The first year of marriage

 

Why is the first year of marriage so hard?

“So, how’s married life?”

It was a question we were asked hundreds of times in that first year. It was a question that always left me feeling a little bereft as to what to say.

The truth is, our first year of marriage was hard. Very hard. Not because we’d made a mistake, not because I regretted the decision, not because I wanted out. Even though I was sure we’d chosen right and wanted in – it was still hard.

We may have been in love, but we hadn’t yet begun to learn how to love one another well. We hadn’t yet begun to learn that beyond the declarations of love and commitment comes the daily study of learning what your spouse likes, and deeper than that – how your spouse thinks.

I cried. A lot. Tears of frustration. Tears of pain. Tears of despair. Tears of martyrdom, spilled out on my pillow before sleep finally came: “Oh God, I promised to love him even if this means feeling this way fore-eh-eh-eh- (sob)-ver…zzzz”

There was no particular sin or problem that made it hard. It wasn’t that we were mismatched. It was more just that it was painful to figure out the changes. I think the most honest thing we were able to say about that first year was that it was “a big adjustment“. Here are some of the things that were hard for us to adjust:

It was hard to change our expectations of how time together was spent. When we were dating and engaged, our time together was spent “TOGETHER”, and then we went home to our respective houses and did our alone-time things alone. But once we were married, was time at home together time, or alone time? How did we figure that out? I expected marriage to feel more like an extended low-fuss date. I think he expected it more to feel like alone time, except with me in the house. It was painful for both of us to figure that out.

We suffered from decision-making fatigue. Before we were married, we had to decide on a few things together, and we figured we were pretty good at making those decisions. But once we were married, we discovered that every part of every day and every routine in every chore needed now to be decided on: we didn’t want to presume to do it “his” way or “my” way, so that meant having to have conversation after conversation about what “our” way was going to be. When should we eat dinner? what to eat for dinner? Who will do what prep and cooking for dinner? How long after dinner is it acceptable to wait before doing the dishes? Should washed dishes be dried and put away at once, or left to drip dry until morning? None of these questions was important, but much like the fatigue of a group of friends all trying to decide on a place to go for dinner and the conversation just goes and goes and goes because no-one wants to decide for the group, or the fatigue of a 4
-year olds’ “why”…. we were tired.

Another complicating factor was that it was hard to figure out our social obligations. While dating, I had a large circle of (mostly single) friends, with whom I spent about half the nights of the week. Once
married, what happened to those friendships? I wanted to keep those friendships and not be the friend-who-dropped-off-the-face-of-the-earth once she got married, but I couldn’t leave my hubby alone at home 3 nights a
week, and I couldn’t always just invite my girl friends to our house: they were my friends after all, and while they liked him they didn’t exactly want to bare their souls to my new hubby.

And so I did what all nice-girls-in-a-bind do: I cried. In private.

Would telling the truth about it being hard that first year have been understood? Would it have been seen as betrayal? Betrayal to my husband, or to the idealized notion of marriage? At the time it felt like it might be both.

And so one night, when an older, wiser friend asked: “So, how’s married life?”, and then followed it up immediately with, “It’s hard, isn’t it?”, I just about sobbed with relief. It was hard. It was such a relief to say it. And you know what? It got better. That first year wasn’t all terrible, but to be honest – it wasn’t all great.

I have friends who have had most wonderful first years of marriage. I’m so happy for them. But I just wanted to put in writing that it was not so with us. Just in case there’s anyone out there, whether in year 1 or year 4 or year 14, who feels this marriage gig is HARD and I-didn’t-expect-this and am-I-doing-something-wrong? and will-I-always-feel-like-this? and I-don’t-regret-this-but-I’m-still-crying-all-the-time…

Just in case that’s you, I wanted to say: “So how’s married life? It’s HARD, isn’t it?”

I know. We struggled through it, and we came through the stronger for it. You can too.

You might be interested in this post over at Start Marriage Right: Why we ditched the “young marrieds” groups

Never mind good vs evil, the real battle is good vs best.

We all face analysis paralysis, but maybe the 'best' choice is sometimes the

A very wise man once said: “the Good is the greatest enemy of the Best.”

I took his advice to heart, and thought about how I had filled my life and schedule up with things… GOOD things. I said yes to oh-so-many opportunities to do good here, to be a good friend there, to invest in a good cause now, and my life was crammed with Good. So much good, in fact, that I had no space for the Best things. I began the slow process of learning that just because something was good didn’t mean I had to do it. I could say no to a good opportunity, even a great one, if it meant I was protecting the space for the Best.

Learning that the Good is the greatest enemy of the Best has been a help and comfort. It has given clarity where I was confused, courage to say no when guilt and wanting-to-be-liked pressured me to say yes.

Recently, though, I’ve been thinking that perhaps I’ve over-stretched that little phrase. Because sometimes, it’s okay to just do the good. Sometimes, the good really is “good enough”. It doesn’t have to be the best.

When we’re deciding what to do on a Saturday, we don’t have to scour every possible option, consider every possible weather forecast, weigh every possible outcome. Spending an hour online to find the “best” thing to do is an hour we didn’t spend doing a good thing – like snuggling on the couch with a book. Or talking a walk down to the park with our squirming little ones. Or playing twister.

My Genius-With-Numbers husband has a name for this: optimization functions. It is his job to calculate all the possible permutations of a problem, and work out which is THE best, the MOST efficient, the MOST productive of the array of solutions. For engineers, it works well. For us at home, I’m beginning to find it a little crippling. It is just about impossible for me to find the time or the energy to find the BEST gift, the BEST dump-truck shaped birthday cake, the BEST recipe for Spinach. I cannot optimize every part of my children’s existence. When it comes to day to day decisions, the Best has become the enemy of the Good.

In our over-photographed and Pinteresty age, we are terrorized by the Best. What if there was something better, and we missed it? What if there was a cheaper deal? A more highly rated hotel? A dance class with a better student-to-teacher ratio? What if??

But what if, in my desire to find the best, I missed out on a world of good? What if my lop-sided cake, served with my full attention and a dose of laughter, is good enough?

I’m rethinking the Good and the Best. I’ve learned that I sometimes need to say no to good things to leave room for the best. But now I’m learning that I need to say no to my need for things to be the “best”, so that I can love that which is good.

And that, dear friends, is good enough. In fact, I’m thinking this might be the best decision I’ve made for a while.

photo credit: coachdayne.com

The pros and cons of having kids

Once upon a time we were a young, married couple.

Young, married couples in the 18th century knew that a decision to get married meant you were signing up for the marriage -> sex -> children package. The three came together.

But these days, the decision to get married, the decision to have sex and the decision to have kids seem to be regarded as three separate (and not necessarily related) decisions.

Being in the Christian camp, we knew that marriage and sex ought to go together. But what about whether to have kids?

And so this young, married couple did what we had been taught to do when making hard decisions: we made a pro and con list.

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The con list looked something like this:

* we haven’t been married for very long.

* we have almost no money.

* we know nothing about raising kids.

* what if I don’t LIKE my children?

* what if that means we won’t be able to do ‘ministry’ anymore?

It was a scary list of cons. Looking at the list, it seemed that perhaps all we had heard from other lets-wait-to-have-kids couples was right: to have children would be irresponsible and unwise.

But as we thought and prayed and thought and prayed, this one thing appeared in the list of “pros”: God says children are a blessing.

“Children are a blessing and a gift from the LORD.” – Psalm 127:3 (CEV)

I was undone.  Who was I to be making lists of pros and cons, when God had directly said they were a “pro”?

When I revisited my list of pros and cons, it began to look suspiciously like a “fear” and “faith” decision:

Cons (i.e. Fears):

* A fear that we would have less fun and miss out as a married couple (i.e. an underlying belief that children DETRACT from fun and fulfillment)

* A fear that we wouldn’t have enough and that God would not provide.

* A fear that we wouldn’t know what to do and that God would not give wisdom.

* A fear that ‘ministry’ as I saw and valued it, would be lost…

Pros (i.e. Faith):

* Children are a blessing and a gift from the Lord.

As I stared at my list again, Mark 4:40 came to mind:

“He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

We scrapped the list, took a deep breath, and threw away the birth control pills.

And you know what? Six years down the line we could fill that “pro” list up with 500 things and still keep counting. Children are a blessing. Indeed.

You may also like:  The first year of marriage…  and  You know you’re a mom if….