My high school chemistry teacher had three fingers on his right hand.
He began the first day of my junior year with a forty-five minute lecture on lab safety and an accident he’d been involved in. At that point, my friend mockingly said, “What does this dude know about safety? He lost two fingers.”
I responded, “Actually, that fact only makes me want to listen to him even more.”
Wisdom often comes from life’s experiences.
I’ve been blessed with an amazing and beautiful wife – she’s my best friend, confidante, and soul mate. I met her soon after that eye-opening day in chemistry and many years later Melanie and I were married.
Every single day has been perfect… we’ve never had an argument, never disagreed, and never gotten frustrated. Our home is perfect. Our kids are perfect. Our family is a walking Christmas card. No one ever fights, has gas or morning breath or bad hair days. Each morning, servants bring us freshly squeezed orange juice and non-fat, extra foam lattes, whilst animated Disney birds gather on our balcony to whistle us awake. Yes, we are never tired, have no body fat, no wrinkles and my gray hair is highlighting that I pay extra money for at the barbershop.
This depiction of the Catholic married life – one that I see some try to maintain – is woefully unrealistic; it makes me want to vomit, actually (see Revelation 3:16).
Married life is beautiful, yes, it’s amazing – a true gift from God – but it’s far from perfect because we are far from perfect. Married love is gloriously messy.
There are so many things I wish I’d known before I got married, it would have saved me a lot of late night “talks” with my wife. I would have avoided most arguments (yes, we argue) and could have side-stepped a lot of communication bear traps.
So in an effort to pass on a little well-earned wisdom (like my Chemistry teacher did for me), pull up a beanbag my brothers and sisters and allow ‘ol Uncle Mark to throw a few tips your way.
Here are five things I wish I’d known before I got married:
1. It’s not enough to listen; you must show you are listening.
Guys, you might hear everything the woman is saying but if you don’t “actively listen,” she’s going to wonder if you’re watching a kung-fu movie in your head. Acknowledge what she’s saying with “mmm-hmm” or “right” or “wow” to let her know you’re paying attention.
2. She doesn’t need me to solve her problems.
Usually when my wife shares a problem with me, I go into “fix it” mode. While I am her hero when it comes to spiders, car problems, and clogged toilets, she doesn’t need me to solve every issue she shares. She needs (and wants) me to listen to her, to empathize and to show compassion. Stop jumping into “solving” and put more attention into caring.
3. Loving relationships are not about what you “get.”
Before marriage, I would think more about what I “got” from a relationship than what I brought to it. Marriage is not about “give and take”; marriage is about give. It’s about putting your own needs and wants aside and living for Christ (in the other). If both spouses try to “out-give” the other, the marriage will grow in holiness.
4. Screens don’t make you a better man.
I spent a lot of time watching football and movies, playing video games, or wasting time on the computer. I should have been spending time working on myself and my own issues. We’ve all got issues – wounds that need to heal, struggles to overcome, relationships that need work, and friendships we need to end. I should have taken advantage of my time single to do those things, so I’d have been more ready to marry. Less screens and more prayer will better prepare you for the one God has in store for you.
5. Make your apologies matter.
I used to apologize to girlfriends and not even know why. If she was frustrated, I would say, “I’m sorry” just to get her to stop being mad at me. Most of the time, I didn’t even know what I had done, I just knew I didn’t want to listen to her angry at me. Problem is if you don’t know how or why you hurt someone, how will you avoid doing it again? My apologies were emptier than my wallet. So before you apologize, be sure you understand (and care) why they are upset. Then proceed with sincerity.
Oh, and here’s a bonus – the best way to “get the last word” in an argument… is to apologize.
There you have it – everything you need to know (minus about a million more things) for a holy, joy-filled marriage.
Know this, if you are called to marriage – as some of you reading this are – God will give you what you need to thrive, if you’re willing to sacrifice. Remember, too, that the grace of the Sacrament is real and tangible… and the grace of the Sacrament is always stronger than you are.
And if the Lord has already revealed your future spouse to you – one with whom you have real chemistry – chastity is the holiest and smartest way to ensure you don’t get hurt in the lab we call life.