I was 21 years old the first time I said, "I do".
I have written a lot about our journey from two crazy kids who were ready to take on the whole world to two grown ups trying to figure out our journey through divorce and co-parenting.
And as you all already know, it has been a struggle.
Needless to say, I am a completely different person now than I was at the very young age of 21.
At almost 30, I am wiser, stronger, and so much more sure of who I am and what I want in this life.
I have life experiences I didn't have 8 years ago and all the scars to prove it.
The journey from naive little girl to lionhearted woman hasn't been an easy one, and while I don't regret the road that brought me here, I often wonder about the things I know now that I wish I would of known then.
The things that would of eased the heartache and turmoil of my journey to the place where I am now.
Over the past few months, I have compiled a list of all the things I wish I would of known about marriage in my early 20's. This list is composed of advice I received, but didn't take to heart, and advice that I would give now that I didn't even know existed during those early moments of my first marriage.
As wedding season approaches, I would hope that this post would encourage more than discourage.
While my child-bride fairytale didn't quite pan out, I know several couples who chose to get married very young and those couples are still going strong. I admire them and the hard work I watch them put into their marriages daily. It is no easy feat, but one that they choose over and over and over again every single day.
I would encourage any young person planning on getting married to find these couples who have withstood the test of time and learn all that you can from them. Their advice is indispensable and it comes from a place of deep understanding. Listen to their words carefully and absorb all that they have to offer.
Who knows? Maybe you will save yourself from all the hard lessons that I stubbornly chose to learn on my own.
1. Marriage is HARD work.
I believe this to be true, because you spend your first few years basically growing up together. I chose to get married when I was 21, and by the time I was 25, I had morphed into a completely different person than I was the day I got married. I had different dreams and goals for my life, and most of those things differed from what I had originally wanted at 21. This was really hard on my first marriage, and played a huge part in our downfall.
My encouragement to anyone who is choosing to get married very young would be to keep this in mind. Be open to how your spouse is going to mature and grow, and be willing to grow with them through it. It's not going to be easy and you will be tempted to hold them back by reminding them of what the had said they wanted in the beginning, but I believe the strongest marriages are the ones where both people can learn to love one another through every season of their lives. It's important to allow each other to grow and mature into the people God wants you to be in every aspect of your life together.
2. Your very first fight as a married couple will be about money.
Let me paint a picture for you:
My ex-husband's parents are very financially sound people and they have worked very hard to be that way. My ex-husband wanted to follow in their footsteps.
I-on the other hand-was a spoiled brat whose parents had always bought her EVERYTHING her little heart desired. I used to be notorious for spending every dime in my checking account the moment my paycheck hit the bank. This was because I had never had any real financial responsibility until I got married.
What happened next was absolute chaos!
My ex-husband's father told us in the weeks and months leading up to our wedding that our very first fight would most likely be about money. While we heard his warning, I don't think anything could of prepared us for the years of financial hardship that awaited us. Not only were we very young and absolutely stupid with our money most of the time, we also jumped headlong into two huge financial responsibilities within our first year of marriage: our first home and a brand new car.
We did all of this without completely understanding each others views on money which made our first "official" argument about money more than a fight, but a full on nuclear attack of our marriage!
Unfortunately, we were never able to get on the same page about money and finances, and this played a huge part in our ultimate demise.
If I could encourage any young couple to address one major issue before tying the knot: this would be it!
Money most certainly isn't everything, but if you aren't committed to being open and honest about it and you don't share the same views about how it should be spent, then it can definitely end up being a deal breaker.
3. You can't change people.
As the oldest of four girls, I have always been notorious for being bossy.
Like REALLY bossy.
My sisters can all attest to the fact that when we were growing up, it was always my way or the highway! In other words, if you didn't play what I wanted to play, you didn't get to play at all.
And at almost 30 years old, this hasn't changed much, except that I am far less selfish and I have finally figured out that I'm not always going to get my way.
I know. Shocking, right?!
You want to know how I was able to learn this shocking truth? By choosing to get married at 21 to someone who was not intimidated by my bossy personality.
For years, I tried to "boss" my ex-husband into the mold I thought he should fit in to "make me happy" and "meet my needs".
But, instead of succeeding, I just screamed, cried, and pouted my way into a miserable existence.
I know now, many years later, that I should have listened to the whispers of those around me who just happened to know so much more than I did when they said,
"You can't change people, Ash."
I can't even begin to describe how much heartache I would of saved my little, 21 year old self if I would of absorbed this advice the first time around.
You cannot force your spouse to be something their not. You just can't.
Yes, it's important to bend, to listen, and to understand each other.
Yes, it's important to be in tune to one another's love language, and to understand that meeting their needs may require you to do things that may not be a first instinct for you.
Yes, marriage is all about compromise. The give and take.
All of this is crucial to a successful marriage.
But, I'm here to tell you that if you're expecting your no bullsh*t country boy whose definition of romance is smacking your butt and remembering to put the toilet seat down to turn into Mr. McDreamy whose overtly romantic gestures are straight from the script of a romantic movie the moment you say, "I do", then girl, I'm here to tell you that you have another thing coming!
One of the most important things you could ever do is to learn how to love and accept your partner for who they are no matter where they are at in their life.
4. Communication is key.
During my first year of college, I was incredibly homesick. I hated being away from my family. My ex-husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, would call me all of the time while I was away, and on particularly bad nights he would sleep with his phone still connected to mine until one of our phones died. We would literally spend HOURS on the phone with each other-talking about anything and nothing. If someone would of told my 21 year old self how important communication was after marriage, I would have rolled my eyes and assured them that we had the whole communication thing down to a science.
But, after we got married, we figured out that talking on the phone all the time and actually living together were two totally different things. Suddenly, I couldn't just hang up the phone when we had an argument or cut our conversation short if I was wanting some "alone time". Our "communication" became constant, and in the midst of it all, we forgot how to talk to each other.
I would get offended when he couln't "read my mind" and instead of talking to him about how his words or actions made me feel, I would get angry and bury it all inside. He would spend weeks completely oblivious that anything was wrong until I exploded and made the fight ten times worse than it had to be.
We would go round and round like this, and unfortunately, it played a huge part in the damage that we never could quite repair.
If you are choosing marriage young, I would urge you and your significant other to make sure that you know how to communicate effectively and how to fight fair. A great marriage counselor can help equip you with the tools you need to communicate effectively before you tie the knot, and I would highly recommend seeking marriage counseling now before it's too late.
Along the lines of communication, I would also encourage you to pick your battles. Life is too short to be constantly at war with each other over petty things. If you learn to accept now that you won't always be right and that yes, there really are two sides to every story, then that will also save you from a ton of fighting and heartache.
5. Always, always, ALWAYS have each others back.
As I said earlier, I come from pretty good sized family of girls.
Girls who like to talk.
During my first marriage, I developed a incredibly harmful pattern of telling my parents and my sisters EVERYTHING that went on inside my marriage.
Every fight. Every misunderstanding. Every disappointment.
It was ridiculous.
The way I was constantly choosing to involve my family made it extremely difficult for my ex-husband and I to present a united front when it was necessary that we do so.
This became a huge source of conflict in my first marriage!
I also never-not one time in the whole 6 years we were married-felt like my ex-husband had my back, because in addition to me relying on my family instead of him, we would also disagree with each other in front of others. I have learned that this is a huge no-no.
While, we may not have always agreed with each other during a particular situation, we should have waited to openly disagree with each other in private when other people were not around.
I believe presenting a united front is one of the most important things every couple should strive to do not just in your marriage, but also in your parenting.
My ex husband and I may have struggled with maintaining a united front during our marriage, but that is something we have prioritized in our co-parenting. I may not always agree with him, but our daughter would never know that and I think it has made our co-parenting relationship better and stronger.
The same is true in marriage.
When your spouse knows and trusts that you will always have their back, even if you don't agree with them, it will make your marriage stronger because of it.
As I have said before at least ten thousand times, I am NOT an expert!
But, I think that those of us who have failed at marriage before and learned from our mistakes have some of the best advice.
We have seen first hand what it takes to destroy a marriage and we know that it's not always something that happens over night.
While I know that every marriage is different and I'm sure my next marriage will be nothing like my first, I do know that the advice I shared above is advice that I should of listened to or wished that I would have received long before I said "I do" the first time.
My heart still breaks for that young, naive 21 year old girl from time to time, but I know with out a shadow of a doubt, that even though the journey was hard, I am better because of it.
If you are considering getting married in your early 20's, I hope you know that I am not trying to discourage you, BUT encourage you. This commitment is one of the most important commitment you will ever make and the best thing you could ever do is enter your marriage with an open mind and an open heart. Who knows where the years to come will take you, but you will go alot farther if you listen to the warnings and advice of those around you whose own stories could save you from even the silliest mistakes.