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Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married by Gary Chapman: Summary, Notes, And Lessons

A few years ago, I was having a conversation with one of my church leaders about his ex-girlfriend. At the time they were dating, he was considering taking their relationship deeper (possibly considering an engagement). However, he read this book, got scared and decided to end the relationship not long after. I found the story quite humorous and intriguing. I was always interested in knowing what part of the book scared my friend off from his relationship. I decided to read it for myself a few weeks ago, and I found it to be quite eye-opening and instructive.

The book was written by Gary Chapman. He wrote the popular relationship book called “The Five Love Languages”. However, the one I’ll be talking about is more like a pre-marital advice kind of book. Chapman argues that most people invest a lot of time and resources preparing for their career than they do preparing for marriage. Then they’re surprised that they succeed at their job and fail terribly at marriage. The idea of preparation was hammered so many times in the book in different ways, and it’s something that I believe isn’t emphasized enough in reality. It’s amazing how much people will spend on a wedding–which is just ONE freaking day–and how little they’ll spend on marriage and family resources–which lasts a lifetime. There are a lot of people who have their engagement ring, wedding dress, and wedding scene all planned out since when they’re in high school, but they have a very shallow vision of what a good marriage looks like. As Chapman mentioned, a lot of couples believe that those euphoric feelings they have for each other will keep the marriage alive and solve all issues that may come up in the future. That is a recipe for disaster–which has led to marital problems and maybe even divorce between couples. One thing I like about the book was Chapman’s vulnerability of the mistakes he made in his marriage. I will touch on a few key points from the book.

Being in Love is not Enough

Chapman described falling in love like falling into a pit then realizing that you’re trapped. You can’t build a successful marriage on strong emotions of romance. In the book, he calls those intense feelings the ‘tingles.’ It’s what drives you to want to always be with the person. You obsessively think about her all day, and you’re willing to make any sacrifice for her. The problem is that emotions fade and fluctuate. Chapman mentions that the average lifespan of obsessively ‘being in love’ is two years. When a couple first gets married, they are burning with desire for each other. A few years or even months after the marriage, the tingles aren’t there as much. Then they ignorantly start thinking that maybe they married ‘the wrong one’ because those feelings seemed to have vanished. There is more to love than just passionate feelings. Chapman called this the first stage of romantic love.

The second stage of romantic love is much more intentional. It requires work and effort to keep the love alive. It is normal not to have those ‘intense emotions’ and still love someone. In this stage, it is important to learn to speak your partner’s love language. The problem is that most of us speak our love language to our partner, and it won’t mean to them what it means to us because their love language is most likely different from ours. The list of all the love languages is in Chapman’s book that I previously mentioned at the beginning of this post (he also summarizes them in this book too). You can also take the 5 love language test online to figure out your love language.

Like Mother, Like Father

Many of us are more like our parents than we realize. We can adopt their negative and positive qualities. It is important to be watchful of unhealthy behavior patterns that your parents may have and take the necessary steps to avoid going down the same road. No one is saying that you’ll turn out exactly like them but it critical at the very least to know what runs in the family. Some people don’t make this connection early on, and in the future when they start behaving like their parents, they are perplexed as to how they could have made the same mistakes their parents made. Chapman recommends spending adequate time with your partner’s parents to observe their personality, behavior and communication patterns–not just chatting them up. Don’t tell me you don’t have time for that because you’re to be busy ‘being in love.’ You need to be aware of the family model your partner grew up in. If her mother always interrupts her dad when his talks, chances are that she’ll interrupt you when you’re talking. If his father always walks out on his mom in the middle of an argument, the chances are that he’ll walk out on you when you both get into an argument. You also need to observe how gender roles work in your partner’s family because it most likely will conflict with the gender roles you grew up observing in your own family. If you see something you don’t like with your partner’s family, speak up early and discuss it with your partner. Don’t bury your head in the sand and hope that the problem won’t find a way into your marriage.

Conflict Resolution

Two people with different genders who come from diverse backgrounds or cultures with diverse experiences can’t expect to fall into perfect harmony just because they’re ‘in love’ and there’s a ring on the finger. You need to both seriously discuss how you’ll both resolve disagreements and conflicts before you get married. Learn to disagree without being disagreeable. Compromise is key. You’ll understand what I mean when you both must choose which parent’s house you’ll spend Christmas in each year. Also, for goodness sake, don’t settle disputes over texts.

Division of Labor

Who’s going to clean the toilet when you get married? Talked about that yet? Have you discussed the roles of everyone when it comes to housework? After all, the house isn’t going to clean itself. Neither will ‘love’ clean the house. As I mentioned earlier, the model of gender roles that you observed from your parents will affect how you and your partner will divide the housework. Your philosophy of gender roles–that you’ve developed over the years–will also come into play here. It is unwise to ignore the factors that have affected your partner’s perceptions of gender roles. Discuss and conclude how the housework will be divided between the both of you.

Money Management

You’ll need to create a financial plan for how you’ll manage your finances as a couple. You need to figure out who’s more of a saver and who’s more of a spender. You both will share your income, expenses, and debts. As Chapman says, “If you’re not ready for this kind of unity, then you’re not ready for marriage.” The concept of “your money” and “my money” should be taken out of the equation. The debts that your partner had before marriage will become yours. Know exactly how much you both owe before getting married, then start working to pay them off. You both also need to start investing in the future. Read books, take classes or meet finance advisors to know what kind of investments (bonds, stocks, real estate, healthcare, retirement funds, etc.) you can afford and start immediately. Don’t procrastinate it. You should also discuss the different charities, ministries, non-profits or causes that you both want to be giving away your money too.

Sexual Intimacy

Men and women think very differently when it comes to sex. This may seem obvious, but a lot of people don’t pay attention to this. Some couples believe that because they physically attracted to each other, they won’t have problems in this area when they get married–which is a big delusion. It takes time to learn and grow in this area. Read books on the sexuality of the opposite sex to understand their approach sex. Don’t think that they’ll want sex as much as you or want it whenever you want it. You need to seriously discuss this sex issue with your significant other more than you fantasize about it. There also needs to be shameless honesty and vulnerability about your sexual history between the both you. Surprises about a partner’s sexual past after marriage is never good. If you’re not ready to be completely honest in this area, then you’re not ready for marriage.

Family Never Disappears

When you get married the families of you, and your partner won’t evaporate, they’re there to stay, and they will interrupt your life. That in-law that you don’t get a vibe with? You’ll see more of him/her soon!! You are marrying into an extended family. You’ll have to learn how to deal with your in-laws. Some in-laws are good while some are terrible. It is wise if you can build a good relationship with all of them, however in reality that isn’t always easy. Sometimes your in-laws might want to do things with your spouse that they’ve been traditionally doing for years while forgetting you exist. Chapman believes that family traditions have strong emotional ties and should be taken seriously. You’ll need to talk to your partner about how to manage your relationship with your in-laws without allowing them to disrupt your house with their problems. Sometimes you’ll have to be gentle with your in-laws, other times you’ll have to be stern. Apply wisdom cautiously in this area.

Personality Differences

Opposites attract, right? However, they can repel after marriage. That attribute of your partner’s personality that you initially thought was attractive can become irritating a few years down the line especially after the intense emotions of ‘being in love’ have faded. For example, maybe you’re more of the passive type, and you’re attracted to your partner because he is more outgoing or aggressive and takes charge of any situation he faces. However, a while after you get married that behavior of your partner with the more aggressive traits can start to make you feel like you’re always being controlled or manipulated. Chapman recommends filling out a personality profile and discussing the results with your partner. You need to acknowledge the potential areas of conflict in your personalities and negotiate how you’ll deal those conflicts. These differences can also easily be observed when you’re dating, but most people don’t look out for them. Personality traits won’t change after marriage just because they irritate you.

Spirituality

This topic should at the top of the list for people who want to get married. You both need to know each other’s spiritual journey and what you both believe about life and God. How does your partner live the spiritual disciplines or practices? Does it conflict with yours? Just because someone goes to the same church as you, doesn’t mean you’re on the same road spiritually. If you come from extremely different Christian traditions, you need to discuss your beliefs and negotiate your theological differences. Topics like the prayer, worship, devotions, giving, spiritual habits, the incarnation, the problem of evil & suffering, God’s sovereignty, the after-life and difficult theological topics should be addressed early on. Just because you theologically agree on one aspect of faith does mean you’ll both agree on everything else. Get to the root of both your beliefs. Chapman says, “To marry simply because you’re “in love” and to ignore the implications of these spiritual differences are signs of immaturity.” Some couples might not see this as a problem until children come into the picture, suddenly, there’s a significant conflict about what to teach their children doctrinally or what church to take them to. The earlier you get this done before marriage, the more peaceful your home will become. This doesn’t mean that you and your partner will have to agree on everything 100% of the time, but it means that you both know where you stand spiritually.

Chapman added various learning exercises and resources throughout the book that couples can use to understand themselves better as they prepare for marriage. You can take advantage of them. For me, most of the information in the book boils down to communication and negotiation. Clearly communicate and discuss the crucial subjects that concern the both of you and negotiate your differences. If you can’t settle your issues before marriage, what makes you think you’ll settle them after marriage? “Being in love” isn’t going to solve your potential marital problems. Remember, those feelings will fade, and reality will hit you hard.  If you’re too scared to rock the boat because you’re “in love,” something else will rock it for you when you get married.

If you’re single, you may think you don’t need this book now. Believe me. You do. There’s something I call the “illusion of time.” It’s when you push something away into the future because you think you still have a lot of time left. Many people will wait till when they’re considering marriage with someone before they start reading stuff like this (this is me being hopeful that ‘love’ hasn’t consumed their thinking and they’ll have enough sense to prepare for marriage intentionally). Marriage takes people by storm. Get the ideas in your head now so that you won’t even bother to waste time in relationships that won’t go anywhere. These ideas will conscious and unconsciously guide you in your relationships. That’s why I’m reading the book myself even though I’m still extremely single. You’ll have a head start over most people who get into relationships. I gladly recommend the book.

Get the book – Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married

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