Wise Words

The Marriage Advice I Wish I Learned A Lot Sooner, According To 12 Men

“A good marriage isn’t two people who need each other, but two people who wake up every day and choose each other”

Husband and wife cuddling on couch and laughing

Marriage is one of the most significant commitments two people can make. And despite the overflow of resources available to help navigate the challenges, there are certain lessons that can only be learned — and shared — through experience. A truly healthy marriage is cultivated over time, not willed into existence after saying, “I do.” The opportunities for growth are boundless, but they don’t take root unless they’re acknowledged and nurtured. Mistakes are made; lessons learned. And while we can’t go back in time to teach our past selves what we know now, we can realize that maybe those past selves didn’t know everything we thought they did.

To that end, we spoke to a dozen men about the marriage lessons they wish clicked a lot sooner. They spoke of striking a balance between self-care and sacrifice and how realizing a good night’s sleep can be a relationship saver. Whether you are a newlywed or a seasoned spouse, the lessons they’ve shared offer valuable perspectives on the joys and challenges some married couples face.

1. Marriage Is A Whole

“I learned a number of years ago that marriage is the death of two people and the resurrection of one new person. I believe the healthiest marriages are the ones where each person is willing to sacrifice for the other. When you're willing to serve the other person at the expense of your selfish desires, then your marriage will thrive because you're both working to enable the other person to win. And you end up getting all you wanted in the first place. We've been married for 10 years, and in the first few years, we were mostly just roommates who loved each other. We weren't growing together by intentionally making time for dates and one-on-one conversations that involved sharing how we really felt about things. It took nearly losing our marriage before we realized that we couldn't just live together, we had to be vulnerable and truly intimate emotionally.” - Mike, 33, Alabama

2. Don’t Be Afraid To Do The Work

“Even if you're high-school sweethearts — I know plenty — you have to make a concerted effort every single day to build a successful marriage. It takes time. I had to work on things like letting the little stuff go in favor of focusing on more serious issues. I also learned that even planning for kids is hard work. It’s not just a natural progression for a marriage, and it requires you to be prepared. Marriage changes your life, and your partner’s life. And the way to be prepared most effectively is to put in the work.” — David, 48 Georgia

3. Openness Is Essential

“Even after 20 years of marriage, I continue to struggle being completely open about things that are bugging me. I move on, or ‘roll with the punches.’ I don't mean that my wife and I don't opine over the big stuff, like kids, money, or work. I’m talking about taking time to really be vulnerable when listening to each other would help. Parents in particular are asked to move between decisions all day long and it would be nice to know how to better unload the baggage associated with regrets or the pride of successes as they are happening. I had no idea it would be so important until we got married.” — Tobin, 45, Florida

“It's more than just being physically present; it's about being emotionally available”

4. You Can’t Tackle Everything Yourself

“Earlier in marriage and fatherhood, I wish I knew that it is okay to advocate for my needs. My wife and I have been together for 8 years and we are in the throes of new-ish parenthood with a beautiful 19-month old son. I grew up into the allure of the hopeless romantic who would — and did — do anything for the girl he loved. And that through placing my partner first, all my dreams would come true. Through putting my partner and love of my life first, I lost some of who I am. It’s taken time, but I’ve learned how to treat myself with the same love and care that I give my wife and son, and to prioritize my needs as well. Basically, I’m not just a giver of love and support. I’m worthy of accepting love and support as well.” - Lorenze, 36, San Diego

5. Get Your Priorities In Order

“Perhaps the most important lesson I wish I would’ve learned sooner is that it's essential to prioritize my marriage even when life gets busy with other stuff. Being a parent and a good husband requires patience, flexibility, and a willingness to adapt to the ever-changing needs of your family. To meet those needs, those relationships have to be a priority. I've learned to prioritize being a good partner and parent by recognizing that it’s an ongoing journey of learning and growth. It requires effort, communication, and a willingness to be vulnerable and open with our partners. But it's also incredibly rewarding and fulfilling, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to share this journey with my wife and kids.” John, 39, Ontario, Canada

6. Emotional Presence Is Key

“I got married at 23, and it didn’t feel like a big, complicated decision. My wife and I felt it was right, and what we both wanted. I realize now that marriage is all about choices. Choosing each other, every single day, despite disagreements, differences, and life's challenges, is the foundation of a strong marriage, and it requires your full emotional presence. It's more than just being physically present; it's about being emotionally available for your spouse and your children. It’s not just about sitting at the table for dinner, but about making that time count, truly engaging with the people around you and giving them your genuine time and attention. Looking back, had I known the significance of being present earlier it would have reframed my approach towards my family and my marriage much sooner.” — Juan, 32, Florida

7. Asking For Help Is Not A Weakness

“One of the things I regret is always trying to be the ‘perfect’ husband, and, later, father. I tried to take on every responsibility myself. I ran myself ragged, trying to make my wife happy. Even when she would offer to help, I would decline and pretend I could handle everything myself. I thought asking for help was a sign of weakness. Over time, and with experience, I learned that admitting I needed support was actually a sign of strength. It allowed us to share responsibilities and grow closer as a team. I wish I'd known this sooner, as it would have eased some early tension and created a more balanced partnership.” — Pete, 35, Illinois

8. Emphasize Personal Growth

“Over time, I've realized that discussing our feelings, expectations, and concerns with my partner has been crucial to maintaining a strong relationship, and also to my personal growth. It's essential to create an environment where both partners feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and listening to each other's perspectives so that they can grow as a couple, and individuals. I've learned that taking care of myself and pursuing personal growth don’t have to be exclusive. And, that doing so truly benefits me and my family happiness but also benefits my family. By investing in my own physical, emotional, and mental well-being, I can be a better partner and father.” — Tyson, 32, Melbourne, Australia

9. Find What Works For You

“This might be more of a functional answer, but I wish I knew that married couples not sleeping in the same bed — or even the same room — isn’t weird. And even if it is weird, who cares? My wife and I tried for years to make it work, and all it did was cause tension. I snored. She moved around a lot. Finally I just decided to sleep on the couch for a week, which turned out to be the best sleep either of us had ever gotten. From there, we decided that we didn’t need to prioritize the idea that we should sleep in the same bed as husband and wife. That might work for a lot of people, but it doesn’t for us. And that’s okay. I only wish I’d learned it sooner.” - Joseph, 41, Indiana

What I learned — largely from her — was that a good marriage isn’t two people who need each other, but two people who wake up every day and choose each other

10. Boundaries Are Necessary

“I have a hard time saying ‘no’ to people. Especially to people I care about. Like in-laws. When we first got married, I had no idea how intrusive my in-laws would be on an everyday basis. We all lived close, and even though I love them very much, and appreciate all they wanted to do for us, it was an incredibly suffocating experience. It wasn’t until I was able to set up personal boundaries that our relationship actually started growing, rather than being a source of frustration. I think they were just incredibly excited to be a part of our family, which is very endearing. It was just a matter of telling them to pump the brakes, which I wish I knew I was allowed to do much earlier.” — Todd, 40, North Carolina

11. You Don’t Have To Need Each Other

“One of the things I love about my wife is her independence. But, early in our marriage, it made me feel insecure. I saw her as a strong, capable person who didn’t need me to do anything and started questioning my contribution to our marriage. What I learned — largely from her — was that a good marriage isn’t two people who need each other, but two people who wake up every day and choose each other. It’s an intentional act, rooted in wanting to be with someone simply because you love them, and has little to do with how they benefit. Realizing that fact was probably the most rewarding experience of my marriage so far, and it should’ve happened much sooner.” - Marty, 42, Texas

12. Say “Yes” More Often

One of the most helpful things I’ve learned about marriage is really simple but incredibly powerful and it took me too long to recognize that. That is, say yes more often than not to their small requests. “Would you like to go for a walk?” Yes. “Do you want to sit and drink a cup of coffee for 10 minutes on the back deck?” Yes. “Would you like to see what I did in the garden?” Yes. “Do you want to see what I did to the kids room?” Yes. Transpose whatever requests your partner may throw at you with the examples here but the thing to remember is this: These requests are not as small as they may seem. They are the big things. They are invitations to connect, to witness, to share. I declined more moments than I care to admit. If you respond positively to theirs — and present similar requests to them in turn — your relationship will feel much more whole. — Justin, Washington, D.C.