Everyone seems to have a pretty good idea of what marriage is like right up until the honeymoon anesthesia wears off and they can start to feel life's groin shots again. Sometimes that takes a few years -- sometimes it happens right out of the gates. But it eventually does happen, and how you handle it can drastically alter the direction of your life.
The bad news is that there is no way to avoid these situations. The good news, though, is that you can at least prepare for them to make the blows a little easier to take -- like an MMA fighter punching himself in the face before the bout. Or a soldier shooting himself in the leg before a war. I don't know much about the military; I'm doing some assuming there. You get what I'm saying though, right? The bullet in the case of marriage is a simple conversation, but almost no one does it because it's extremely hard to have. But if you can summon the balls, you're going to have an extraordinary advantage over life's bullshit if you can talk about things like ...
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There's a problem with relationships that I'm not sure any amount of evolution can ever surmount, and that's the abrupt end of the impression stage. There's nothing wrong with that stage -- it's natural. Hell, most of us aren't even aware that we're doing it because it doesn't happen as a conscious choice. We just know that the person we're trying to get (and keep) likes X, so we do lots of X. Money, sex, appearance, romance, dates, grave robbing. Whatever they're into.
The abrupt change happens when we get comfortable in the fact that the other person isn't going anywhere. And that change isn't us becoming worse people ... it's us becoming our normal selves again. The other person just isn't used to that because they've only known the "impression stage" you. Here's the problem: Making impressions isn't just about you doing things; it's also about you covering up the terrible parts of yourself. And all too often, that impression stage doesn't end until you're bound by law and vows. The end result is that your partner doesn't get to know the real you until after you're married.
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"What? I thought I told you about my hobbies."
In the early stages of your relationship, it's probably best that they not see all the nasty brown streaks in the tighty whiteys of your past. But let's be realistic here -- at some point, you need to divulge some information that's not exactly easy to talk about. It's not fair for your spouse to find out that you have a legitimately crazy ex when they confront them at 3 a.m., standing at the foot of your bed, holding a knife and half of your dog. They can't find out about your past addictions from a current relapse.
It's hard. I know that. But it's necessary, because not all of those demons stay buried, and eventually one of them is going to catch up with you and try to make you eat devil poop. As surprised as you'll be to see it, your spouse will be absolutely fucking blindsided by it. "Wait, you promised our firstborn child to the MAFIA?! No, it doesn't matter that it was before you met me or that you were just young and stupid! This is information I needed to have before we conceived a child!"
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"Women. Am I right?"
Thankfully, not all of us have horror stories to tell, but it's still an issue that can easily be overlooked because it's boring and clinical. "We have a history of cancer and heart disease in my family. I have a common, mild case of herpes. My case of broccoli farts are extremely severe, though, so don't ever make that." These things seem unimportant and kind of gross up front, but you don't really want to find out about them the hard way.
Debate is a good way to keep some spice in a relationship. Let's face it, if you find someone who agrees with every single thought that ever passes through your skull, not only can it get boring pretty quickly, it will be just flat out weird. I wouldn't want to date a boob version of myself. On some levels, it's nothing: My wife loves Arrested Development -- I don't. I love StarCraft II -- she'd rather shout offensive slurs at Candy Crush Saga.
Where it gets sticky is when there are fundamental beliefs at stake. Differing political, religious, or financial views can be absolute deal breakers if not approached with ninja precision. Over time, situations will absolutely present themselves that require both of you to make a joint decision, and that decision will infringe upon one of your sets of core values. Especially if you have children.
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"That's right, Jimmy, one day you'll be tasked with destroying it all."
One of you is an atheist, and the other is a Baptist. The atheist is totally fine with the baptism because, eh, what can it hurt? It's just a little water, right? But a few years later, you find yourself in a volcanic blowout about whether to send the kid to a Christian school or a secular one. Later, the kid is learning about government, and the parents are telling him completely conflicting lessons, like dirty recruiters trying to sweet talk him into joining their team. Years after that, one of you is ready to split up for good because the other is insisting that professional wrestling is fake, and that Stone Cold Steve Austin was a pussy.
If you're not prepared for it, it will shove a splitting maul up your relationship's ass in a heartbeat. But more importantly, it'll confuse the living shit out of your children. If you talk about it at great length before you commit to marriage, you can at least set some basic terms for when those situations do pop up. Rules of engagement like "On opinion type stuff, we can talk to our kids separately, without the other parent present, so we don't debate about what we're teaching them. That way they get both sets of values and can decide on their own what to believe." And compromises on the hard stuff: "Let's put them in a secular school for basic education, and I'll agree to take them to church so they can learn your spiritual stuff."
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"... and the darkness shall swallow us whole ..."
It's not as easy as that, but it's a start. And it's definitely a fuck-ton easier than just winging it when it becomes a real world ordeal out of the blue.