This post could have also been titled “What I learned in the first 90 days of marriage.”
I’ve been married for a year and 3 months. Not long, I know. Barely any time at all even! I don’t really know anything yet, but I’ve learned a lot with the time I’ve been given. It has been a crazy experience filled with really amazing moments, and also really really difficult moments.
One thing I learned in the first WEEK of marriage is that all my friends who were married had failed to adequately prepare us for many of the hurdles we would be facing in the first year (or even the first day). Over the last 6 months or so, I’ve begun to mull over many of these things, and I’ve come up with 6 things (there are more, to be sure) that I learned in my first year. So to all you newly married, old married, engaged, or single people: Here’s the tiniest glimpse into being married…
…Single folks: You might want to sit down for this…
1. You’re probably believing a lie.
There’s no doubt that the “Disney generation” fully embraced the lie of the fairy-tale. My childhood took place in the era of The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Bambi, Sleeping Beauty, etc. My generation was taught a very simple, yet devastating, truth: “You are waiting for your soul-mate to rescue you from this mundane, lonely life.”
All you need is your prince charming to come and sweep you off your feet, slip on the glass slipper, wake you from the eternal sleep, rescue you from the tower, and your happily-ever-after will commence. This is a lie that is ultimately born in the depths of our humanity, longing for all complicated things to be wrapped neatly for us to accept like a shiny present on Christmas morning. We always want things to be easy. But somewhere along the way, we started expecting things to come easy for us. Love, relationships, and marriage included. Little did we know, marriage would be some of the roughest waters we have ever set our sails.
Marriage is anything but easy. Marriage is good. Marriage is expansive, encouraging, strengthening, and a blessing, but marriage isn’t easy. It is completely against our nature to love someone else more than ourselves. Our anti-nature is to put someone else’s needs above our own. Outside of the idea of marriage we would have considered someone who would live and die for another human being as an act of complete insanity. Disregarding your own well being for the sake of another in all circumstances is the act of one who has become unhinged, detached from reality where our basic needs are always being looked out for by yours truly. But marriage requires us to lay ourselves down on a daily basis. From the moment we awake, to the moment we sleep, our care, love, and service are to our spouse. Its amazing that such a veil of fairy-tales and happily-ever-afters was ever pulled over our eyes with such a heavy reality of relationships always being around us, but only if we look hard enough.
Somewhere along the way we began thinking everything that went wrong in a relationship was always the other person’s fault, never willing to accept our part in it all. So you should know now that marriage will be an amazing experience that will FORCE you to grow spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and even physically (who doesn’t want to be healthy and in shape for that special someone?), but it will be the most difficult undertaking you have ever faced. You will be faced every morning with a personal representation of what Christ calls us to daily; to die to ourselves.
2. There’s a good chance the honeymoon will be awful.
Ok. This is ridiculous. I’ve already burst your bubble on marriage. But for the love of all things good in the world, please say I’m not taking away the honeymoon too! Say it ain’t so!
Before I go any further, I will acknowledge that there are always anomalies. Those people that “just had the most amazing time” on their honeymoon. There are many out there. You may, in fact, have an amazing honeymoon. If you are that anomaly, then please move along…Nothing to see here.
But one thing I learned was that often times the honeymoon is a formula for disaster. A perfect storm. You just barely survived one of, if not the most intensely stressful days of your life. And now, because of our culture, you are expected to consummate this occasion on the wedding night, followed by days of pretending that you have just rode off into the sunset. In this fantasy you see yourself drinking fancy beverages on an exotic island with the man/woman of your dreams, laughing and talking, making sweet, sweet love in any and every place you can. Who wouldn’t want that to happen, right? Well, I’ll just say you really shouldn’t let your expectations get too high on this one.
We are forgetting a very obvious point here. YOU JUST BARELY SURVIVED THE MOST INTENSE AND EXHAUSTING DAY OF YOUR LIFE. What do you think you’re actually going to feel like doing on your wedding night? My wife and I barely made it to the bed before we fell into a comatose-like sleep. Yes, we tried to “consummate”, but we were both so deeply exhausted and drained from the long day, that all we really wanted to do was pass out. But the interesting part is that both of us felt like we had expectations on us. As though all our family and friends were there in the room with us, rooting us on like it was the Super Bowl.
Picture this: You wake the first morning as husband and wife, only to roll over and come to the realization that this is the person you are going to wake up to FORRREEEEVVVERRRRRRR (think “The Sandlot” for emphasis), and now you have to go on a trip with them! About three days in, after we awkwardly tried to be ok with the reality of this covenant we just made, and many of the small daily realities I was talking about earlier had begun to set in, I found her on the balcony of our beautiful island condo overlooking the ocean with an amazing sunset…and she was crying her eyes out. I asked her what was wrong. She looked up at me and said “I’m just on this island, and I can’t go anywhere. I’m stuck here with you on an island…..And that’s what marriage is!”
Now, looking back, we both laugh at this moment. But neither of us would deny the truth of her statement. I doubt someone who has been married for 50 years would deny this statement. We are, all of us, stuck on a proverbial island with the one we marry, destined to go round and round this island. Some days we will be happy, working together to build a home, a fire, and search for food. Other days we will be walking the shores alone, searching for meaning in the stars and trying to find wood for a raft with no hatchet or tools. I believe this is how God intended it to be. There are ups and downs in all areas of life. Why would marriage be any different.
The day we got back from our trip, every married guy I knew came up to me and said “So how was the honeymoon? It sucked, didn’t it?” They were the same people telling me how amazing the honeymoon would be before we left. So naturally up until this point I had felt like a complete failure. Someone incapable of making another human happy. I had felt rejected, and alone. Not what you’d want to feel coming back from your honeymoon. But what I realized upon my return was that I wasn’t even remotely alone. I actually felt lied to by everyone in my life. My wife had similar experiences with her friends. We decided to let it go and move on.
My wife has given many people advice about the idea of the honeymoon in the last year. Her advice is almost always “I think you should consider having your honeymoon a year after you get married. Make it an anniversary trip!”…. I tend to agree with this advice. But if you decide to participate in the cultural norm, the best thing you can do is put NO expectations on yourself or your new spouse. And make sure they know it! Your first few days (and nights) spent together will go much more smoothly.
3. Learn to extend enough grace to allow your spouse to be themselves.
This is a tough thing for us, no matter who it is. Have you ever lived with someone? Of course you have! Everyone has! You undoubtedly lived with your parents, siblings, and maybe a roommate later on in life. How many of those people got on your nerves? How many of them drove you absolutely crazy some days? Everyone, right?! Your spouse will be no different!
There will be days that the last person you want to see or talk to is your spouse. But the best thing you can do for your spouse, and ultimately yourself, is learn to extend grace in these moments. Pray for grace for yourself, and extend that same grace to your spouse. And not just a little grace, but enough grace to allow for his/her mistakes, faults, and weird little intricacies that make them who they are.
Its far too easy for us to get to a place where we start thinking that the “spark” is gone, and we just don’t like them anymore. Be assured many have felt that the quirky traits that made them love their spouse’s character now drive them absolutely crazy. There will be days you want to stop loving the things you once loved. There will be times where you find out things about him/her that you didn’t know before. But this happens to everyone! So stop, take a breath, and filter what you say and do next through a very thick filter of grace. And don’t forget to change this filter out regularly through much prayer for God to grant you your own extensive grace. Because He loves you for who you are. Faults, mistakes and all. Make sure you pass that same love along to your spouse.
4. Forgive as often as you breathe, then forgive some more.
Which brings me to my next point, forgiveness. We have a really hard time forgiving, don’t we? We really have a hard time letting go. We don’t let go of anything very easily. But when someone has hurt us, we always take it personally, though it rarely is personal. We always make assumptions. We so quickly deduce that the person who has hurt us was meaning to be offensive, or just doesn’t care about us. Stephen R. Convey said:
We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions.
In a perfect world, we would judge everyone’s actions by their intentions, and assume their intentions were good. But that’s not how we do it. We assume everyone’s intentions are bad, and that their actions are a result of their intentions. But we always get so offended when someone judges us by the same standard, and begin to explain ourselves, claiming that they shouldn’t take it so personally that our actions hurt them because our intentions were good, and that they should have known that. Don’t perpetuate this pattern. Break it. Start assuming the best in your spouse from day one, and he/she will do the same with you eventually. If your spouse assumes the best in you, be thankful to God and to your spouse. Make this thankfulness known, and try to do better for yourself. This will go a long way. Encouraging good practices in your spouse is great, but make sure you follow it up with reciprocating those good practices.
5. Be OK with not getting your way.
How many of us act like complete brats when we don’t get our way? I know many people, myself included, who are one step away from a total screaming tantrum on the floor if the right button is pushed. We all know the button if we stop and think about it. But sometimes those buttons can multiply and become magnified with our spouse.
Marriage is a very delicate eco-system of love, selflessness, compliments, romantic gestures, and on-going forgiveness. All of these things aren’t going to come easy for you, and you will have to perform most, if not all of these acts daily to keep the eco-system in healthy balance. But get even the tiniest deficient in any area and the whole thing can fall into complete disarray. This constant tension can cause a bit of feeling like walking on eggshells. Constant communication can help with this feeling, but none the less, it’s all too easy to feel entitled to your way from time to time. But this feeling directly contradicts the other points I have already listed. It’s hard to die to yourself when you’re too busy feeling entitled.
There will be times that you thought something was going to go one way, and something happens, whether your spouse screwed something up or forgot to do something, or maybe he/she just did something a different way than you thought it should be done. Your first inclination might be anger, offense, or feeling hurt, thinking they didn’t take you or your desires seriously. I strongly encourage you to stop this response as soon as you can! This is where you will most often need to be extending grace, followed with immense forgiveness. You might marry someone who is painfully forgetful (like my wife did), and may have done something for you the very best they could. The moment you shoot them down with their shortcomings preventing them from meeting your desired expectations, you severely discourage them from wanting to do anything for you ever again. What you encourage is a feeling of resentment, rejection, and deep wounds that will take much time to heal.
My wife and I are constantly working to react better when we feel let down by our own expectations, while trying to acknowledge that the other person isn’t responsible for the expectations that we place on them. We aren’t perfect at this, but luckily we have plenty of time to figure it out. You will too, so start early.
6. Give more than you receive….Always.
Ok, so maybe you’ve heard this one before. But I’d like to take a moment and consider what this actually means when you take it off paper and make it reality.
One of my top love languages is gifts. I love receiving gifts, but I also really love giving gifts! We are on a tight budget right now, but my wife came to me and said she wanted to give me the gift of a small budget to buy her a gift for Valentines Day, and we decided together that we could afford it. You might think this is actually quite a selfish gesture from her. After all, she’s the one getting the gift! But her love language is not gift giving. She couldn’t care less if she receives gifts in general, save for the really unique and meaningful gifts she may receive from a close friend (which I think is more indicative of females in general, but I digress). She knows that, though I love receiving gifts from her, I really love giving her gifts. Not just any gift either, but gifts that really mean something. She knew I wanted to buy her something special because I don’t often get that chance right now, so she wanted to take the opportunity of Valentine’s Day to let me be the gift-giver that I want to be!
Not everyone is like me though. We all have certain things that may come easier to us than others. As I’ve gotten older and matured a bit, I’ve realized it has become easier for me to give more than I receive in most areas. When I realized that there’s not very much I want, and even less that I need, I stopped wanting much, and stopped needing even more You might be different. This might be the hardest discipline for you to adopt. That’s ok! You are certainly not alone! Start with the small things, and before you know it, you’ll find it gets easier to do things selflessly for your spouse.
This may be somewhat easier for me, but I’m definitely still growing in this. There are days I really don’t want to do anything. I often hate washing dishes. But this is the thing I do for my wife since she is the one who cooks (and I wouldn’t want it any other way. She’s way better than I could ever be at cooking amazing meals. So really I’m getting the better end of the deal.), so I wash the dishes. I have had my moments of complaining. I’m not proud of it. All I can do is try to complain less today, and be more willing to serve than I was yesterday, and maybe tomorrow I can wash the dishes without grumbling. Just don’t give up!
7. There is no spoon.
I know I said there were only 6 things, but I had to include one more. I hope you have seen the movie The Matrix at some point in your life. If you haven’t, then you won’t get this reference. I use this movie reference as an example of a lie that inevitably creeps into our minds. The lie is that “The grass is always greener on the other side.”
I have no way of predicting your future. I don’t know how good or bad your marriage will be. But what I do know is that there will be really good times, and really bad times. It’s guaranteed. During the really bad times, It can sometimes feel easier to give up. When you feel this way, It can be an enormously heavy burden of a temptation to think that maybe you married the wrong person, or that the girl/guy at work that’s always super nice to you gets you more than your spouse does. This can easily lead to daydreams of thinking you’d be happier with that person than with your spouse. “I bet it would be so much easier to live with their things.” “He/She seems so laid back and easy going, he/she would never treat me the way my spouse does.”
Let me just go ahead and burst this bubble now. The grass isn’t greener on the other side. No, the truth is the grass is only as green as you make it. Have you ever seen a beautifully rich and healthy yard? Do you drive by that yard and think “man, that person is so lucky to have such a nice yard.”? Of course not! Most of us, if we stopped to think about it, would actually say “Man, I wonder how hard that guy had to work to get his yard to look like that!?” So it is with the landscape of our relationships. Our relationships will be as good as we make them. We have to constantly tend to them, planting seeds of truth, grace, forgiveness, watering them with mercy and love, and bringing light to the darkest parts to help it grow and be healthy. Our marriage is the same, but vastly more important. So it’s best to remember during these times that there is no grass. There’s only the landscape of our own hearts, and that it can always change if we want it to.
Just like Neo in The Matrix, maybe it’s best to not focus on the grass around you, but rather accept the fact that there is no grass. Free yourself from the binding of the lie that everything is as it is. That way you can be content with your circumstances, be willing to fight for your joy, fulfillment, and happiness in your marriage, and let it go often enough to progress forward in growth and maturity.
Nothing is ever so lost that it can’t be found, no person so bad that they can’t be redeemed, no life so dead that it can’t be resurrected. Love is what binds all these things together, and we can begin to love now, and let the true act of love flood our marriages, and pour out into the lives of those around us.
I hope and pray your marriage will grow as you serve one another and begin to serve others through your sacrificial love. This is the goal of every marriage; not that we would run away together; but rather that we would run into the battles of life together, conquer the great wars of our hearts together, and dig in the trenches of life…together.
There have been many people much older and wiser than I who have shaped my life, my heart, and taught me the meaning of love. I never pretend to know everything about anything. With that being said, I’d like you to contribute to this post! Are you married? Regardless of the length, whether 10 years or 10 months, what have you learned thus far? What are the things you wish people had told you before you got married? Did any of this resonate with you single folks?
Let me know!