I feel it’s safe to say that every marriage is different. Each is made up of its own quirks and kinks; styles and shapes. So, in thinking about what to write that someone who’s been married for 50 or 20 or three years might not already know, I came up feeling empty handed. However, I do believe there is something unique in the first year or few years of marriage. For each partner, those quirks and styles and kinks and shapes are so new, so foreign, that the intricacies of being a newlywed are … something.
Since I can only speak for B and myself, what we have learned in our first year can only be described as something similar to arriving at a theme park, armed with only a map and each other. In all transparency, at times we found ourselves separated and lost, and frustrated to the point of fighting. But to recover — or in counseling terms “repair” — we would find extensions of grace and exchanges of apologies while sitting along the sidewalk. That said, here are what we believe to be the most valuable pieces of advice:
“I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”
This is perhaps the kind of sage advice to pocket. Blanket advice, if you will. Most specifically to marriage, these words have the power to break the cycle of resentment. I’m a One on the Enneagram, so I’m singing to the choir here. Having come from a background where saying I’m Sorry wasn’t a thing, I have made this central to our marriage and my life. After harsh words or unintentional jabs are exchanged, these words, if used genuinely, open partners up to explain — not defend — and begin repair. And, hey, sometimes saying you’re sorry doesn’t heal the situation. It does, though, like aloe, create room to begin soothing the pain that was induced.
Grace and Repair
Our therapist, Travis, has helped us to avoid the easy escape of sweeping issues beneath the rug. The word “Repair” has become our way of avoiding doing just that, and it is quite the staple for B and me. We were introduced to it as a way to invite ourselves to actually sit and fine-tune after a fight (i.e. cry together, pray, hold one another). Paired with grace in these moments, we tend to really see, hear and know the other as we heal.
Letting Go and Accepting New
B said this advice was especially important for him. When we let go of our old ways and accept a new, mutual way, it benefits both partners. For him, this meant finding a common bedtime, not watching ESPN 24/7, finding similar interests, and choosing to spend time together. This particular one, I think, can feel uncomfortable. It’s where a lot of marriages find their hang-ups; that sense of “I’m losing myself.” But without the work to find commonality, marriage and partnership would be nothing more than having a roommate that you share a bed with.
Cleaning dishes, making the bed, cooking dinner, vacuuming, sweeping, cleaning my nasty hair in the shower, doing laundry and much more – these are the chores that can be considered burdens for many. Mostly, though, B and I are extraordinarily particular (or anal, structured, Type A), so our bed is made every day upon leaving. (Although, I am known to occasionally leave my hairs in the shower.) All that to say, we think it is important to share in these duties. Chores are the small yet mighty acts of showing appreciation to the partnership. Flowers are nice, but how about wiping down the counters, am I right?
This. One. Honestly, friends, we are going into Year Two acknowledging that we did not do this one well in Year One. At many times, we chose going out with friends – which isn’t a bad thing! – than spending time together. We have reaped the misfortunes of sowing our time elsewhere. I won’t go into detail, but ultimately, we found a lack of respect towards our marriage. It was sad and heartbreaking to realize this, but we are glad we did! Now, onto repair and grace.
You Can Only Prepare Yourself for So Much
As a Perfectionist, this piece was the absolute hardest for me. They always say the first year of marriage is the hardest, so I was adamant about perfecting ourselves before it. Spoiler alert: like a bad camping trip, I packed everything and forgot toilet paper. I started by throwing us into pre-marital counseling with Travis within the first month of our engagement. This act, along with Soul Mates at our church and a mentor couple (the fantastic Bryan and Mary Hsueh) made me believe we would have complete preparation for marriage. I really thought we wouldn’t have any issues outside of communication. Well, it turns out that Communication makes up, like, almost everything within marriage. Not only that, but I realized the most important thing of all: there is only so much you can prepare yourself for. What we learned in pre-marital counseling was specific to that season. What we have learned in our first year is specific to marriage. One cannot over-prepare themselves for something as serious as marriage. Marriage is something to be gently held and tended to; to learn and grow with.
Truly, the design of marriage is to grow with one another. Growing is not an easy process, either. This transformation can be both painful and fun. B has taught me so much about myself. The Lord has used him to soften the edges of myself and show me the beauty of a budget. In return, I have shown him the beauty of plant life. I no longer remember life without him. Learning to communicate well is a dance that led us all over the floor and into walls and taking breaks. But by the guidance, love, and grace of a good God and community of friends, we had a sturdy place to lean onto and remained steadfast to see each other through.
There is nothing quite like marriage and the partnership that comes with it. We will not and cannot forget all that Year One taught us. If anything, we are walking into Year Two with an excitement to hop on the rides and have fun and to get a little lost with each other as we find new routes.