Gary Chapman: Things I Wish I'd Known Before We Got Married
By Beth Patch
CBN.com - Gary Chapman, most recognized for his New York Times bestseller, The Five Love Languages, has written a book he wishes he had read before he got married. He believes that many marital struggles and divorces can be avoided if couples prepare more for their married lives before saying, "I do." His latest book, Things I Wish I'd Known Before We Got Married, offers a treasure trove of tools and tips for a successful marriage.
Gary Chapman recently spoke with CBN.com about this new book.
CBN.com: Why did you write this book?
Gary Chapman: For a long time I have been wanting to write a book for singles that would help them in the dating process and in getting ready for marriage. Most of my writing, I’ve written to couples who are already married, because I’ve been doing marriage counseling for 35 years.
I realized that most couples today are not going to work through a heavy duty pre-marriage program. I wish they would, but they’re not. So I wrote this book on a rather light level. The chapters are short, but very pointed, very personal, growing out of my own life, as well as the counseling I’ve done through the years, trying to help couples who are deciding, “Should we marry? Should we not marry?” And if they’ve decided to get married, then let’s get ready for this thing. Let’s prepare for the marriage. I’m not going to help them prepare for the wedding. They can do that on their own. I’m going to help them get ready for the marriage. I certainly know that if I had known the 12 things I deal with in this book before we got married, our lives, our marriage would have been a lot easier.
CBN.com: What things do you wish you had known before you got married?
Gary: Well, one of them is I wish had known that the in-love experience is not an adequate foundation for marriage. Nobody told me this. I thought the whole thing was you fall in love with somebody, and it’s so wonderful, and it’s so euphoric, and it’s going to be that way forever. Nobody told me that two years after you fall in love, you’re going to come down off the euphoria. I know it now, because it has been studied. Dorothy Tennov, Bridgeport, Connecticut, did a long-term study on the in-love experience.
But I didn’t know that. We’d been in love almost two years before we got married. So very quickly after we got married, we came down off the high. I was disillusioned. When I lost those feelings, I thought, “Wait a minute. I don’t feel what I did feel.” Then I began to notice things about her that irritated me. I didn’t like that; and she, the same toward me. If I had known that that was normal, that we were going to come down off the high, and we were going to live in the real world where we’re both imperfect, I think I would have made the transition much better. But not knowing that, I was plagued with ideas of, “I married the wrong woman. Surely if she was the right woman, I’d still have these feelings for her.”
So to me that would have been a huge help if I had known that the in-love experience is temporary and that, when you’re in love, you need to listen to your mother. You need to listen to your friends when they point out things about the person you’re in love with. Listen to them, because they see what you can’t see right now; but you’ll see it later.
CBN.com: You have chapters devoted to apologies and forgiveness. Would you talk about that a little?
Gary: Yes. I wish I’d known that apologizing is a sign of strength. I had the impression that if you apologize, it’s a sign of weakness. I kind of picked up the message from my father, “Real men don’t apologize. You just do your best, and if you happen to hurt some people, that’s their fault. You just go on. Don’t apologize. That’s a sign of weakness.”
Well, the reality is after all these years of counseling people, I’ve come to realize and understand that apologizing is a sign of strength. It’s a real man who will accept responsibility for his behavior and apologize for it. The same thing is true for a woman. It’s a sign of maturity, not a sign of immaturity, when you apologize. In fact, I don’t think you can have a good marriage, a long term good marriage, if you don’t learn how to apologize, and then consequently, forgive the other person.
There’s a lot of fuzzy thinking also about forgiveness. I deal with that in the book, because forgiveness doesn’t remove the memory. You hurt someone, they apologize. You forgive them. But it comes back to your mind; and when it comes back, you feel the pain again. Some people feel guilty for that. They say, “Well, I thought I forgave that.” Well, forgiveness is the choice not to hold it against the person. But it doesn’t remove the memory, and it doesn’t remove the emotions. So what you do when you have the memory and the emotions, you go to God and say, “Lord, you know what I’m remembering, and you know what hurt I’m feeling. But I thank you they apologized. I forgave them. That’s in the past. Now, help me to do something good today,” and don’t let memories of the past mess up today. It’s a huge lesson to learn.
CBN.com: How can couples best prepare for managing their money?
Gary: Well, that’s a whole area. In the book I have a chapter entitled “I Wish I’d Known That We Needed a Plan for Handling Our Money.” Actually, in the first few months of our marriage, we didn’t really need a plan, because we didn’t have any money. But once we got a little money, we needed a plan.
As you know, this is an area where couples often struggle in marriage, because they have different ideas about how to handle money. Take the one fundamental principle of how much money are we going to give away? Well, if they’re both strong Christians, and they’ve both been giving a tenth of their money to God all their lifetime, they’ll probably agree on that. “We’ll just give a tenth,” and then they won’t have any problems. But if one of them has been giving a tenth, and the other hasn’t been giving at all, or they’ve been giving a dollar a week, you’d better decide that before you get married, “How are we going to handle this?” Otherwise, you’re going to find battles over how much money you give away.
The same thing is true with saving. Some people save regularly a certain percentage of their income. Other people don’t save anything. And these people usually marry each other. So this needs to be discussed before you get married. “How much are we going to save? And why are we saving now? Explain this to me. And what’s the savings for?" and how that works.
Then get a realistic idea of what it’s going to cost to live. If you’ve never rented an apartment, talk with a couple that’s been married a couple of years, and ask them, “What does it cost to rent a place like yours? And what are the utilities?” So you have a realistic idea of what it’s going to cost you just to live.
Another huge area is being real and honest about your debt. So many times in the counseling office I run into couples - one of them had a huge debt. It may have been a credit card debt. It may have been a debt on their school bill, a huge debt that they never even talked about before they got married. So they get in the marriage, and somewhere along the line this comes out; and the other person feels like, “Man, you deceived me. You didn’t tell me you had this debt.” It becomes a huge issue. So I say - before marriage, lay it all on the table financially. What assets do you have? Do you have savings? How much do you have? What do you have? What are your debts? Lay it all on the table so that we’re going into this thing realistically. And if you don’t see a way to handle all the debt after you get married, you’d best not get married until they handle the debt. Otherwise, it’s going to be a burden that’s going to be on both of your shoulders, because after marriage it’s no longer my money and your money. It’s our money. And we need to have a plan for how we’re going to handle all of that. So if you can do some of that before you get married, it’s going to make it a whole lot easier once you get married.
CBN.com: How do things usually work out for couples who keep separate accounts?
Gary: Yes, you know, a lot of couples do that. Well, they just say, “It will be better. It gives us more liberty. We feel more like individuals.” I understand the feeling, in particular in today’s culture. But that’s not what marriage is all about. Marriage is not about individuals. It’s about us. I don’t mean we lose our individuality, but we have now become a team. We’ve become a unit. So sharing the money, it’s our money now, and it doesn’t matter whether one of us makes all of the money or both of us are making money; it’s our money. So we ought to handle it as a team.
Now, I’m not categorically saying you shouldn’t have two separate accounts. There may be certain reasons why that would be more convenient for some people. But the attitude has to be, “It’s our money.” We don’t hide money in an account from your spouse. That’s not what marriage is all about. It’s our money. We both should have access to all the books that are related to our finances; and somebody needs to accept responsibility for balancing the checkbook, making sure everything is paid, and all of that; and typically, one of you will be better at that than the other. So discussing that beforehand, who is going to keep the books, is a key issue. You might change a year later, but at least you go into the marriage with some agreement on how we’re going to handle this.
CBN.com: Let's hop right in to the chapter on sexual intimacy. What should couples know heading into marriage on this issue?
Gary: Well, the huge issue is to know that mutual sexual satisfaction or fulfillment doesn’t just happen. It’s not automatic. I think couples in our day, as you well know, we are saturated with sex. Many couples have had sexual experiences before they get married. Some of them think that’s going to make it easier after they get married. In reality, it makes it more difficult. We know that now. We’ve studied that now.
Because men and women are so different, if you simply get married and do what comes natural, you will not find mutual fulfillment. What will happen is, one of you will find partial fulfillment, and the other will feel used. So what I’m saying to couples is understand before you get married, I don’t care what your background has been, mutual sexual fulfillment is not simply going to happen. You’re going to have to learn how to work with each other, learn how to pleasure each other. It’s a process. And I think that may be one reason why God said to Israel, “If you get married, don’t go to war for a year. Don’t get involved in business for a year. Take a year and learn to pleasure your wife."
For most couples, it takes a year to learn how to mutually pleasure each other. If you understand that and you go into it with, “We’re going to learn how to do this,” rather than going with the idea, “This will just happen. It will just be automatic. We’ll both be fulfilled in this.” Knowing the truth about it should help you when you get there to make a realistic transition into mutual sexual fulfillment.
CBN.com: It's disturbing to think that a lot of the education our young people are getting is from the Internet porn they happen to see and that's their idea of what a mutually fulfilling sexual relationship would be.
Gary: Yes, you're exactly right. They’re coming with very unrealistic ideas of what the sexual part of the marriage is going to be; and then they often try to impose those ideas, those visual images, on the other person. And what happens is - they feel used. They feel abused. And, yes, there is sexual abuse in marriage. Whenever you’re forcing your spouse to do something for your pleasure, but it’s painful to them, that’s not love, and that’s not a healthy marriage. It’s sexual abuse in the marriage. But I think you’re right. I think often it stems from the pornography that they’ve been involved in beforehand.
CBN.com: Well, on a lighter subject, you have a chapter about getting to know your in-laws. Can you talk a little bit about the importance of learning who your in-laws are?
Gary: Yes, I think this is extremely important, and that’s why I suggest to couples, before you get married spend some time with his mother and dad and her mother and dad. Even if they’re separated, spend time with them, because one of the factors is you’re going to have to relate to these people. You’re not just simply marrying each other. You’re marrying into the family. And you’re going to have to relate to them. It’s either going to be a good relationship or a poor relationship, but you do have to relate to them. So expose yourself to how they treat each other. For example, what are the dynamics in that marriage, because those dynamics also influenced your spouse.
So there are two things. You’re trying to see how they relate to each other. What is their relationship like, because that’s the model that this person you’re dating, you’re planning to marry, that’s the model they had; and they’re likely to duplicate that. And then recognizing that if there are certain things about your in-laws that you don’t like before you get married, they’re not going to go away after you get married. So how are you going to handle that? How are you going to try to build bridges? Can you learn to talk with them sensibly and build some kind of relationship with them, because you are marrying into a family.
The fanciful idea that we’ll get married, and we’ll ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after and not have to relate to anyone else is a fanciful idea. We all marry into a family. And it’s good to know something about that family before you get married.
CBN.com: Many couples choose living together without being married these days, and they’re saying it’s a trial run. What are your thoughts on that?
Gary: Well, all the research is in now, and that’s been highly researched. Couples who live together before they get married, first of all, they’re less likely to get married. They’re likely to break up before they get married. Most of them do get married, not necessarily to the person they’re living with. But those who live together before they get married have a higher divorce rate once they get married than those who did not live together.
I think one of the reasons that couples go into living arrangements where they live together before they get married is they want to preserve their independence. They don’t want to make a commitment. They don’t want to be responsible to this other person. They want to have a way out without going through all the legal things. I think that’s what motivates it. But the idea that it's going to prepare us better for marriage is a false idea. It does not prepare you better for marriage. You cannot simulate marriage. When you’re living in a relationship where there is no commitment, it’s totally different from living in a marriage where there is commitment and where we have to consider the other person in everything we do, because we are a team. And that’s not true before you get married. You don’t have to consider them. They will often say, those who live together, “Well, I’m not married to you, so don’t demand things of me.” They get to that place, because they realize there is no commitment there. And that’s a huge difference between being married and simply living together, is that deep commitment we make to seek each other’s well-being and to be there for each other no matter what happens, in sickness or in health. That’s marriage. It’s a deep commitment.
CBN.com: At the end of each chapter you do have some homework.
Gary: What I’m trying to do, the chapters are short and readable, and I hope interesting. But I’m leading to those questions at the end, where I’m saying, “Okay, now, you, whatever state you’re in, in a dating relationship, if you’re seriously thinking about marriage, let’s talk about this.” And it’s things that they can do together that will help them lay these things on the table and make some decisions about how they’re going to handle that. At the end of the book, I also have an appendix on how to have a healthy dating relationship, which any single at any stage of the dating process, I think, would find that helpful, and a whole series of questions that you can ask when you’re dating someone in order to get to know them; because in my opinion, that’s the purpose of dating is to get to know someone. And once you get to know them, you can make an intelligent decision. So we marry, or not marry. So how do you get to know someone? So I’m hoping this book is going to be a real tool to help singles in all categories who have any idea that, “Someday I’d like to get married.”
CBN.com: How does this book differ from the book that you previously wrote directed at singles?
Gary: Yes, I wrote a book called The Five Love Languages: Singles Edition, in which I take the love language concept and help singles apply it to all of their relationships, to test their parents, their siblings, their roommates, their coworkers, their dating partners. So that’s the thrust of that book. This book, of course, is much broader in its concepts. I’m dealing with 12 different concepts here. But that book certainly would be a book that will be helpful to singles, The Five Love Languages: Singles Edition.
CBN.com: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Gary: I think I would just say I’d like to encourage listeners to encourage the singles that you know who are contemplating marriage somewhere down the road. Encourage them to do their homework before they get married. And whether they use this book or something else, seek to communicate to them. Do everything you can to settle issues and talk through all of life before you get married, so that you’re going in on the same page, and you’re less likely to have a life filled with conflicts.
For more stories like this one, sign up to receive Entertainment News from CBN.com in your email every Friday.
Beth Patch serves as the Global Ministries and Spiritual Life Devotions producer for CBN.com. For more articles and info, visit Beth's bio page.
Send me your comments!
Log in or create an account to post a comment.
CBN IS HERE FOR YOU!
Are you seeking answers in life? Are you hurting?
Are you facing a difficult situation?
A caring friend will be there to pray with you in your time of need.