As of today, I've been married to my incredible husband for eight months. I have learned so much already and I'm prepping myself for a lifetime of learning because the marriage of two imperfect people is beautiful and messy, all at the same time. Being a newlywed is exciting and challenging, and worth all of the effort. Here are eight things I've learned in my first eight months of marriage that I thought I would share (in no particular order):
1. Marriage reveals all of your weaknesses. Authors Gary and Betsy Ricucci once said, "One of the best wedding gifts God gave you was a full-length mirror called your spouse. Had there been a card attached, it would have said, 'Here's to helping you discover what you're really like!'"
Though tough to stomach at times, the mirror-like quality of marriage is one of the things that makes it so beautiful. Seeing and addressing our weaknesses push us to become better versions of ourselves. In an amazing book my husband and I are reading together, Sacred Marriage, the author speaks about how marriage encourages us to become more like Christ. Part of becoming more like Christ is working on the categories of life where we're a bit more challenged. This process isn't easy and it doesn't happen over night (or even over years and years in some cases), but with each step we take away from our weaker selves, we take a step closer to being more like Christ.
2. The transition from being single to married is not seamless. I got married after years of being financially, mentally and spiritually independent. My husband and I did not live together, have sex or share finances (except a cell phone plan) until we got married. The transition from being self-sufficient and independent to being in a full-time, one-flesh partnership is not seamless and there's a big learning curve. Spouses have to learn how to make physical and spiritual decisions together, and set vision and goals for their lives as a couple instead of only pursuing personal goals. In a Christian marriage, husbands have to learn how to lead and operate as the head of the household, and wives have to learn how to let their husbands lead*. "We" has to become more important than "I," and that transition can be messy, but it's ultimately very rewarding as couples learn to operate as a team. (*Note: This arrangement doesn't look a specific way and doesn't involve husbands lording over their wives or wives remaining quietly submissive - each couple learns what this looks like for them, just thought I'd clarify!)
3. The level of honesty required in marriage is borderline uncomfortable. I'm a very open and honest person, hence why I share my thoughts and struggles publicly for all to see in the hope that I will help someone in some way. However, the level of honesty required for a successful marriage has been super uncomfortable for me at times, and learning how to communicate personal struggles and issues effectively to my husband is challenging. Part of that challenge stems from the basic task of learning how to communicate my very feminine-and-firey heart to my very masculine-and-firey hearted husband, and the other part stems from the general fear of vulnerability that we all face. I'm learning how to be more open and less afraid of complete vulnerability with my husband, but I'm still working on it.
4. A fulfilling sex life requires effort. Sex isn't discussed among Christians enough in my opinion, but in a culture that twists, perverts and obsesses over sexuality, the Church should be discussing it more. Two of the best teachings I've heard about married sex are from Francie Winslow, The Ripple Effect of Sex: An Invitation to More in Your Marriage and Sex, Sexuality, Marriage, and the God Who Called It All Good. Francie discusses the power of a healthy sex life in Christian marriages and how sex is God's gift to us that brings physical and emotional closeness, and spiritual unity, which then has a ripple effect that can positively impact our families and even our communities. Her story is fantastic and she lives the truths she shares. (Seriously, if you're married these teachings are so good.) However, as Francie points out and as all married couples know, a fulfilling sex life requires effort and planning and giving. Our lives are busy and packed full, with days that start shortly before or after sunrise and are bustling until sundown. These days drain our energy, often to the detriment of our sex lives (and even to our marriages). Spouses have to make a like-minded commitment to developing a fulfilling sex life and regularly making time to be intimate, because if we don't make that intentional effort days turn into weeks, and weeks turn into months or years without physical connection. Learning how to effectively communicate and discuss sex is an important key to making sex a fun and significant part of a marriage.
5. Marriage requires fierce loyalty and commitment. I grew up in a home where divorce was a reality. However, when I entered marriage I slowly realized that I couldn't allow divorce to be an option and I had take it off the table, barring extreme situations that I have deemed "grounds for divorce." I had to make a decision to dig in my heels and push through tough spots, both during our first few months and forever after that.
Being married is not easy - in fact, being single is much easier than being married. But my husband and I made a salted covenant to commit our lives in service and love to God and each other. Culturally, this commitment often doesn't mean much, but I decided that for me it needed to mean everything. I would never dare judge anyone for choosing to divorce because that's not my role or heart, and I know how un-Godly and toxic marriages can become. A long time ago, I decided I wanted an Ephesians 5 marriage and I am willing to fight for it. Most days, maintaining my commitment to be all-in in my marriage is easy because I married an incredible man. However, when my heart is hurting deeply, that commitment can become clouded by my pain. In those moments, I have to work extra hard to humble myself to God and renew my heart back to thankfulness for providing me an incredible, strong, loving, smart, funny, handsome and perfectly imperfect man with whom I get to do life.
6. Counseling with other successful married couples is invaluable. If you are married, you will experience challenges. Sometimes, the best way to face these challenges is by getting a successfully married coupled involved that you trust to provide wise counsel (or just a dose of sanity). My husband and I are blessed to have a few married couples who have been married longer than us and who we trust to provide us wise, sound and Godly counsel in situations we've had trouble navigating. So often, couples seek counseling as a reactive measure after years of built-up bitterness and hurt. I'm a huge advocate for more proactive counseling, which prevents that bitterness and hurt from piercing our hearts too deeply and allows love to be restored much more quickly.
7. Marriage to a person requires a deeper relationship with God. A tendency many people have is to make their spouses their sufficiencies (myself included at times). This means they seek complete support, confidence and fulfillment from their spouse. The problem with this is that we marry imperfect people who let us down, hurt us and annoy us sometimes. This is why a deeper relationship with God is required, because in our own weaknesses and in our spouse's weaknesses, God is our strength and sufficiency. God doesn't call us to cast our burdens on our spouses, pray to our spouses or to find our confidence in our spouses. He asks us to give our burdens and prayers to Him, and to find our confidence in Him (1 John 5:14, Hebrews 4:16). The most loving thing I can do for my husband and that he can do for me is to give each other the space to grow, not holding each other to impossible standards, loving each other big, showing a lot of grace and leaning on God during tough moments.
8. Marriage is the best thing in the world. The best decision I ever made, besides committing my life to God, was committing my life to my husband. Marriage is the best thing in the world (or can be, if you're humble enough to allow it). Marriage is fun and exciting and beautiful and funny. Marriage is also full of challenges, requires a lot of effort and is messy. Marriage has made me and will continue to make me a better person because of the humility, love and gratitude required to keep it healthy. I'm not perfect and neither is my marriage, but I wouldn't trade it (or my hubby) for anything in the world.