When you’re single in your 20s and 30s, it’s easy to idealize a future relationship. Being single is hard. Being in a relationship is so much easier because you have someone to help you share life’s burdens — right?
Well…maybe not so much. I’ve always understood that relationships are hard, but it’s only lately that I’m really starting to comprehend the different types of sacrifices you have to make. In observing many of my married friends and asking them questions, I’ve been made aware of some surprising challenges that people new to relationships are often unprepared for. Sometimes it’s the little things, and sometimes it’s bigger issues that we don’t realize will be present when transitioning from “me” to “we.”
Compromise doesn’t only mean agreeing to have Thai food instead of pizza. Sometimes it’s a bigger leap, like leaving your home, friends, and family to move because your spouse got a new job in a distant location, or not buying the things you want so you can pay the credit card bill.
Sometimes it means letting go of control — control that you’ve been comfortable retaining in your single life — for the sake of the other person. One of my friends mentioned that time was something he had to learn to compromise on. When you’re in a relationship, your time isn’t always your own, and that can take getting used to. Especially if it means doing things you don’t want to do — errands you don’t want to run, chores you don’t think need doing, spending time with people (your significant other’s family, perhaps) — when you might not want to.
As a single person, my time is often completely my own. I plan my days out for myself and do what I want to do when I need to. I love that freedom and can enjoy it while I have it, because that will change when I’m in a committed relationship.
The Little Things
A friend mentioned that differences in expectations, especially around smaller things, were a surprise to her when she got married. The bigger things weren’t as shocking because they had been covered in premarital counseling. “But stuff like [expecting] me to do all the dishes all the time just because he hates doing them (um, and I love them?),” she said. “I expected him to come to bed with me and we would snuggle. I married a night owl! I was surprised that he didn’t automatically do things the same way I did in a hundred small ways.”
I’m not even sure what all my expectations are when it comes to future relationships and marriage (besides expecting my future husband to be able to beat me at Mario Kart at least half the time, of course). I may not realize what my expectations are until I’m in the middle of the relationship. They may not be met, and that’s OK. Healthy relationships require compromise, change, and a willingness to serve the other person, even in the little things.
Sometimes I’m surprised when people don’t understand the world in the same way I do. For example, how could someone possibly like Aquaman? How? (Maybe I’ll be convinced after Jason Momoa’s portrayal. Maybe.)
For one thing, people have different preferences for showing and receiving love. “My husband and I are pretty similar when it comes to giving gifts for holidays (i.e. neither of us wants to give/get anything fancy, and we stopped exchanging gifts on our anniversary, choosing instead to celebrate with a date),” says another friend of mine. “But he doesn’t really care if the gift is wrapped, and often doesn’t add a card, whereas I like the added trappings, so sometimes I feel like I put more effort into his gifts than he puts into mine.”
This is one of those little things that you might not notice or care about before marriage, yet it demonstrates how different things matter to different people. Knowing how your significant other likes to receive love (perhaps physical touch is really important, or spending quality time, or receiving gifts — see Understanding the Five Love Languages for more on those) can help you understand and serve the other person better.
“What do you mean, you don’t know exactly what I’m thinking without me telling you?” That question probably sounds familiar, because you’ve felt like a significant other should just know, or because they’ve made that expectation of you. Expecting your partner to read your mind is a common communication problem. For some reason, we think it’s less meaningful if we have to tell them outright what’s up — then they’re just acting on something because they’re told, and not out of thoughtfulness. But really, letting someone know how they can serve you, followed by them selflessly doing that thing because they care about you, is just as, if not more than, meaningful. Telling them what you need does not detract from their love.
It’s surprising to me how often my brain jumps to conclusions and how I then choose to ignore the problem instead of communicating. That probably comes from my distaste of conflict. But accepting conflict and being willing to work through it can strengthen your relationship rather than tear it down.
It’s Not Supposed to Be Easy
All these surprising challenges remind me that though being single is a struggle, life isn’t going to be magically easier after marriage. As a Christian, I’m tempted to be angry at God for my particular struggles in life, but really, single or married, He didn’t promise me it would be easy. I do believe the challenges of a relationship are worth working through, and being aware of them can help us prepare for the future as well as value what we have in the present.
Copyright 2017 Allison Barron. All rights reserved.