are both changing, you can be moving in the same direction together. If your values are incompatible, you may find that you will grow apart.
Read this: The Best Thing to Do with Wedding Gift Money
4. Budget together (short-term)
We just discussed values and goals for your life. To fulfill these values and broad goals, you will be working towards shorter-term goals and activities. Work through these together too and support each other.
Financially, this means budgeting. Such as when you're planning your big day and trying to stick to a budget without taking on wedding debt.
My wife and I don't choose to do a formal written budget. But every time we get paid, we talk together about the expenses we have upcoming for the next two weeks. We talk about our goals and tradeoffs. What should we spend now? Is there something we should start saving for? What should we delay until the future?
I've found that these conversations are about more than dollars in the bank account. Making these decisions holds us accountable and helps us to work through conflict and re-evaluate our priorities.
5. Dream together (long-term)
The next level step in the progression of fulfilling your values is setting long-term goals — dreams for the future. If there's one marriage lesson you take away from this, it's to discuss your dreams for your life and what you want it to look like. Having that shared vision and those values defined will give you goals to work towards together.
For my wife and me, we share interests in the dreams below.
- Having 2-3 kids, including adopting one or more
- Saving intentionally so we do not have to work full-time in our 50s and 60s
- Spending time with our families
- Traveling both now and in the future
- Giving time and money to our local church
What are your long-term goals? What are your spouse's?
If you have similar values and can identify long-term goals that you both feel strongly about, this can create excitement and unity. You will be teammates.
6. Be willing to admit you're wrong
In marriage, you make thousands of decisions together. You're both imperfect people, so that means you are likely to be wrong sometimes. One of the biggest marriage lessons I've learned is to be willing to admit when you are wrong, even if you don't realize it until months or years into the future.
There were two big examples from our engagement period when I was wrong.
One example was choosing our honeymoon destination. At first, I thought it might be more responsible to choose a local destination and to save money. My wife disagreed. We ultimately chose to go to Hawaii, and we had an incredible time. Looking back, it was an amazing trip and we have a lot of precious memories that I wouldn't trade. I was wrong.
The second example was housing. I had a little bit of money saved up, and I wanted to go ahead and buy a house for us to live in when we got married. My wife disagreed — we were living in different cities at the time, and she felt that trying to plan our wedding and also find a home to buy would be too chaotic. I didn't want to push her, so I agreed to postpone. In hindsight, she was right again. Our engagement was hectic enough without the added stress of finding a home and closing prior to our wedding. I was wrong, once again!
Encourage your spouse and appreciate their perspective.
7. Be willing to compromise on non-essentials, even if you think you're right
Another big marriage lesson: learn to compromise. Even if you truly think your perspective on an issue is correct, it may be better to compromise anyway… especially if the issue isn't critical.
I don't believe that this is a contradiction with my points above. You do need to be aligned and working together on the big questions in life.
But, listen, just buy the couch color that your spouse prefers. Go to the restaurant they like. Almost always, your spouse's happiness is more important and valuable than getting what you think you want, and smaller-scale decisions like this won't have a lasting negative impact on you.
Plus, you might not even have the right opinion in the first place (see #6)!
8. Be willing to say “no”
You will need to protect and prioritize your marriage. Don't be afraid to say no to things that are less important — and almost everything is less important.
Be willing to prioritize rest and downtime. Your health and your marriage will not function well without it.
By saying “yes” to your spouse at the marriage altar, you have committed to say “no” to other pursuits that would harm your marriage. Your spouse is now your teammate, and you are working together towards your common goals.
Do you have any marriage lessons or advice to share?
I hope this advice serves you well as you head down the aisle!
Editor's note: Due to the pandemic, some of the general wedding planning advice we share may not be applicable or possible due to restrictions on events. Please adhere to all current regulations and stay safe and healthy! Get more resources for planning a pandemic wedding here.