Dr. Gary Chapman is a world-renowned author and speaker spreading hope, healing, and help to relationships and marriages everywhere. His most recognizable work is New York Times bestseller, The 5 Love Languages®. Recently, Dr. Chapman applied his wealth of knowledge to his latest book, Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married where he takes practical, easy-to-read, down-to-earth principles and relates them to those who are single, dating, and engaged. His hope is to equip young people with useful skills and tools that will provide a strong, healthy foundation for their future marriage.
Dr. Chapman recently spoke with me about his new book.
SMR: Why did you feel it was important to write Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married?
Gary Chapman: I wanted to write a book on preparation for marriage for a long time because most of my books are written either to married couples or written to parents. I felt the need to do something to help people get ready for marriage because I’ve spent a lot of my time over the last thirty-five years in helping couples in pre-marriage. I knew in my heart that most singles are not going to read a heavy-duty, academic book on preparation for marriage, so I decided that I really wanted to write something that would be easy to read, easy to get, and yet, could have a profound impact on couples that are thinking about getting married. So, that’s what motivated me to do the book, and that’s why I chose the approach of Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married. I asked myself “If I had known the things I know now before I got married, what difference would it make?” And I really think it would have made a tremendous difference. So, I selected twelve things that I’ve learned through my own marriage, some of it by my mistakes and some from my counseling for thirty-five years, and have put them into what I hope is a readable book that is going to help singles take positive steps toward getting ready for marriage.
SMR: You list 12 things you wish you’d known before you got married, which one do you feel is most important to note? Why?
Gary: I think I would say, I wish I’d known that being in love is not an adequate foundation for marriage. I think so many couples enter marriage with the idea that, “We have these wonderful feelings for each other, we are in love with each other, nothing else could really matter, we’re going to be happy forever because we love each other.” I hate to disappoint singles who are in that stage of life, but the reality is that those euphoric feelings don’t last forever. The average lifespan is two years. I didn’t know that. And my wife and I had been dating for almost two years before we got married, so, rather soon after the wedding I came down off the high, and I was disillusioned. I thought, “Man I don’t feel like I used to feel, and she doesn’t look like she used to look. I don’t know about this.” You know? I mean I was really disturbed. I wish someone had told me that it was normal that you’re going to come down off the high, and then you’ve got to learn how to express love to each other in order to keep emotional warmth alive in the marriage. I didn’t know that. Of course, this was long before I knew anything about the five love languages. And so I had to learn my wife’s love language and learn how to speak her love language, and she had to learn how to speak mine. If we continued to speak those love languages we could keep emotional love alive. If we didn’t, the love tank would get empty. If I’d have known that up front, I think it would have created a different emotional climate in our marriage so that we could then have solved everything else in a much easier way. Consequently, we lived for a number of years without feeling loved by each other, and everything else was more difficult to process.
SMR: In chapter two, you mention the second stage of romantic love, which is much more intentional. How do you think couples can best maintain that intentionality throughout the life of their marriage?
Gary: Well, if they understand the basic concept that each of us has a different love language and we have to learn to speak the spouse’s love language, and if they choose to do that on a regular basis, they will keep love alive in the marriage. If they simply know the concept but aren’t willing to learn to speak the other person’s language, then you know their emotions are going to go up and down, and most of the time one of them isn’t going to feel loved if they’re not receiving love in their love language. So to me, that’s the key issue.
It’s the information, first of all, of what your spouse’s love language is, then it’s choosing to speak that language on a regular basis. And for some people this is difficult. Let’s say words of affirmation is your spouse’s language, but you didn’t receive words of affirmation growing up. It will not be natural for you to speak words of affirmation. You will have to put effort into it. That’s why I say that this stage of love is much more intentional. You have to choose to learn how to do that, but the good news is you can learn to speak any of the five love languages. So, what I do in this book is I simply give a little summary of what those five languages are and hopefully couples will be able to pick up on that and learn each other’s language. Consequently, if they speak it early on, even before they get married, when they come down off the high, they will hardly miss it because they do feel loved. They are speaking each other’s language.
SMR: Later on, you discuss that sexual fulfillment is not automatic. What do you recommend for couples who are trying to figure out how to have a fulfilling sex life?
Gary: First of all, that they need to be honest with each other about their past history sexually before they get married. I continue to run into couples that have been married two to three years and then they find out that the person they married had been sexually active with a number of other people before they came to them, but they never shared that or they shared part of their history but not all of their history. The person feels deceived, and it’s difficult to deal with after you’re married.
So, what I’m saying to singles: when you get serious about thinking about marriage, it’s time for you to share your histories with each other. For example, if you were sexually abused as a child or teenager, that needs to be shared, because if you have not dealt with that sufficiently, when you bring that into marriage, it’s going to distort everything else about your sexual relationship. And if you’ve been sexually active with others, that needs to be shared. Now, sometimes singles will say, “Well if I really tell the truth, then they’re going to walk away and leave me, and I don’t want to lose them.” It’s far better to tell them beforehand and let them walk away than to be married three years and they found out and then they walk away. Much better to deal with it before you get married.
Then when you get married, or when you’re getting serious about marriage, I am suggesting that you need to learn something about male sexuality and female sexuality and the differences between males and females. We assume before we get married that it’s going to be heaven for both of us, we’ll just do what comes natural. The reality is that’s not true. It takes time to learn how to pleasure each other sexually, and if we understand that, then we won’t be disillusioned when three months into the marriage, one of us is saying, “You know, I’m not getting this. It’s not working for me.” If we understand we have to learn, and we’re willing to take some time to read and think and talk, then we can develop mutual sexual fulfillment. But I think couples need to be aware of the fact that this doesn’t just happen because you get married. Just as we have to grow together intellectually and socially and spiritually, we have to grow sexually as well.
SMR: Sex has become quite distorted in today’s culture leaving many struggling with sexual history, dysfunction, and pain. What is the best way to overcome those challenges and injuries?
Gary: Well, if there has been past sexual abuse, and if there’s been a whole series of sexual encounters with people before marriage, most of those people would profit from getting counseling. They’re probably not going to be able to work through and process those things simply on their own. They need to verbalize those things to someone who’s had experience in helping people. There can be healing for whatever has happened in our past, but the passing of time does not heal. We have to verbalize it, we have to share it with someone, and let them help us work through the emotional pain of all of that. So there is healing, but it typically doesn’t happen by your simply saying to yourself, “Well, that’s the past. I’m going to forget the past and go on.” You don’t forget the past. What you do is bury it, and then the past erupts and interrupts the present. So, far better to deal with it, and the best time to deal with it is before you get married.
SMR: You also discuss marrying into a family. In-law issues are a very common struggle for many couples, how can couples develop a good relationship with their in-laws while establishing healthy boundaries?
Gary: Couples have to spend time with each other’s parents, and I really emphasize this in the book. This whole idea, and I didn’t have a clear picture on this before we got married, that you’re marrying into a family. She has parents – maybe they live together, maybe they’re separated and divorced, in which case she may have step-parents. She has brothers and sisters, perhaps. Maybe step-brothers and step-sisters. You are marrying into that family. The idea that the two of you are going to get married and drive off into the sunset and live together with each other, and that’s going to be it, just the two of you – that’s a myth. That’s not reality.
Since you’re going to marry into a family, it would be nice if you’d get to know them before you get married. Let’s find out how they respond to you. Let’s let them get to know you, so they can have an intelligent response to you. And if you run into problems and encounter problems in their attitude toward you or your attitude toward them before marriage, that’s the best time to process those things. Not after you get married but before you get married. Then you can talk about those things, and talk about them with your parents and also talk about them with the person you are thinking about getting married to.
If we could make progress before we get married in building a positive relationship with our in-laws, it’s going to make marriage a whole lot easier, because many of the conflicts that come in marriage come over in-law relationships. The wife may be unhappy with the way her husband relates to his mother and may feel that his mother is putting too much pressure on him or controlling his life. It can be any relationship, but exploring these, observing these, talking about these, finding an answer to these before you get married makes marriage a lot easier.
SMR: Human nature is very self-oriented, especially in today’s culture. How do couples combat that selfish tendency in their marriage in order to meet the needs of their spouse?