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. Let’s talk about the hurdles you can expect, and how to handle them so that your marriage thrives. (Even if you’ve been married for awhile, a refresh never hurts!)
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. 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.
5 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 you went home at the end of the night. Now, there’s no escape! Also, when you were dating, you were trying to impress each other, and willing to do the kinds of things that make a relationship great. Over time, you discover that this wasn’t sustainable, and, that you’re both more selfish than you realized.
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.
How To Overcome Your Early-Marriage Hurdles
But what do you do about all the problems? 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 for premarital counseling.
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 check your pulse. When two people who are deeply committed to themselves come together, there’s bound to be some eruptions. Adjusting our expectations helps a lot.
Look for God’s work in the challenges
‘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 my deep insecurity and lack of resting in the gospel.
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, we tend to focus on what we can see. Like an angry comment or ongoing disrespect. But Jesus says that 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.
We prayed before we got married, but the early challenges we experienced there showed 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 our trust to see Him come through time and time again, and helps us develop spiritual intimacy as a couple.
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.
Seek forgiveness when you blow it
Don’t let an offense blow over… 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.
Rely on your friends
God makes it clear that we need others to do life well. Make sure you’re really connected with other couples of a similar age and marital stage. Let them in on your joys and challenges and invite them to do the same with you.
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. And don’t be afraid to get biblical counseling if you’re stuck.
No magic bullets
The American poet Robert Frost famously said, ‘The only way out is 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 undeserved act of grace at a time. If you’ll be faithful in the little moments, they add up and your marriage will be transformed.
Remember what marriage is all about
When things get rough, 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. Your marriage will make you happy at (many) times, but that’s not mainly what it’s for. God’s primary 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: 5 early marriage hurdles, and 10 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.
Questions for reflection:
- What hurdle are you facing most intensely right now?
- What would help you begin to overcome it?