I married my first love when I was 22. We'd been together for four years and I was having his baby, so it seemed like the right thing to do. It turns out that I was wrong -- we ended up getting divorced after less than a year of marriage. Here's what I learned from the experience:
1. Don't get married because it seems like a good idea.
We were very much in love, but we hadn't faced any extreme ups or downs in our dating relationship and saw no reason married life would be any different. We didn't consider the additional stress of a newborn, let alone how much life changes as one continues to grow, get older, and take on greater responsibilities.
2. Being in love is not going to cut it. You need more.
My marriage to husband #1 fell apart within a year. We held expectations of one another that we never communicated, and this led to some pretty deep-seated resentments. We didn't turn to each other or depend on one another during the rocky times. The wedge between us grew until we didn't relate to each other at all. It got to the point that I didn't even want him coming home at night, never mind any idea of having sex.
We co-existed for a short while until I knew things had to change. I told him I wanted to get counseling, but he told me there was nothing wrong. What? Nothing wrong? We don't talk! We're unhappy! At least I was unhappy. I felt hurt that that wasn't reason enough to seek help to rebuild our relationship. I didn't think I could face fighting for my marriage by myself. I felt like a total failure.
3. Your marriage is not you. Marriage is not a measure of your worth or value to others.
Our divorce was awful. We were angry and hurt, and lashed out at each other.
I was consumed by my anger. I had put my trust in husband #1 and he failed me. At least, that's what I told myself. I felt like he had done something to me by not being the husband I wanted him to be. It took years of hard work for us to make our way out of this morass of upset and resentment. But we did.
And then came husband #2. I was determined to make this relationship work. Between divorcing #1 and meeting #2, I'd met and dated a dozen men. I resolved to make this relationship different than the others.
4. The state of your relationship has something to do with you, not just the other person.
When #2 and I met, we lived nearly 500 miles from one another. Our relationship began with a conversation that looked something like this:
"Should we do this?"
"I don't know. I don't know how to have a long distance relationship that works."
"I don't know how to do it either. But I think we can do it together."
"You're right. Let's do it. Let's do whatever it takes."
5. Do whatever it takes. Make that your commitment, not just to your partner but to your relationship.
It wasn't long before I was pregnant. Number-two and I spent three days discussing our options. Both aborting and going through with the pregnancy would change our lives forever. An abortion meant feelings we couldn't imagine for we didn't know how long. Having the baby meant his moving 500 miles to create a family with me and I wasn't willing to ask him to do that. If he was going to move, it was because he wanted it.
6. Share your feelings, fears, concerns, commitments and goals with your partner. Listen to your partner's feelings, fears, concerns, commitments and goals. Let their feelings be as important as yours.
We realized that the only reason we were considering aborting was because we were afraid of what life would look like if we decided to keep the baby, and we didn't want to live lives of, or make decisions from, fear. So we decided to have the baby, and in the process turn upside down everything we knew.
7. Go with the flow. It's so much easier to accept and roll with the punches than to wish earnestly for something else to happen.
Since we met, #2 and I have seen a lot of transition and change: we have moved three times and I chose to give up custody of my older son instead of fighting a custody battle with #1. Not to mention our son was born. Some days our saving grace was simply being able to talk to one another.
8. Tell your partner what you need. Be as honest as you possibly can, every day
Number-two did not propose right away. We had agreed that we would not get married until we were certain it was what we both wanted. I'd jumped that gun before and was not about to do it again.
9. Trust your partner implicitly. They have pledged their life to you too. They're in this too. They want it to work too.
Early in our engagement, my older son asked me when we were going to get divorced. I realized that all he knew was divorce. I told him that his soon-to-be stepfather and I were not going to get divorced. He asked how I knew. I told him that divorce isn't an option for us. We are committed to doing whatever it takes to stay together. Marriage may not always be easy, look pretty, or feel nice. And that is okay. Life isn't always easy, doesn't always look pretty or feel nice. And that is okay, too. His father and I hadn't known these things. And that was okay too.
10. Focus on the good, in your partner and in your relationship. Focus on the good in life.
For a pre-wedding gift, my mother-in-law gave us a small, heart-shaped plaque. I hung it in our bathroom so we both can see it every day. It says:
Marriage is like a Garden
it takes a lot of love
& a little work
I couldn't have said it better myself.