11 Things I Wish I Knew Before Getting Married

By Colleen Crivello

The other day a friend’s parents were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. I marveled. Fifty years. That’s half a century. What a beautiful and powerful thing to have built a life together, from nothing to something.

And what’s more, they’re still in love. They travel together. They attend events together. They hold hands and steal kisses when no one is looking. It’s amazing when you think about what it means to spend half a century with someone and still want only them. May we all be so lucky.

In congratulating them, I asked my friend’s father what the secret to a long and happy marriage is. He said, “It’s simple, I’m grateful for every day that I get to spend with her. And, I tell her so. I also begin each morning with the Jewish prayer ‘Modeh Ani,’ which means ‘I give thanks.'” 

Floored. Like everyone does, I immediately applied that simple but powerful mantra to my own life and realized that I didn’t do this in my former marriage. I didn’t give thanks. I didn’t acknowledge the little things or appreciate the effort. But in my current relationship, I do. 

Later that same afternoon, I asked another friend (who’s been happily married for 20 years) the same question. He said, “Marry your best friend, your partner in crime, make ‘couple friends’ together, and surround yourself with relationships you admire and that positively influence yours.”

In return, he asked me, “What would you have done differently in your former marriage?”

Good question. What would I have done differently? You know what they say about hindsight, and for better or worse, it’s true. Married at 25 years old (so young!) and divorced at 32, I’ve had lots of time to think about it. Now, 7 years post-marriage, I clearly see my role in its unraveling. If only it was possible to know then what I know now.

To this point, I used to say there should be a book about “parenting your first kid as if it was your second,” meaning you’re generally more relaxed and more experienced at parenting the second time. Nothing is catastrophic. Nothing is not figure-outable. You prioritize differently. What if the same could be said of marriage? What if you could approach your first marriage as if it was your second, with less uncertainty and an endless reservoir of gratitude?

Whether dating, engaged, or newlywed (it all applies); here’s what I would have done differently in my first and how I’ve learned to show up better in every way now. And while I certainly don’t have all the answers—only my story—I hope everyone can benefit. 

1. Always be kissing.

It all boils down to two things: kissing, and talking. This is an oversimplification, but in the years since my marriage, I’ve learned that if you are kissing, you are connected and if you are communicating, you are transparent. And with those two ingredients, much can be solved.

So. Steal a kiss in the kitchen. Make out in the car. Kiss in the morning and when you walk out the door. Don’t skip it . . . even when you’re in a rush or with the kids. Kissing is everything and sadly, once this goes, the rest will follow. 

2. Talk about everything.

Banter. Be silly. Flirt with each other. Take a real interest in your partner’s career, hobbies, sports, and friends. Listen with intent and respond thoughtfully. Ask questions, and offer perspective. Don’t fall into the abyss of only talking about your kids (if you have them). 

Know your love language—the style, the words, the places—so as to better communicate. 

And, lastly, make sex an everyday part of the conversation—talk about it, laugh about it, fantasize about it—it’s the cornerstone of a healthy relationship.

In my past, I could have been better about all of the above. 

3. Speaking of sex . . . have lots of it.

Make sex a priority. Perhaps some can be happily married and not have sex, but for me, physical connection (or the lack thereof) seeps into every aspect of a relationship. 

In many marriages, sex is the first thing to go (after kissing), and if you aren’t getting it at home, you’re either getting it or thinking about getting it somewhere else. So, if you want it more and are having less, cancel everything and just do it. Try new things. Set aside time for just the two of you. Without kids. Without screens. Without obligations. Send sexy texts (maybe even a picture or two). Find the edge of your comfort zone. In more ways than one, if you give, you shall receive. It’s a compound effect. And if you’re already getting it on, and often, don’t change a thing, you sexy beast!

4. Work on yourself.

Continue to work on yourself in every way—be it mentally or physically. Everyone is responsible for taking care of themselves. This is not just about looks (though that’s important too, not gonna lie), but also about staying healthy and physically well, exercising, getting sleep—so as to show up as your best self every day. 

After all (and taking it full circle) self-care gives you confidence, and confidence is incredibly sexy.

5. Say thank you. Every. Single. Day.

Relationships, the good ones, take effort. And that’s not to say they should feel like a chore, but that the little things, the small, daily gestures, go a long way. Live in gratitude, not resentment. Say thank you and say it often. Recognize the other person for all their efforts. Appreciate them and all they do. Don’t take any of it for granted. 

I could have been better at this. He deserved more thank yous, and so did I. 

6. Keep dating each other.

This sounds obvious, I know, but it’s so important. It’s nights out on the town as two, it’s taking up a new hobby or sport together, it’s a lunch date or watching the sun rise from bed. Prioritize one another over career obligations, friends, family, and even your kids—yes, that’s right, you heard me. Your relationship is the foundation, and keeping it from cracking is in your children’s best interest too. 

Having fun, making new memories, investing in heart-to-heart convos, and laughing (a lot), are all part of staying connected. And don’t think that pulling out the calendar and sending an invite isn’t sexy. Because it is. For many people, if it’s not planned, it’s not happening. I love knowing we have a date a few days away, but I also love a spontaneous excursion (but seriously, who doesn’t?). 

7. It’s okay to disagree; in fact, it’s a must.

Arguing is healthy. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true for many reasons. If you’re not arguing, you’re either checked out or suppressing your feelings which will eventually come out. 

That said, it’s all about how you argue. Do it with respect. Be thoughtful, considerate, speak rather than yell and don’t sling low decibel insults at one another that you will regret later.  The hurtful words linger. Another thing I could’ve done differently. 

8. Apologize and forgive.

In my marriage, I often didn’t take accountability for my mistakes, and instead was defensive and hostile. Making mistakes is part of being human, which is ok. It’s about how you handle them when you do. Owning our mistakes (even the big ones), recognizing when we’re wrong and giving an authentic apology, makes a world of difference. I don’t mean a flimsy “I’m sorry babe.” I’m talking about a deep, thoughtful “I’m sorry . . . I was wrong . . . Here’s why . . . How can I make this better?” If you can’t forgive, neither can your partner. 

9. Be open about money.

Fighting over money is one of the top three reasons couples divorce. In my case some years we were majorly up, and others, down, which caused stress. So while discussions about money are sensitive, hard to initiate, and often difficult, it’s important to be on the same page. Sit down and talk about it, at least once a month. Also, set financial goals together. 

10. Pick your battles.

Filter before you fight. You don’t have to voice every complaint, every thought, every, everything. No one likes to feel as though they’re always screwing up; constant criticism only serves to chip away at the partnership, cause an emotional wall to form, and eventually slow all communication to a stop. Don’t dilute the important issues by nitpicking. Be a safe person for your person to be real with. I’ve found my filter, and restraint, but it wasn’t alway there in my marriage. 

11. Be each other’s biggest champion.

Knowing you can share anything with your partner, be it your deepest thoughts, your darkest fears, your burning desires, and your saddest stories, and they won’t judge or minimize your feelings or what you’re going through is the foundation of trust. Be effusive to others about your love and your relationship. You are your partner’s champion, and they are yours.

And, also, have lots of sex.

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