Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married: A Review

Gary Chapman is better known as the author of The 5 Love Languages. I have looked into my own & my boyfriend’s love languages a bit recently, but haven’t read the book yet, although I hope to do so quite soon. Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Got Married was much cheaper – so affordable even for an impoverished PhD 😉 – and the title was too intriguing to resist!

With a title like that, a book has to be REALLY good to avoid disappointment. So was it that good? It wasn’t as attention-grabbing as I’d thought it might be. I thought it might contain a strong and gripping autobiographical element, where part of the interest of the book was in the story it told. That wasn’t really the case. There was quite a bit of autobiography, but it was a bit surface-level and mundane, to be honest. Part of the hook of the book in Chapman’s sales pitch is that he learned some things that transformed his marriage, and throughout the book he keeps repeating that he’s sharing his advice in the hope that his readers don’t go through the same terrible first years of marriage that he did. But then we don’t get a good insight into the “before” and “after”. The only arguments and crises we see are rather petty ones, and we don’t get much insight into the now really-good marriage, either. And there are confusing inconsistencies, like Chapman claiming in one chapter that for the first few years of his marriage, emulating his father, he didn’t really do apologies. But then in the next chapter, Chapman tells us about a fairly mundane argument he and his wife had in the first few months of their marriage, and in his narrative he apologises!

I thought the advice in the book was pretty good, though. It is quite down to earth, and I’d guess most readers would already know about 25-75% of it. But I think there are so many nuggets of good, practical advice, that some are bound to be new and helpful to almost anyone considering marriage or already married. Every chapter is on a different aspect of marriage, and gives some practical advice, followed by a set of about four discussion questions at the end. There are also further details and discussion questions in the appendix.

Here’s an example of the questions, these are from the end of the chapter on how ‘personality profoundly influences behavior’:
1) On a scale of 1-10, rate yourself on the following personality traits. 10 means extremely high and 1 means extremely low.
a. Optimistic
b. Pessimistic
c. Neat
d. Messy
e. Babbling Brook
f. Dead Sea
g. Pointer
h. Painter
i. Aggressive
j. Passive
k. Logical
l. Intuitive
m. Organizer
n. Spontaneous
2) Encourage your dating partner to do the above exercise and then discuss your answers with each other, giving illustrations as to why you rated yourself a particular score.
3) If you are seriously considering marriage, perhaps you would like to take one or both of the free personality profiles discussed in this chapter. They can be found at the following websites: oneishy.com/personality and couplecheckup.com.
4) If you receive premarital counselling from a counselor or religious leader, you may ask them about the possibility of taking the PREPARE/ENRICH assessment.

Some of the advice is rather simplistic – I bristled a bit at the chapter which suggests too crudely that daughters naturally turn into their mothers and sons into their fathers (the implication being that the wife will naturally turn into her mother, and the husband into his father, unless they both recognise the flaws in the wife’s mother and husband’s father and take active steps to prevent them from surfacing in the wife and husband). Overall, I would take the advice with a pinch of salt/nuance. But most of the points are still worth thinking about.

I think this book is really most useful at the just before/just after engagement phase of a relationship. My boyfriend and I are very close to each other, and would like to get engaged in a year or two if things keep going well, but I don’t think we’re at the right point yet to work through all the questions in the book. Some of them, like dividing up domestic tasks and sorting out finances, seem like things that could be unhelpfully worrying and distracting too early in a relationship, when they’re still very imaginary and hypothetical things in which to be investing a lot of emotional energy, and that emotional energy would arguably be better invested in deepening the current relationship. But I think they’re excellent things to be discussing and doing when a couple are on the brink of committing to marriage and are working through what that would involve. (Chapman does seem to believe that they’re things worth discussing in great detail earlier on in a relationship, but I’m not currently convinced.)

I did think through some of the points and questions while reading, and will probably discuss with my boyfriend those which I think are relevant to our relationship right now when we get some extended downtime together. But, for me, this was one of those books which I mentally bookmarked to come back to in the future. I want to return to it and work through all its questions and exercises with my boyfriend when/if we get closer to engagement. So a useful buy, but one to re-use more thoroughly when my life is at the right point for it. I would recommend it to couples who are engaged or on the verge of becoming engaged, and anyone who’s looking for a book providing practical guidance on how to have a better romantic relationship, especially a marital relationship.

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