I have seen the "advice for brides" columns before. They are often laden with sugar-coated, diluted suggestions for living happily ever after: "Communication is the key to happiness" or "Healthy fighting equals a successful marriage."
I read them all before I got married. At 24 years old, I thought I knew I was doing -- because when you're in your twenties, you think you are wise beyond your years. But after two children and 10 years of marriage, clearly I wasn't wise enough, as my "happily ever after" ended with divorce.
Now, I am a divorce coach -- coaching women who are unhappily married looking to end their relationship, or those who are recently divorced. I have talked with hundreds of women worldwide about their regrets and what they have learned.
Here's what you need to know before you say "I do":
1) It's not about the wedding, but the man at the end of the aisle: The bridal marketing industry has done a great job brainwashing us to think we need that dream wedding. More than ever, brides are obsessed with spending thousands on a dress they will wear for only four hours, as well as months of planning every detail down to the last flower petal. Don't forget the purpose of the wedding -- which is to marry your best friend. When you walk down the aisle focus on him, not everyone looking at you. Remember, the wedding lasts a day, but your marriage is forever.
2) If you're not attracted to him now, you may never be: Perhaps you grew up with him or you've known him for years, and you love him because of the history you share. But are you physically attracted to him? Women who have been married for years have told me, "I love him, but I have never really found him attractive." And because of that, sex becomes a major problem in the marriage, with one or both spouses looking to cheat. Attraction to each other is a huge part of intimacy and passion, which is key to a lifelong relationship.
3) You need to be best friends now for when the sh*t hits the fan later: When you are in your twenties, you have yet to see job loss, mortgage payments, pregnancy scares or infertility, a sick child at 2 a.m., or having to take care of your elderly parent. You will endure stress you can't fathom right now, and your relationship will be tested. As best friends, role play these scenarios so that you can mitigate any surprises later.
4) You should never complete each other: Oh, Jerry Maguire, how you set us all up for failure with your famous line, "You. Complete. Me." Here's a secret: No one should complete anyone. You should love yourself and be secure with who you are, as no man should ever make you feel whole. Without a strong foundation of your whole self, your relationship will be built like a house of cards. In marriage, 1+1 does not equal 2. It should equal two ones.
5) Divorce is always an option: No one ever gets married thinking they will get divorced. But, try this: Go into your marriage thinking you might get divorced. Knowing that your relationship is always at risk will force you to nurture and respect it. Appreciate each other every day. Say thank you. If you happen to find a diamond on the ground, you will hold onto to it dearly, knowing that it might get lost. Do the same with your marriage.
6) Having kids will not make your marriage better: In case you haven't heard, having kids is tough. The moment a child comes into your life, your marriage is no longer about each other, but about raising a human being. Being a parent will bring you the most joy you will ever see, but it will also bring you agony, heartbreak, and lots of work. I see unhappy couples have more children to fill the void that is in their marriage, only to find them divorced after the baby novelty wears off. So don't expect children to improve your marriage because for a while, it will feel like they are tearing you apart.
At 39 years old, I recently walked down the aisle for the second time in my life. Hopefully you will do it only once. But I'm pretty confident this marriage will work, only because I know it may not.
Cheers, to all you beautiful brides out there -- now go get married!
Lindsey Ellison is founder of The Inspired Divorce, a modern coaching practice supporting and guiding women throughout the stages of their divorce. For more on Lindsey, go to www.LindseyEllison.com