I have no counselling degree. I can count the number of books I have read about marriage on my fingers. I am no expert, save what 12 years of experience, observations of marriages good and bad, and some wise people have taught me. Here are a few things I have gleaned.
If you go into marriage expecting your married life to be like your dating life, you are setting yourself up for disillusionment. No one is perfect. I'm not, why should I expect my spouse to be? It is not the responsibility of my spouse to make me constantly happy, confident, or completely emotionally fulfilled. It is my responsibility to seek and find those things in the Lord. If I cannot find those things in Him, then no human can make me find them. Another person knowing me as well as I know myself, except with more clarity because he is not mired down by the chaos that sometimes clouds my mind, is both a beautiful and frightening thing. Sometimes you don't have to talk. It's better to just "be." The toilet seat issue is really not worth getting upset about. Neither are socks on the floor or neckties on the doorknobs. It doesn't matter who takes out the garbage, as long as it gets taken out. Being right is not as important as doing right. Just say "thank you" whether you like a gift or not. Simply because you know the right buttons to push to get a reaction doesn't mean that you should push them. "Never go to bed angry" is possibly some of the worst marital advice I ever received. Sometimes it's just not beneficial to be shouting or talking in circles about a disagreement at 2 AM when you are both exhausted, irrational, and blinded by your own emotions. Sometimes, if you agree to sleep on it and revisit the discussion the next day, morning gives you a whole different perspective. It is impossible to over-estimate the power of an encouraging word or underestimate the fragility of the male ego. Laughter is crucial. Sometimes there are no easy answers, no quick solutions, but a full-fledged laugh-til-you-cry-at-the-most-inopportune-moment makes everything look a little brighter and reminds you that there is no person with whom you would rather face hard things than the one by your side. Children are a beautiful product of the relationship, but they should not define the relationship. If you invest all your time and energy into your children, rather than reserving some for your marriage, you will wake up one day with an empty nest, living with a very nice roommate, rather than a soulmate. Sometimes it's better to ask forgiveness, rather than permission, but usually not. Just own up to it when you make a mistake. Your spouse's help in fixing a problem is much more valuable than avoiding their anger or frustration. It's really nice to have a life-long, always there "wing man" with unknown situations and new people, and a partner for any adventure. You will inevitably take on character traits of your spouse over time. Make sure they have a character worth adopting. If they have a trait that annoys you before marriage, don't count on changing it afterwards. Make sure that you are prepared to live with your spouse as they are on your wedding day. Assume that they won't grow or improve. If they never do, you won't be disappointed, and if by chance those troublesome qualities disappear with wisdom and maturity, you have received an unexpected blessing. Love does not sustain your marriage, the commitment of marriage sustains your love. It really does grow and deepen with age and time, if you do it right. Love becomes much more about actions than feelings. To love is a choice. An all-day, every-day choice. It is what is left after all selfishness has been removed.