‘Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Got (Gary Chapman) Book Review

When I was faced with many clients struggling with marital issues I knew that I needed to read or listen to this book on my reading list. Not only did I gain knowledge for them but learnt a thing or two to help me in my own marriage. As young married people we enter into a marriage from a place of blissful ignorance thinking love will get us through any challenge. Until a life stressor like job loss, illness, death of a family member or child shakes our foundation to the core.

Gary Chapman writes a relatable and humorous book with all his own real life marriage mistakes that just makes the content concrete. There are twelve chapters and each enlightened me further into the many reasons why marriages can fail and crumble very early on in the union. I will list them all and give you my the lesson I took away.

Chapter 1 : I Wish I Had Known That being in love is not an ADEQUATE FOUNDATION for building a SUCCESSFUL MARRIAGE

“Being in love is an emotional experience and obsessive experience. However, emotions change and obsessions fade. Research indicates that the average life span of the ín love’ obsession is two years. ….. Our differences begin to emerge and we often find ourselves arguing with the person whom we once though to be perfect. We have now discovered that being in love is not the foundation for a happy marriage.” (Pg 17)

This tells me that you need a better base to build your marriage on and the one thing that can get you through anything is friendship. Friendship has all the ingredients for longevity : kindness, respect, trust, forgiveness.

Chapter 2 : I Wish I Had Known That ROMANTIC LOVE has two STAGES

Being in love is the first stage. “The first stage requires no effort. We are pushed along by euphoric feelings… When we are in love,we freely do things for each other without thought of cost or sacrifice.”(Pg 21) He goes on further to say “the second stage of romantic love is much more intentional than the first stage. And, yes, it requires work in order to keep emotional love alive.”

It was in this chapter he discusses The Five Languages as a tool to sustain your love for each as a couple and keep both parties happy. They are :

Words of Affirmation – Look for things you admire or appreciate and express it verbally.
Acts of Service – Doing consistent acts for them like household chores, errands translate into love.
Receiving Gifts – An item that is sought after given as a gift equals love, every small thoughtful item is cherished.
Quality Time – Giving the other person your undivided attention, no tv or cell phone distraction.
Physical Touch – Appropriate touch in a loving way is valued.

In my counselling with individuals, couples and children doing The Five Love Languages test is my first point of reference to get a family on the path to connecting and loving each other in the way they need.


Chapter 3 : I Wish I Had Known That the saying “LIKE MOTHER, LIKE DAUGHTER” and “LIKE FATHER”, LIKE SON” is not a myth

The couple dynamic we bring to our marriage is the one we learnt and observed our parents play out in our childhood. We always say that we will never be like our parents yet without any conscious effort to communicate differently we will repeat their patterns. Gary Chapman encourages “couples to have enough exposure to each other’s parents to get to know their personalities, communication patterns, values, and especially how they relate to each other.” So if there are things that bother you and may be evident in your future spouse then address it early on to avoid the drama later on.

Chapter 4 : I Wish I Had Known That How to solve DISAGREEMENTS without arguing

It is normal for married couples to have conflict. Each partner thinks that they are right and that their ideas are best. He suggests setting up “listening time” as a way to hear each others perspectives and then affirm each others ideas. He lists 3 positive ways to resolve conflict using “meeting in the middle”, “meeting on your side”and “meeting later”. So no winners and losers in the this approach.
Chapter 5 : I Wish I Had Known That APOLOGISING is a sign of STRENGTH

” After spending a lifetime counseling other couples, I am convinced that there are no healthy marriages without apology and forgiveness. I draw this conclusion from the reality that all of us are human and humans sometimes do and say things that are demeaning to other people. These unloving words and actions create emotional barriers between the people involved. Those barriers do not go away with the passing of time. They are removed only when we apologize and the offended party chooses to forgive.” (Pg 53). Expecting a perfect spouse and a perfect marriage is setting yourself up for failure.

He then proceeded to research the ways people need to receive an apology and came out with the The Five Languages of Apology :

Expressing Regret – “This apology language is an emotional language. It is seeking to express to the other person your emotional pain that your words or behavior have hurt them deeply. If this is the apology language of the person you have offended, what they want to know is, “Do you understand how deeply your behavior has hurt me?” Anything short of this kind of apology will seem empty to them.” (Pg 54)

Accepting Responsibility – “This apology begins with the words “I was wrong,” and then goes on to explain what was wrong about your behavior.

Making Restitution – it’s all about making it right or making amends. “For the person whose primary apology language is “making restitution,” what they really want to know is “Do you still love me?” Your behavior seems so unloving to them that they wonder how you could love them and do what you did. Thus, what they request of you may well be in keeping with their love language.” (Pg 55)

Genuinely expressing the desire to change your behavior. – This apology seeks to come up with a plan to keep the bad behavior from reoccurring. One man who “lost his temper again” said, “I don’t like this about me. This is not good. I know I did the same thing last week. This has got to stop. You deserve better than this. Can you help me think what I can do to make sure that this doesn’t happen again?” His desire for change communicates to his wife that he is sincerely apologizing.” (Pg 55,56)

Requesting forgiveness – ” “Will you please forgive me?” These words are music to the ears of the person whose primary apology language is “requesting forgiveness.” In their mind, if you are sincere, you will ask them to forgive you. This is what an apology is all about. You have hurt them and they want to know, “Do you want to be forgiven? Do you want to remove the barrier that your behavior has caused?” Requesting forgiveness is what touches their heart and rings of sincerity.” (Pg57)


Chapter 6 : I Wish I Had Known That FORGIVENESS is not a FEELING

What Forgiveness Is—and Isn’t
“Forgiveness presupposes that a wrong has been committed. Irritations do not call for forgiveness; rather, they call for negotiation. However, when one of you speaks or behaves unkindly to the other, it calls for an apology and forgiveness if the relationship is to be restored. There are minor offenses and major offenses but the process is always the same. When one of us offends the other, an emotional barrier is erected between the two of us. The passing of time will never remove the barrier. Barriers are removed by sincere apologies and genuine forgiveness.” (Pg 66)

Forgiveness does not destroy our memory.
Forgiveness does not remove all the consequences of wrong behavior.
Forgiveness does not rebuild trust.
Forgiveness does not always result in reconciliation.

” Had I known what I’ve shared with you in this chapter before I got married, I would have been a much better forgiver. I would have understood and processed my emotions in a healthier manner. I would have understood that forgiveness does not remove all the hurt nor does it automatically restore loving feelings. But forgiveness is the first step in processing hurt and restoring love. There are no healthy marriages without sincere apologies and genuine forgiveness. If you learn how to apologize and forgive, you will have in place two of the major elements for building a successful marriage.” (Pg 71)

We often assume that when our spouse forgives us, it’s all over but if we are not careful and hurt them in the same manner it will be harder to attain forgiveness the next time. Forgiveness is a door opener to reconnecting and reconciliation.

Chapter 7 : I Wish I Had Known That TOILETS are not SELF-CLEANING

“Confusion over roles is one of the most stressful aspects of contemporary marriages.” The traditional family model was where the wife stayed home, cooked, cleaned and raised kids while the husband went off to work to provide for the family. This outdated model is no longer relevant as we now have stay at home dad’s who raise the kids while the mom goes off to work or both spouses work. We expect our spouse to fulfill the role like our mom/dad did but we never discuss these kinds of things before marriage and only realise when we hit a bump in the road, that marital roles, responsibilities and chores need to clarified at the beginning.
Chapter 8 : I Wish I Had Known That we needed a PLAN for HANDLING our MONEY

“Our Money”: Building Unity
” The first foundational stone in developing a financial plan is to agree that after marriage, it will no longer be “my money” and “your money” but “our money.” At the heart of marriage is the desire for unity. “For better or for worse,” we intend to live life together. The implication is that we will share our income and work as a team in deciding what to do with our money.” (Pg 84)
Saving, Sharing, Spending
“The second step in developing a financial plan is to agree on a percentage of income that you will save, give away, and spend. There are essentially only three things you can do with money. You can save it, you can give it away, or you can spend it. Deciding the percentage that you will allocate to each of these categories is an important step in making a financial plan.” (Pg 84)

Chapman advocates for a 10-10-80 percent split, you save 10%, donate 10% and the balance 80% is spent on the household needs and expenses. I find that couples bring their family of origin values around money into their marriage and often these vary and are rarely openly discussed before marriage. If they are vastly different, can lead to the breakdown of their marriage if help is not sought.
Chapter 9 : I Wish I Had Known That mutual sexual FULFILLMENT is not AUTOMATIC

“No one told me that males and females are different. To be sure, I knew the obvious physiological differences, but I knew almost nothing about female sexuality. I thought she would enjoy it as much as I did; that she would want to do it as often as I did; and that what pleasured me would also pleasure her. I repeat: I knew almost nothing about female sexuality. And I discovered that she knew little about male sexuality.” (Pg 93).

Men are physically motivated and focus on the sex itself and women are emotionally motivated and are driven by the relationship. The chance of you getting lucky that night depends on how you treated her from the time she woke up, did you greet her, compliment her, flirt with her as these are all the things that make her feel sexually eager. If harsh words were spoken, arguments and ignoring were the order of the day, then take a book to bed dear husband, no action for you tonight.
Chapter 10 : I Wish I Had Known That I was MARRYING into a FAMILY

“If you think that after the wedding it will just be the two of you, your thinking is wrong. You are marrying into a family, for better or for worse. Her family does not disappear the day after the wedding. Both of your parents may allow you to have a few days for a honeymoon alone but after that, they will expect to be a part of your lives.” (Pg101)

Five Key Issues

There are five typical areas with regards to extended family that need to be discussed to get a better understanding of how it will unfold in your marriage and negotiation around them.
Holidays – who gets to spend in with their family and how to be fair and alternate.
Traditions – adapt from both families to arrive a new mutually acceptable ones.
In-laws Expectations – some of these expectations will have religious overtones.
Each of your in-laws may also have patterns of behavior that you find irritating or troublesome.
Your in-laws may also have strongly held religious beliefs that differ from yours.

Chapman suggest these three steps to overcome these in-law issues; learning to listen, learning to negotiate and learning their love languages.
Chapter 11 : I Wish I Had Known That SPIRITUALITY is not to be equated with “GOING TO CHURCH”

Often people assume that because they have the same religion they will not have any obstacles, so they don’t discuss the practicing element of their faith and only discover this once they are married. Then it becomes a source of arguments or awkwardness. For a marriage to grow together, carrying out your daily religious practices together (without criticism) can only strengthen your marriage.

Chapter 12 : I Wish I Had Known That PERSONALITY profoundly influences BEHAVIOR”

This was my favourite chapter where I made a new discovery about my marriage dynamic, which was a surprise after 20 years of marriage. My husband and I have very different personalities and they do say opposites attract, but after a long time can this attraction be sustained. Yes, if you are conscious of the differences and play into each other’s strengths.

Morning or Night Person

“Neither of us knew before marriage that there are “morning persons” and there are “night persons.” Morning persons awake with the enthusiasm of a kangaroo, springing to face the day with excitement, while the night person hides under the covers and thinks, “They must be playing a game—no one can be that excited in the morning.” Night persons have their “prime time” from 10 p.m. until … That’s when they enjoy reading, painting, playing games, doing anything that demands a lot of energy, while the morning person is quickly fading at that hour. This personality difference may have a profound impact upon the couple’s sexual relationship. The morning person wants to go to bed at ten, cuddle, and make love, while the night person is saying, “You have got to be kidding. I can’t go to bed this early.” The morning person may feel rejected, while the night person feels like they are being controlled. This may well lead to arguments and frustration. Is there hope for this couple? Certainly, if they choose to respect their differences and negotiate a solution.
A morning person will never become a night person, and a night person will never become a morning person.” (Pg 128)

Half Full or Half Empty?

“The pessimist and the optimist are often attracted to each other. The optimist sees the glass as half full; the pessimist sees it as half empty. The optimist sees the possibilities while the pessimist sees the problems. Each of us has a basic leaning in one direction or the other, but we are often unaware of this aspect of our personality. In the dating stage of the relationship, we each assume that the other person views the world as we view it. Because we are each enamored with the other and seeking to accommodate each other, this personality difference may not be apparent….
The answer to this personality difference lies in understanding and accepting the differences, and not condemning each other for being who they are. They must then negotiate a method of honoring each other’s personality.” (Pg 129, 131).

Neatnicks & Slobs

“Some people do live by the motto “A place for everything and everything in its place.” Other people have no compulsion to put away their tools, clothes, used coffee mugs, or anything else. After all, they may use them again in a week or two. They reason, “Why would you want to waste time picking up dirty clothes every day? Leave them on the floor until it’s time to wash them. They aren’t going anywhere and they don’t bother me.” Yes, we are wired differently and have difficulty understanding why the other person would not see it our way. This personality difference is not hard to discover; it simply requires that during the dating time you keep your eyes open to reality. Look at his car and his apartment and you will know whether he is a Neatnik or a Slob. Look at her kitchen and her bedroom closet and you will also know which personality pattern is natural for her. If the two of you fall into the same category, you will either have an immaculate home or a place where you have to step over the clutter. But both of you will be happy. If you fall into different categories, then now is the time for negotiation. Face reality and discuss who will be responsible for what after you are married in order to keep some level of emotional sanity.” (Pg 132)

When the Dead Sea Weds a Babbling Brook

“Another area of personality differences is related to speech. Some people talk freely about everything. Others are more thoughtful, introspective, and less likely to share their thoughts and feelings. I have often referred to the latter as the “Dead Sea” and the former as the “Babbling Brook.” … Often a Dead Sea will marry a Babbling Brook. Before marriage, the differences are viewed as attractive. For example, while dating, the Dead Sea can relax. He or she does not have to think “How will I get the conversation started?” or, “How will I keep the conversation flowing?” All they have to do is sit there, nod their head, and say, “Uh-huh.” The Babbling Brook will fill up the evening. On the other hand, the Babbling Brook finds the Dead Sea equally attractive because Dead Seas are the world’s best listeners. However, five years after marriage, the Babbling Brook may be saying, “We’ve been married five years and I don’t know her.” At the same time, the Dead Sea may be saying, “I know him too well. I wish he would stop the flow and give me a break.””

I am a Babbling Brook married to a Dead Sea personality and sometimes I wish he would say more but I realized in order for him to do this I will have to say less or nothing which is a challenge for me. However, since reading this I am trying!

To conclude, this book is a must read for all those getting married and for those already married wanting to improve their relationship and connection with their spouse.






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