Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Many Weird & Wonderful Surprises of Marriage

Marriage Surprises

The Day I Married My Best Friend

Four years ago, I married my best friend.

It was an unusually warm day for Nashville in January — about 70 degrees (F) and sunny, if I remember correctly.

The church was full of friends and family, many of whom were moved to tears before the ceremony began. Myself included.

There wasn’t much that was ornate, but it was beautiful, nonetheless.

They say you can’t prepare for the best things in life. I think this is true.

Despite our best efforts to plan, so much about our marriage has been unexpected. And I’m glad.

Wedding day surprises

I didn’t expect Ashley to change the song from “Canon in D” to “Hold On,” a song I had written for our first date.

As the doors to the sanctuary opened, my heart leaped into my chest. I nervously watched my best man walk up to the altar and just about yelled at him to stop.

This wasn’t what was supposed to happen, I thought. But then, he started playing the familiar tune. And I turned to watch my bride walk down the aisle. I completely lost it.

I knew in an instant this would be the best day of my life.

This only continued at our reception when she surprised me with a song-and-dance routine of Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” (with the help of her bridesmaids and friends).

Since then, the surprises have kept coming.

After the honeymoon

I’m a pragmatic guy. I thought marriage was a formality — nothing more. I was wrong.

What I found was a covenant, a holy union. And I had no idea what I was getting myself into. That probably explains why I wept like a baby on the day we said, “I do.”

I didn’t expect my whole life to change. I didn’t realize that everything from how I brushed my teeth to my career plans would be affected. Nor did I anticipate all the challenges of communicating with someone who isn’t exactly like you.

As the honeymoon faded and real life resumed, I realized there would be misunderstandings and frustrations. And at times, we might even wonder what we had gotten ourselves into.

It has not always been easy, but good things rarely are. What I can say is that it has been worth it.

Four years later

Now, there is a quietness about our love — we know we can count on each other. There’s still romance, but it’s different now. Less drama and butterflies. More steadiness and inside jokes.

Our marriage is the best it’s ever been. (Unless my wife says otherwise.)

Still, there are surprises — some delightful and others weird. Like our differing preferences for how toilet paper rolls should be hung (on top or on bottom?). In all of it, we’re learning to never stop studying each other.

We try to be honest — with ourselves and with one another. So that when the surprises come, they don’t paralyze us.

If I need to talk about something, I’m okay with waiting to process before having a conversation. I can be a bit impulsive. It’s not about the “now” as much as the “eventually.”

If Ashley is tired of having me around and needs some time alone, she’s not afraid to tell me to take a work trip. And I do.

This is a benefit of doing life with someone. They’re not going anywhere. (And when they do, they come back.) It’s one of the many beautiful things about commitment.

Life with my biggest fan

On January 12, 2008, my girlfriend who became my wife promised to be my biggest fan. And she has never disappointed.

When I got my first article published in a magazine, she cut out a copy of it and started a scrapbook. She knew there would be others.

Whenever I get a post published in a popular blog she knows nothing about, she still tells all her friends on Facebook to go read it.

When I signed my book contract, she made a big deal about it. We went out to lunch, brought the camera, and she took photos of me as I signed the papers. When we received the final contract back (with a check), she cooked dinner for me and gave me a vintage typewriter.

It is one of my biggest aspirations to honor her with all I do.

Happy anniversary, Ashley. Here’s to a lifetime of surprises.

And here’s my challenge to you, the reader:

Some of the best things in life cannot be planned. They can only be enjoyed.

So go. Live. Be surprised.

What’s something in life you couldn’t have planned for? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Happy Anniversary! What a sweet story! I love hearing how you realized it was a covenant and not a formality. My hubby and I are coming up on 16 years. Hard to believe!

    Please feel free to stop by: Trailing After God

  • Congratulations, Jeff. And happy anniversary to both of you. 

  • Congrats on hitting the 4-year mark! Sounds like you have a marriage quite like my own (unless my wife says otherwise). Keep pursuing and learning about her everyday!

  • I didn’t plan for the health issues that have been going on. Last year was supposed to be full of energy, pursuing this and that, leaping around. But it hasn’t. 

    Many of my days have been spent working and writing from the comforts of my bed because I could only muster up the energy to prop my pillows up and put the laptop in my lap. 

    However, blessings have still come. There have been surprises, both great and not so great. I’m still going. Still persevering. Still doing. 

    I look forward to a marriage like the above described. Thanks for the inspiration. 

    • Sorry to hear about the difficulties, Sundi. Love your perspective.

  • Vianney

    I agree. Very inspiring!

  • Catyorkc

    Aw. That’s so wonderful. Happy Anniversary to you both!

  • Love this post Jeff, and I agree…marriage is full of incredible surprises and is different but better than what you expect beforehand. Happy anniversary!

  • Congrats Jeff & Ashley.  After 38+ years i would only suggest that you keep the mystery alive.  praying that #4 is only a harbinger of good things to come. 

  • I’m encouraged by hearing stories like yours about marriage as friendship and a good thing, I know marriage can be hard, but there’s so much cynicism of this covenant today that it makes me sad and I’d like to set out to prove them wrong. 

    The quietness of love is also a good way to describe the evolution of marriage, it takes on a new face from the dating days, but it also deepens to a new level. This has been the experience of my husband and I as well. And every time I spend time away from him on a trip or with family, I always am reminded how much I rely on him and how I can’t wait to get back to the closeness and sweet comfort of his company. 

    • When I was doing counseling with pastor before (and after) we were married, I said, “I know marriage is hard…”

      And he interrupted me: “I haven’t found that to be the case.”

      I was incredulous. Even outraged.

      But I’ve grown to love and embrace that idea: Marriage doesn’t have to be hard. (That’s not to say you’re doing it wrong if it does, but I think we live with this idea that it has to be terrible. Not so.)

      • Just chiming in here…I think “hard” is a matter of what your expectations were when you entered into it. There are a lot of messages out there that say it’s easy, and if it isn’t, you should just quit. So I think there’s got to be a a balance in how we discuss the challenges and joys. And the opportunity to grow through the struggles. Marriage is hard, but it’s very, very good.

        • Great point about expectations.

        • Anonymous

          Saw a Hollywood movie that used, “Mend, don’t end” as a line. Maybe more of this in popular culture might build a more caring society. A guest speaked at my school told Year 10 students not to expect to stay in a job more than four months. Is jumping ship the only way to grow?

  • Jeff, I loved this.  Knowing you and Ashley just made it sweeter.  Thanks for sharing this today as it made me again aware of how much I love my wife and am thankful for all the unexpected surprises life has thrown at us over the years.  God bless you both!

    • thanks, Marty. it was fun to be a part of the cohort with you and see how many unexpected, wonderful things can happen in a person’s life over the course of a year.

  • Congratulations, Jeff!! Thank you for sharing a piece of your story and insights from the adventure.

    To many years to come! Cheers!

  • Anonymous

    Awesome post! Congratulations!

  • This brought a tear to my eye, and I’m still choked up. What a wonderful way to honor your biggest fan. Happy Anniversary!

  • Thanks for sharing your beautiful story, Jeff. Life really is full of wonderful surprises. My wife and I have been married fore 2 and a half years and we’re already in a different place than we expected to be by this point. Life is a wonderful thing to live and a terrible thing to waste.

  • Anonymous

    Congrats and happy anniversary, Jeff! Hearing how Ashley honors you and “surprises” you made me eager for the day when I can write the same thing about MY wife.

    Something in life I didn’t plan for? To travel around the world, move to Georgia, fall in love, and grow into my passions. The Lord has really blown my socks off… (literally, I’m not wearing any right now).

    • yep. it’s awesome. love that you’re still being surprised, matt. go get some socks.

  • This is just about the sweetest post I’ve read in a very long time. That’s a beautiful story Jeff, thanks for sharing it. 

    Happy Anniversary! I wish you two many many more! 

  • Roberta

    A big congratulations to you, for finding and recognizing your best friend. I, too, was fortunate to have married my best friend fourteen years ago. I only wish that I had married him sooner but hey, I’ll take what I have. Love your blog, just discovered it. I am taking my own journey towards a writing life. Wish me luck! Roberta  https://www.mulish.typepad.com/

  • Clearly the toilet paper should unroll from the top.  No brainer 🙂

    Happy Anniversary (mine’s on Monday…two years)

  • Lesley Myrick

    Beautiful, Jeff! Thanks for sharing your marriage story. All the best to you and Ashley as you move forward. 🙂

  • Happy Anniversary Jeff and Ashley!

    It’s been a joy to get to know, appreciate and respect you through what you share here, Jeff. And your willingness to allow us to be a part of your life as you share it so eloquently is admirable. Thanks for doing so. Wish you all the best for both of you as you experience the best that happens without a plan.

    And just as you live your life, so should the toilet paper be hung: over the top.

    • this toilet paper stuff is ridiculous.

      • Agreed … both on a blog and especially in marriage! My apologies. 😉

      • Pat Wooldridge

        Ridiculous, no doubt. And then one day I discovered that it makes it much easier to find. Always. :))

  • ‘Atta boy, Jeff!

    • I picture you slapping me on the back, saying this, Charles. Thanks. 🙂

  • Happy Anniversary to you and Ashley! 

    Sweetest story.

    To many more years!

    • amen. here’s to four turning into forty.

  • RJSutherland

    Best “post” ever!  Thanks.  Proud of you.

  • Tell Deatrich

    This statement is awesome, intriguing and inspiring to one who is striving to be a better man. “It is one of my biggest aspirations to honor her with all I do.”  My question is, how do you balance this with honoring the Lord as well.  
    I hope I am not being to personal here, but this is a question hat i have been asking myself for a few weeks now.

    This is my other favorite quote. “This is a benefit of doing life with someone. They’re not going anywhere. (And when they do, they come back.) It’s one of the many beautiful things about commitment.” 

    • Hi there. Good question. I honor God often by honoring my wife. Not always the same thing, but often the case for me in this season.

  • Happy Anniversary!
    To answer the question: children.
    Parenting is something you can never be prepared for.
    My oldest turned 24 last week…my youngest is 8.
    I’m in this for the long haul.

    • we will be learning this lesson soon, I’m sure.

  • Something I couldn’t have planned for? Well, I sort of wasn’t prepared for marriage as the topic of the day. I came her for some writing pointers. 

    • Come back tomorrow. Today I’m honoring my wife who makes my writing possible.

      • Ah, one of my favorite excuses in high school: “My wife makes my writing possible, but since I don’t have a wife, I couldn’t do the assignment.”

    • Cyberquill…even without “tips” today, observing the WAY Jeff writes is often just as helpful. Stick around. He won’t let you down.

      • I know. For instance, he leaves spaces before and after his em-dashes, as the New York Times does. Personally, I never do. Matter of taste, I suppose.

        • Yep. That is. I’m working on a book with an editor who told me both are fine. Just be consistent. Also working on another book where the publisher does NOT allow the spaces. In print, I think it depends on the typesetting. On screen, I like how it looks. Either way, it’s a matter of preference.

  • Happy Anniversary Jeff! Love how you wrote this. It’s very sweet and honoring to your wife and your marriage! 

    Something in life I couldn’t have planned for? Being single ’til 39, being laid off and falling into a freelance writing career. God has blessed both…and provided a sweet marriage…bringing it in a way that I didn’t plan for either!

  • MM

    Congrats! (and @Cyberquill and others) You know what, Jeff, the unexpectedness in marriage is very much akin to what we find in writing–sometimes our characters and other plot changes take on an unexpected twist–and sometimes that’s very good. Isn’t relationship between characters what makes the plot and other elements a great story? Don’t we all love romance stories? I think your post is great, Jeff, and yes–honoring your wife, who inspires your writing, can be used a pointer for writing.

  • You certainly honored her with this post, very sweet. Sign, Sealed, Delivered is the song we ended our ceremony with – fun!

  • Lanny

    Great post, Jeff … Congrats!!! THX for your transparency and candor … HAPPY ANNIVERSARY.

  • Congrads Jeff!

  • Very cool- congrats Jeff.  My wife and I just celebrated our 7th anniversary (and I wrote a little something about it on my blog as well).

  • Congrats. Just wait until you are a dad and Ashley is a mom. It is only going to get better and better. 

  • Happy Anniversary!  Such a lovely post – makes me want to meet your wonderful, encouraging wife!

    Do you ever write letters to Ashley?  I just started reading a book by Nancy Reagan about all the letters her husband (Ronald Reagan) wrote to her over the course of their marriage…  It’s called “I Love You, Ronnie”.  I recommend adding it to your list to read.

    Your writing is so beautiful – imagine the legacy you could give your wife and your (possible future) children by using your gift in writing love letters.  Just a thought…

    • I’ve heard that, too. We wrote letters for a year (while I was traveling). Good idea. I’ll think about it.

  • Happy Anniversary to you guys!  I love how you said this, “Less drama and butterflies. More steadiness and inside jokes.”  So true.   I love the laughter I share with my husband. 

    • Agreed. For example, we just burst into spontaneous laughter last night over dinner. Best part of the night.

  • I think I’d have to say my marriage as well. I was anxious for a husband, but was not expecting the one I got. He is perfect for me, but not what I thought I needed (at first.) We celebrate four years in June, and we take things day by day and enjoy things as they come.
    Happy Anniversary!

    • love this, Jamie. thanks for your honesty. Not what you wanted, but what you needed. such a good lesson about so many things in life.

  • I love this. Happy anniversary 🙂

  • Happy Anniversary! Such a wonderful post! Love it. 

  • I appreciate your comment on how you didn’t expect things really to change. That marriage was a “formality” until you realized otherwise. Honestly, I felt the same way. But, really, everything changes, especially the proximity you have to each other within the relationship. Together, separate, one, but completely opposite in so many ways. 

    Congratulations. May you have many more years to perfect the art of being together. 

    • yep. it can be hard, but it can also be awesome. mostly, i’ve found, you just need to readjust your expectations.

  • Paul Vasilko

    Today my parents celebrate 32 years as you and Ash celebrate 4.  What an awesome wedding that was…I’ll never forget the look on your face when Double D started walking onto the stage!  Classic.  Sheer horror turning into knowing realization followed by sheer joy expressed in tears…still one of my favorite memories of you, brother.  

    Love you.

    • hah! yep. it was an unforgettable day. thanks for being there to celebrate it with us.

  • talia

    how sweetly said!  so glad i know you both!

  • Happy Anniversary Jeff and Ashley. I’ve been reading your blog for a little bit now and it has been amazing to see how it has grown. Congrats on everything that’s going on right now, you’ve inspired myself and others to do better with our writing and chasing our dreams!

  • Great story Jeff! Happy anniversary to both of you! 🙂 

  • Anonymous

    This brought tears to my eyes, as well as laughter when you got to the toilet paper part! I recently got married to my boyfriend of four years and am currently learning firsthand those things you wrote about. Thank you for sharing this and happy anniversary to you, guys! 🙂

  • Cecilia

    Happy Anniversary!!

    What a beautiful story.

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while now.. and been following it every day (at least once a day..) for a few weeks now and I always get inspired and come up with something to write when I’ve read your latest post.

    I think one of the reasons for why you are so succesful is because you are so real. You write with feelings and from your heart – exactly in the way art should be..

    More people should be as real and down to earth as you . . well at least that is what it seems like. . but thats just from reading your blog.

    Best wishes
    Cecilia, from Sweden.. now living in Scotland.. and I am a big fan of America! 🙂

    • Thanks, Cecilia. Really appreciate it. Need to get to Scotland some time. 

  • Love it!  Sounds like you both got gems out of this deal.  Keep it going and show the world what married love is supposed to be like!  God bless you both!

    • Thanks, Lia. Not sure about Ashley’s end of the deal, but I kinda lucked out.

  • Jeff you’re the man.

    Congratulations on your anniversary.

    So happy for you. I wish you guys the best of everything

  • Lindsey

    Fantastic post Jeff. Very inspiring and beautifully written.

  • Congrats brother. Good job at praising Ashley in the gates (Prov 31:31).

  • Happy Anniversary to you guys!

    I’ve always loved reading your posts but this one feels so different from the other writing posts. It’s more mellow and sweet. It really touches the heart of the reader.

    I’m still a fresh grad so marriage might not be in the immediate future yet but reading (and hearing) stories about people’s marriages and how they work (or don’t work) really inspires me to take it easy and not rush things.

    Surprises are the best things in life and you don’t get surprises by planning it. Thanks for this post. 🙂

  • Congratulations, Jeff! Thanks for sharing your story.

    Happy Anniversary!

    • my pleasure. thanks for reading and doing work that matters, Don.

  • last year my girlfriend of 10 years dumped me saying she didnt want kids or get married. around 8 months later a friend from high school that i had not seen in 4 years messaged me on facebook telling me she was pregnant and in a bad situation. she always had a big place in my heart, so much so our exs baned us from talking because they were jelous. a few weeks later i moved her 2200 miles to live with me. now my house is full of baby things and the most beautiful mommy to be is safe and healthy. i love you laura, we couldnt plan this if we tried.

    • interesting story, Michael. thanks for sharing!

      • the full story is even more interesting. i have been saying we should make it into a book or screenplay…just need that happy ending.

        • Anonymous

          At the risk of repeating an advertising slogan- there is no finish line! Like this blog suggest, don’t wait for something. Write about your life, add those baby pictures and see what happens.

  • That’s a great story.
    Congrats on the four years. Just celebrated seven myself (which makes me feel old).

    One thing I’ve learned is that you and your spouse are on mission together. It’s not just a relationship of two people who are going to live together and raise kids. It’s not just combining two bank accounts.
    It’s about becoming a team that takes on the world together.
    It makes me really appreciate the biblical concept of being yoked together. It really is striving together to accomplish a work together – something great that God has called you to.

  • Happy Anniversary Jeff and Ashley!

    This is a beautiful post Jeff. A keeper for sure!

    Oh, and the toilet paper; over the top.

  • Michele E

    “Some of the best things in life cannot be planned. They can only be enjoyed.
    So go. Live. Be surprised.”

    I love those words.  This is such a beautiful post…  Honest and direct, yet glowing with belief in the power of magic that can be found in every day.  

    Happy Anniversary – and all the best wishes in the world – to you and Ashley! 

    Thank you for providing some of the best inspiration available.  You are truly a gift!

  • Inspiring. I loved this, particularly these lines: 

    “What I found was a covenant, a holy union.” 

    This is a benefit of doing life with someone. They’re not going anywhere. (And when they do, they come back.) It’s one of the many beautiful things about commitment.” 

    Yes, yes, yes. 

    Happy anniversary, Jeff. Thank you for honoring your wife as much as she honors you. 

  • Lisahart2

    awwwww. Thanks. Now I have to go freshen my tear-streaked cheeks before I leave for work! Love it. And love you guys 🙂

  • When asked to move to another community, as a United Methodist pastor, I chose to step outside the system and remain in the community. That choice has led to a life of writing for me and the life of a freelance editor and children’s librarian for my wife. That was longer ago than your wedding date (by a year and a half). The journey since has surprised the both of us, and we couldn’t be happier.

    • interesting, Tom. thanks for sharing!

  • Wow. I’m not sure how I prefer my toilet paper. Never gave it much thought, really. 

    I’m fixing to give you a call. Reply to this comment if you think you’ll answer. 🙂

  • Happy anniversary! Great post  🙂

  • I am wondering, are you her biggest fan? Do you do those things when exciting things happen to her? I was simply wondering bc I don’t know many men who SHOW that they really ARE their wife’s biggest fan, to be honest. 

    • Well I try to be. But only my wife could speak to that.

  • Joan

    Like this post, alot! Your marriage seems right on track. After almost 30 years of being real, growing up, and weathering storms in our marriage, we never regret the commitment we stood on during those first ten years. I am convinced you will still say it was all worth it even when your on year 30. A trusting relationship is the greatest blessing we have, the most predictable. If all else falls, we have that. You will too. 

  • This is so beautiful and honest.  I love it!  One thing I couldn’t have planned for is how much my husband would love me with complete abandon.  It is quite amazing.  I marvel it in every day.  Thank you for sharing your marriage surprises with us.

  • Even though I don’t know ya’ll, I want to wish you a happy anniversary! Love your writing style Jeff and look forward to reading more of your blog.

  • What an amazingly beautiful and heartfelt post! I am getting married on April 28, 2012, something I never actually thought would happen for me. I’m 32 years old, have a 4 year old daughter, and have never been married. I think I did things kinda out of order… But I still managed to meet my love of a lifetime and I have never felt so amazingly blessed in all my life. Now you’re basically telling me it’s going to get better… wow. I can’t wait! 🙂 Blessings to you and your wife, I’m sure your anniversary was very special and there will be many more ahead for both of you!

  • Congrats on all counts Jeff! For your marriage, your book deal, and your attitude!

  • I love this! Happy anniversary!

  • Zen Mummy

    Happy anniversary! Lovely post.

    Something I couldn’t have planned for? Parenting. Not just because of the insane amount of joy and crazy amount of challenges it throws at you, but because of the way it changed me as a person. I became far braver than I could over have imagined: I  changed career, leapt into freelancing and have never been happier.

  • Pilar Arsenec

    This made me cry. It is beautiful. Thid also made me laugh as I can relate. My husband and I are heading toward our 9th anniversary. It feels like yesterday when we got married. We both have grown and changed so much. Especially after having our two beautiful boys. Thank you for writing this.

  • jennifer

    Hello am Jeniffer from usa i just wanna thank Prophet suleman for what he has done for me at first i taught he was scam but until i just decided to follow my mind.i told him that my ex lover which i loved with all my heart left me for another all Prophet suleman did was to laugh and said he will be back to me in 3days time i taught he was lying on the 3rd day my ex called me and said he wanna see me,i was shocked then he came over to my place and started begging that he was bewitched,immediately i forgives him and now we are back and he his really madly in love with me.All thanks to Prophet suleman he indeed wonderful incise you wanna contact him here his is private mail prophetsuleman@hotmail.com ……………….. jennifer