The early days of marriage are awesome. You get to wake up every day with your best friend, experience physical intimacy and enter into everything you’ve been waiting for.
But it’s not all butterflies and violins. Many couples go through some really deep waters during their first few years together, trials they were not expecting. In this post, I’ll talk about the hurdles you can expect, and how to handle them so that your marriage continues to thrive. (Pro Tip: even if you’ve been married for awhile, a refresh never hurts!)
When the honeymoon is over – and sometimes before – the challenges of being married start to surface.
My wife and I had a really tough time our first few years together. We had some conflict before the wedding, but afterwards it got worse. Much worse.
We argued about which way to put the toilet paper on the rack. Whether or not we’d turn inside-out laundry right side out. How much time I’d spend on my studies. How often we’d see our extended families. How much time we’d spend together and apart. And… you get the idea.
The hardest part, though, was that we didn’t expect all of that. Older, battle-tested couples told us that it wouldn’t be easy, but looking back we didn’t really believe them.
6 Early Marriage Hurdles
But you don’t have to be as naive as we were. Here are some of those early-days-of-marriage hurdles you can anticipate. Later, I’ll talk about how you can handle them in a way that helps you move forward, together.
(A quick note: remember, these are some of the hurdles. Marriage is filled with blessings and (speaking from experience) totally worth it if you find the right person!)
1. Preferences. When you live together, you find out that you do things differently. These aren’t issues of right or wrong, but little things you’ve taken for granted (like the toilet paper) when you were single can become surprising annoyances when you have to work a bunch of them out with someone else.
2. How much time you’ll spend together. Almost invariably, one person needs more alone time than the other. It gets tricky to work out how you’ll spend discretionary time you’ll spend together.
3. Differences in how you spend money. When you get married and share finances, all of a sudden this area comes into focus. Early on, my wife was much more generous than I was, and we had some conflict around that. With limited resources, how we spend money reveals our differences in priorities, which can be painful to work through.
4. Disappointment from experiencing the other person’s flaws. The key word here is ‘experiencing’. Before you’re married, the other person’s weaknesses and flaws can annoy you, but now there’s no escape!
5. Not getting the other person’s best. When you were dating, both of you put your best foot forward every time you were together. More than you probably realized, you were trying to impress each other and willing to do the kinds of things that make a relationship great. Over time, the real you (in all your glory and weakness) gets revealed. Part of this is good, part of this… not so much. But, it happens.
6. Arguments and conflict. When you put two sinners together, fighting of one kind or another is bound to happen. If you grew up in a home where conflict was avoided or swept under the rug, this can be especially discouraging.
I’m sure you can add to this list, but these are some of the things you can expect after tying the knot.
The Million Dollar Question
But the real – the million dollar – question is this: What do you do about all the problems?
This is not an philosophical exercise. You entered into marriage with great expectations, but it’s waaaay harder than you anticipated. You’re frustrated, discouraged and sad. What difference does following Jesus make?
These are the things that helped my wife and I, and the things we share with the couples we meet with.
1. It’s totally normal to have disappointment and conflict. In fact, if you’re not having any a few months into your marriage, you should probably go see your physician: you may be on your deathbed. When two people who are deeply committed to themselves come together, there’s bound to be some eruptions.
2. Look for God’s work in the challenges. God has called you to this marriage and promised to be with you. ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20) applies to your marriage, too. Instead of wishing whatever’s negative would disappear yesterday, start looking for what God is doing in you and your spouse. For example, when my wife and I were fighting daily, God showed me he was exposing how much I wanted everyone (especially my wife) to like me.
3. Look for the issues of your hearts. In Mark 7:14-23, Jesus makes it clear that he’s ultimately concerned with our hearts – our innermost selves. In marriage, as with the rest of life, we tend to look at what we see. The clothes left on the floor, money spent on frivolous things, an inattentive spouse. But Jesus says that all these things come from a heart that is ‘evil’ (see Mark 7:21, 23). When we own that and seek God’s forgiveness and healing, then our behavior starts to change.
3. Pray. We prayed before we got married, but the early challenges we experience there show us how much we really need God. Let that lead you to ask for God’s help, on your own and together with your spouse. It does wonders for your trust to see Him come through time and time again.
4. Listen first. When someone calls us out, our first response is to be defensive. God tells us to do the opposite: ‘let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger’ (James 1:19). When we look for what’s right in what our spouse is saying, we become more like Christ, they feel loved, and our marriage flourishes.
5. Seek forgiveness when you blow it. Like listening, this is difficult, but oh-so-important. Don’t let an offense just fade away… it doesn’t. Ask God to help you be truly sorry for what you did, then go and confess it as soon as you reasonably can.
6. Rely on your friends. Throughout the entire bible, God makes it clear that we need others to do life well. Make sure you’re really connected with other married couples who can understand what you’re facing. Let them in on your joys and challenges and ask them to do the same with you.
7. Find an older, godly couple. Make sure you have an older couple who can encourage you, share some wisdom, and (above all) model for you that God is faithful in the ups-and-downs. Bonus tip: don’t be afraid to get biblical counseling if you’re stuck. My wife and I benefited immensely from this.
8. No magic bullets. The American poet Robert Frost famously said, ‘The best way out is always through’. He was right. The only way to get out of your early marital struggles is to go through them. One conflict, one forgiveness, one listening, one undeserved act of grace at a time. But if you’ll be faithful in the little moments, they add up and you and your spouse will be transformed.
9. Remember what marriage is all about. If those first days of your marriage feel like a mash-up of Disneyland and being lost in the woods, remembering the meaning of marriage is like the North Star. It keeps you on track and serve as a point of reference when life gets disorienting. Remember: your marriage will make you happy at (many) times, but that’s not mainly what it’s for. God’s main purpose for your marriage is to be a living, breathing picture of God’s love for us (Ephesians 5:22-33).
So there you have it: 6 early marriage hurdles, and 9 ways to clear them. I hope that your early days of marriage are filled with lots of bumps in the road so that you see God at work and become more like Christ, together with your spouse.
Let’s live it out: What hurdle are you facing most intensely right now, and, what would help you start to overcome it?