Has anyone ever written a basic marriage primer?  Not one of those “Tips for a Successful Marriage” or “Keeping the Magic Alive” or “You, Too, Can Be One of Those Ridiculously Happy, Spiritually and Sexually Fulfilled Married Couples if You Follow These Ten Easy Steps” books.

I mean a primer (as in, a book of elementary principles) on marriage that might actually help people skip those crazy early year arguments that raise blood pressure and induce premature graying. (Not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything.)

BrightSide and I participated in hours of premarital counseling before we got married.  Through counseling sessions and an Engaged Encounter weekend we were given the chance to evaluate our positions on major life issues, a time that helped us openly discuss our compatibility in many of the areas that could be a source of conflict between married couples.

Looking back at our Engaged Encounter journals, it’s remarkable how like-minded we are on so many matters.  We discussed our viewpoints on faith, finances, ambitions, children, parenting, and our roles in the community and church.  We found time and again that we were in sync in our beliefs, and that had a great deal to do with knowing we were compatible for a life together.

Ready to embark on a life filled with butterflies and rainbows...
The Newlywed Happy Bubble: Ready to embark on a life filled with sweetness and light.

This was wonderful for us.  Helpful.  Encouraging.  Reassuring.  An excellent way to gauge if we were right for each other — not because we agreed on everything but because we were able to discuss our opinions openly with one another, even when our ideas differed.

And yet…despite all the ways these preliminaries helped us talk about how we’d approach life’s decisions and challenges, it wasn’t comprehensive preparation for many of the realities of being married to someone.

A primer would make a world of difference when it comes to being ready for the cold, hard Truth of marriage (also known as binding yourself to another human being and then adjusting to that new level of relationship while simultaneously learning to coexist peacefully in the same living space).

Just a few surprises that premarital counseling didn’t prepare us for:

  • the environment resulting from the combination of a hot-tempered Italian and a perpetually laid-back white guy
  • what to do when the rock solid stubbornness of one person (ahem) stalls any progress toward compromise
  • how to argue fairly when one person has no idea how a healthy relationship navigates a fight (though one minister’s suggestion that you should hold hands while fighting was very helpful)
  • the way the most ridiculous things will drive someone up the wall until that person flips out like a major transgression has occurred, when in actuality the other person just left their dirty dishes in the sink again
  • the argument that plays on an endless loop called Who Does More Around Here?
    • along with its relatives:  Whose Turn is it to Cook Dinner Tonight?, Who Should Do the Laundry?, and Who is More Exhausted After Work Today?

I’m not saying the self-help books aren’t useful, and Lord knows we gained a lot from our time in premarital counseling.  But for real…a marriage primer could go a long way toward postponing those gray hairs.