When I was single, I wrote a description of the kind of wife I expected to have and the kind of husband I thought I would be. I’m grateful I’ve lost that embarrassing list, but I do recall that many of my expectations centered on three areas: my confidence in instant maturity as a husband, the assumption of a near-perfect sex life and the expectation of non-stop infatuation.
God loved me too much to give me what I thought I wanted, and instead He gave me what I needed: a lovely, complicated and imperfect woman named Raquel. She came to marriage with her own expectations, desires and needs; and after eight years of working through marriage with her, I now see some things I wish I had known beforehand.
1. Being a below-average husband is easier than you think.
During my first year of marriage, I attended a weekly group with a couple of men from church. One night we were talking about emotional blind spots, and my friend Aaron raised the question of areas of our lives others might consider “distasteful.”
When I asked my buddy Patrick if he could think of any distasteful areas of my life, he readily said yes. Patrick isn’t a hypercritical person, so I was surprised by his response and asked him to tell me more.
“I often get embarrassed by the way you talk to Raquel in public,” He said. “I think you can be very rude to her, and it’s hard to listen to sometimes.”
I was startled. I knew Raquel and I had tension that sometimes bubbled over into public disagreement, but I saw it as cute, first-year-of-marriage head butting. Plus, in the back of my mind, I felt like people would understand that I was just setting healthy boundaries with a strong-willed wife. Apparently they didn’t — at least Patrick didn’t.
After the conversation with Patrick, I interviewed a few friends to get their unvarnished opinions about areas where I needed to grow. Their answers were hard to hear, primarily because they were repeating many of the same unflattering observations I had heard from Raquel. Most of my adult life I had either lived alone or I had roommates who weren’t around much, so I had no idea how hard it was to live with me. Essentially, I was insulated from opportunities to get painfully familiar with my weaknesses.
You can probably relate to my naiveté. You’ve got all kinds of not-so-adorable quirks that people tolerate on a regular basis — and I’m not talking about things like leaving the toilet seat up or squeezing the toothpaste in the middle. I’m talking about major character flaws you’ll never recognize on your own and you’ll probably never see unless you voluntarily look into the mirror of other people’s feedback. It’s painful, but you’ll be better prepared to be a good husband if you begin facing the truth now and figure out ways to make life easier for the woman you may marry one day.
2. Sex is awesome, but it takes effort.
This is going to sound strange, but I was surprised at how great sex was when I got married. I had talked with so many married folks who made sex sound like such hard work. In retrospect, though, I think they were just doing a poor job of communicating. They probably meant to say that sex is great fun, but the longer you’re married, getting to the fun takes effort that you might not anticipate when you’re single.
It’s like trying to get a bonfire started. Depending on the conditions, it’s much easier or harder to get the flames going. If it’s pouring down rain (think: baby crying or a big argument), you’ll need to pray for a miracle and a lot of patience if you’re even going to get the match lit. On the other hand, if you’ve got a can of gas, dry kindling and a bunch of newspaper (think: a day full of mutual respect or a weekend getaway), you’ll have a raging bonfire in no time. The problem is, when it comes to building sexual bonfires, it’s hard to control unpredictable conditions like hormones, menstrual cycles, unresolved conflict and house guests.
Keeping all this in mind can help you let go of false ideals and prepare for the reality that the best sex lives happen when married couples keep the embers going at all times. That way they don’t have to start bonfires from scratch. And keeping those embers going requires being intimate friends with your spouse. While that was something that used to seem secondary to infatuation when I was single, eight years of marriage has taught me that it’s got to be one of the top priorities if a couple is going to be healthy.
3. Friendship is central to a healthy marriage.
Before I got married I thought I wanted years of infatuation with my wife, but as it turns out, I got something better: deep friendship — and it’s a good thing I did. In his book enGendered, Sam Andreades writes:
People who study marriages tell us something surprising. What makes marriages flourish boils down to one thing. . . . It is not having children or lots of money. It is not good communication or setting up his and her bath towels. It is not good quality time together or date nights. No. It is emotional intimacy.
Andreades then goes on to cite a number of studies that support his general premise: No matter how highly two people think of each other, if they aren’t best friends, they’re less likely to survive over the long haul.
I believe it. Raquel and I have been through a lot over the past eight years — the death of a beloved grandmother, the birth of two kids (and one on the way), the sale of one home, the purchase of two homes, three job changes, three moves and many more difficult circumstances that are too private to mention here. I can’t imagine how damaging some of these events would have been to our relationship if it weren’t for the fact that we’re really good friends.
We enjoy each other — we always have — and we build our friendship through things like rich conversation, praying together, creating intimacy, hosting people, traveling, serving at church together, making each other laugh and playing with our kids. Layer upon layer of these experiences add up over time, and they build a level of trust and camaraderie that is essential for couples when they go through hard times.
If you keep that in mind when you’re single, you’ll realize a relationship is about much more than infatuation. You’ll look for a friend, a person you would enjoy spending time with, and in doing so you’ll have a better chance of potentially finding real passion with someone who loves you as you are.
Proverbs 5:18-19 admonishes young men to “rejoice in the wife of your youth” and adds, “[B]e intoxicated always in her love.” It sounds so alluring when the Bible puts it that way, as I think it should. But just keep in mind that real love is an acquired taste and comes more quickly to the man who will look in the mirror, learn how he can be a better friend to his future wife and then enjoy the fruits of a marriage fueled by real passion.
Copyright 2016 Joshua Rogers. All rights reserved.