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What Do People Mean When They Say Marriage is Work?

It has come to my notice that single people who intend to get married have been hearing “marriage is work” for ages and yet they’re not exactly sure what the “work” is. And they’re sick of it.

At first I was surprised because I assumed the “work” in marriage was common knowledge, and also because it’s not a big deal anymore – at least to me. Then I realized that “work” conjures a certain image in our minds that is quite different from the kind of work marriage requires.

I’ve decided to share a few things about what constitutes this “work” based on my experience and the experiences of people I’ve talked with about marriage over the years, but before we proceed, I might as well tell you that it can all be summed up in ONE truth: marriage is a needy potted plant. It does not do well left on its own. Water it and it grows, don’t water it and it dies. The work is the watering.

Singles may be bewildered by the various “works” because in the early stages of your relationship and even the marriage, those things flow naturally with little or no effort.

Then you sign the dotted lines and you start living together. Then the things that take people to divorce court start popping up and you have to deal with them and make sure they don’t overtake your marriage. Therein lies the work. What do you think people go to the counsellor’s office for? One or both have not been working, simple.

I remember when I asked married people what surprised them the most about being married:

“I wish I had known that all the fussing over each other would reduce as responsibilities come.” – Maryam

“I wish I’d known how difficult it is to resist temptation.” – Steve

“I wish I had known how important it is for my spouse to be more spiritually inclined than me. – Aishat

“I’m surprised at the strain family involvement and handling family relations can bring.” – Yinka

In-laws! Some people do have them! Yet you don’t want to hurt your partner; they’re his family. So you make the effort year in, year out.

Whatever it takes to survive these “surprises” and “revelations” and actually enjoy a thriving marriage instead of enduring a miserable one is the work.

The “in love” feelings don’t last forever so you have to learn how to coast on your friendship and common interests, work at priming the pump and falling in love again, and repeat this cycle over and over and over!

The sex is becoming boring and monotonous so you’ll have to work on that, get creative, talk, read, learn new things, lose the weight that came from nowhere, buy stuff, keep your appearance the way they like it… whatever it takes to keep things exciting. You’re going to be sleeping with only each other forever so you’ve got to work at keeping it hot.

He rarely listens anymore because he’s busy and there’s a sweet, intelligent, charming guy out there who “has your time” but we know where that leads so you both have to have the uncomfortable conversations and work at affair-proofing your marriage.

It’s really hard to maintain date night in Lagos, and with all you have to do to stay afloat where’s the energy for back rubs and massages? Yet, if that’s what it takes you’ll have to work at finding it.

You hate having to account for how you spend money, but you’ll have to work yourself out of that independent state and realise you’re married to someone now and you’re part of a team. If your money styles are different you’ll have to work out a way to manage that without wrecking your marriage. Not long after her wedding, Valerie told me, “You never really know how challenging it can be to work as a team. It requires a lot of personal discipline to make it work.”

He doesn’t like helping around the house but he’ll have to work on that now. He can hear the baby crying and he’s sleeping because he’s tired but hey, she’s tired too so he’ll have to work at showing love when it’s inconvenient.

Then there’s life itself, which has a way of happening to you- job losses, infertility, special needs children… you never know.

On top of all this people grow and change. You’ll both grow and change so you have to work to grow together otherwise you’ll grow apart. You’ll have to actively stay on top of things, know what they’re thinking, how they’re feeling, what new ideologies they’re mulling over, what has changed. You cannot assume they will remain as they were when you married; neither of you will. But guess what? Because you’ve been working you have a better chance of loving who they’re becoming just as much, if not more.

Then there’s the work of forgiving, of actually forgiving and leaving it behind, not bringing it up every time there’s a quarrel. Good lord, if you knew some things people have had to work to forgive so they could keep loving the one they married.

Like soft skills, all this “working” isn’t tangible but without it the marriage cannot survive.

It is precisely because this is what the work looks like, that some schools of thought teach that the purpose of marriage is to make you a better person; less selfish, more tactful, more resilient, and more considerate of others.

Are you ready to put in the work?

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Joy Ehonwa

Joy Ehonwa is an editor and a writer who is passionate about relationships and personal development. She runs Pinpoint Creatives, a proofreading, editing, transcription and ghostwriting service. Email: pinpointcreatives [at] yahoo.com

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