I am very much a newlywed. But after just two years (well, almost two years!) of marriage, I have already learned some things that I WISH I knew back when I was dating!
Providentially, had I known these things when I was dating, it would have made me even more excited to marry my husband, James. It also would have made it way easier for college Tiffany to say goodbye to a few other guys I dated.
Here are the top four things I wish I knew.
1. Being a visible leader in church is like adding “0” to an equation.
As a teenager, I was obsessed with guys who were super involved in church. I wanted to date the 6’3” worship leader who was also a youth leader—and happened to be Italian. And let’s be honest, there was only one of those, and he was already married. So that wasn’t going to happen.
All through my 20s, I was drawn to guys in visible church ministry. And there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, church is great place to start looking for guys who share your faith and values! But you can’t stop there. DON’T stop there. Because I did…and it was a nightmare.
My first boyfriend was a tall, dark, handsome worship leader-meets-youth leader. He was my dream man and at first I thought he was “the one” God had for me. I saw how involved he was at church and thought, He must be perfect. Boy, was I wrong! Not only did all the ladies love him, but he loved them all back—in front of me. He compared me to ex-girlfriends, saying I wasn’t as pretty as they were, and that my face was crooked. And that’s just scratching the surface of how awful he was to date. The worst part? I stayed with him anyway, because I was stuck on wanting to date a worship leader.
What I learned is that being on a stage means literally nothing. The guy could be great or he could be awful. You just have no idea! It’s like adding 0 to an equation—the guy is still the same guy as he is when he’s off the stage.
So you need to find out who he is off the stage, when no one’s looking or applauding.
That’s why I fell in love with my husband, James. He’s not a worship leader or a youth leader, and he’s not 6’3” tall, but he is the same person no matter who is watching.
Here’s just one example: When James sees someone on the street, he greets them, many times by name. There are homeless men he knows by name, and there are business owners and politicians he knows by name. Here’s the best part: You wouldn’t be able to tell who was who based on his greeting. He treats them all exactly the same.
That is the kind of guy you want to be with. Someone who isn’t in it for the attention or applause, but is truly in it for the audience of One: the Lord.
2. Marriage doesn’t cure loneliness (or anything else, for that matter).
It’s not like I ever consciously thought Marriage will fix my life, but when I struggled with boundaries in dating relationships, I figured marriage would fix my self-control and lust. When a boyfriend and I were arguing, I figured marriage would make us get along more easily. And when I struggled with loneliness, I figured once I had a husband (aka best friend for life), I would never feel lonely again.
But here’s what I’ve learned: Marriage doesn’t fix or solve anything. The newness of a relationship can bury our struggles for a while, but they always resurface, sometimes in a different form. Why? Because no change in our circumstances can change our hearts.
Don’t get me wrong; I absolutely LOVE being married. And my husband truly is my closest friend and confidant. But…I still feel lonely sometimes. I still get frustrated with James sometimes. And when those feelings come, I need to know what to do with them.
So right now, wherever you are, start to ask the Lord: Are there certain things I think marriage will fix about my life or about my current dating relationship? If so, what can I do to start working on those things right now?
3. Communication is the key to a good relationship.
Recently a friend told me a story. Her husband asked her to start working out. (Big gasp, I know. Clearly he’s the tactful sort!) Because of her past struggles with an eating disorder, she was incredibly hurt by this, and read a lot into it: He thinks I’m fat; he wants me to get really skinny again; doesn’t he know that used to control my life?
I asked her, “Wow, what did he say when you told him how much that hurt you?” She stopped for a minute and then said, “Oh, should I tell him that?”
YES, you should!!!
Many times in dating, we are drawn to the “mystery” of an unknown person. When he doesn’t share his thoughts or feelings, we think it’s sexy and mysterious. But in marriage (as in all of life), people desperately need honesty rather than mystery. They crave to know and be known. And the only way you can do that is through solid communication.
One of the best pieces of advice I can give, woman to woman, is this: Guys don’t get hints. So we girls need to learn how to be straight-up and honest in our communication. James says one of his favorite things about me is that he doesn’t have to guess how I’m feeling or what I’m mad about. I tell him!—in a kind, respectful way, of course. (Well, I try to make sure it’s kind and respectful, anyway.) Because when too many things go unsaid, those things can become a wall between you and your spouse.
4. My all-time favorite characteristic in my husband is his selflessness.
The reason I love being married to James so much is simply this: He loves to serve others. He chooses to put himself aside and love me, time and again. And with the grace God gives, I try to do the same for him.
And that is what makes a good marriage.
This doesn’t mean we don’t have our own hobbies or interests. It doesn’t mean we never say “no” to each other, or never disagree. No, in fact, it frees us up to do all those things and more! We are free to honestly share our feelings and preferences. We also are open to doing things differently for the sake of the other person.
Here’s what I’ve discovered: No matter how much physical chemistry you have, or how aligned your ministry and life goals are, without selflessness, at some point marriage will begin to feel frustrating.
My dad likes to say marriage is not each spouse giving 50 percent; instead, it’s about you giving 100 percent. It’s laying down your life for your spouse, and helping the other become all God made them to be.
So if you want a good marriage, find someone who lays down their life for others. Not someone who’s walked all over, or is a people pleaser, or never says “no,” or is motivated by guilt, but someone who truly loves others. Watch how they treat their family and friends, and you can learn a lot. And then you too can practice becoming someone who lays down your life for others—for your family, and for the people it’s hard to love—because that’s what marriage is all about.
If you are not yet married, I hope these four things can be so helpful to you. Remember to look for what truly matters in a spouse, not just what’s easy to see on the surface.
If you are married, then please add your voice to this discussion in the comments below! What do you wish you knew back when you were dating? I would love to hear!