They say everyone gets a honeymoon period at the start of your marriage, but whoever brandished that idea: I want a refund.
Marriage is hard work right out of the gate. Our sentimental ideas about romance get tossed out very, very quickly — and I want you to be ready. Everyone told me what to expect, but no matter how much you prepare, it’s still a jump in the deep end. The more you know about what’s coming, the quicker you can stand on your two feet.
I know that marriage isn’t for everyone (contrary to our culture, singleness is not an illness), but whether you’re not in the dating scene or you’ve been married for years, here are three things I learned instantly in the first week of marriage. These lessons could be valuable and necessary for our entire journey.
1) Marriage pulls down the hologram and brings about the gritty reality of your spouse (and yourself too).
My wife and I dated for six years before we were married, and in those six years, I have never heard her pass gas once. I would constantly tell her that it was okay, but my wife was dead-set on maintaining an air of elegance. No pun intended.
About four days into the marriage, on a wonderful crisp morning in Florida, I asked my wife, “Are you boiling eggs?”
She said, “No. I’m not boiling eggs.”
“Are the sprinklers on outside?”
“No. The sprinklers are not on.”
“But then what’s that sm—”
And it hit me. Pun intended.
[By the way, I have my wife’s permission to share this story. I’m proud to say that she now regularly passes gas around me with the most exuberant freedom.]
In dating, we’re often on our best behavior. It’s like a job interview, where both sides show off their impressive benefits and credentials. In marriage, you see the rough, raw edges of the entire person. Marriage creates perhaps the closest proximity you will ever have with another human being. You’ll see every insecurity and neurotic tendency. There will be friction.
This is more than just about keeping up a pretty image.
It’s also a way of learning how to love an entire person and not just the parts that you like.
In Timothy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage, he discusses how we each have fault lines in our hearts, like the cracks of a great bridge. These fault lines get exposed when we collide with another person, so that we spill anger or jealousy or anxiety. A married couple, because they’re so close in space, will inevitably drive a truck through each other’s hearts: which exposes all the fault lines. Deep-seated flaws will shake out of us like shaking a tree in the autumn. It’s in this exposure that we can choose to face our flaws, so that they would be re-shaped by the love we share. The sooner, the better.
You’ll also see every dream, hope, talent, passion, and ambition in your spouse. You’ll see what lights them up and gets them excited. This means that marriage is often about showing grace for your spouse’s worst and promoting their very best. Love sees a greatness in someone who cannot see it in themselves. And if marriage is one of the most intimate unions in the universe, then it has the power to encourage a person beyond their self-imposed limits. Though this can happen in many types of relationships, marriage offers a profound intensity to spiritual growth. Finally, we can pull down our holograms of who we pretend to be, and actually become the people we were meant to be.
2) Marriage means your stuff isn’t your stuff anymore.
In our first week, we didn’t fly off to the honeymoon, which was another two weeks away. We spent time unpacking, opening wedding gifts, frolicking in our new home, and merging our lives together. About five days in, I wanted to meet up a friend to hang out, one of the groomsmen in the wedding.
I neglected to tell this to my wife. This is one of those very obvious things that I should’ve known from the get-go: but in my defense, I’m an idiot.
Marriage is about Two-As-One, as We instead of Me. My time was no longer my own. It was our time. Our things. Our bank account. Our bed. Again, this sounds obvious, but I’ve spoken with so many singles and unmarried couples who were dismayed at the idea of splitting a life in half. No one is quite prepared to completely surrender unilateral decisions. We quickly learn why Apostle Paul compared our relationship with God to the marriage union — because we are entrusting our will to another.
The wonderful advantage is that rather than “splitting in half,” it actually feels more like a merging of strength. Our individual abilities can make up for each other’s weaknesses. Our knowledge and our view on life is suddenly augmented with an entirely new angle. By the end of the week, I was figuring out what she would want and why, which helped my tiny brain to open to new avenues I had never considered.
While both dating and engagement can offer the benefit of unified minds, the promise of marriage solidifies an active undercurrent of cooperation. There’s now a lifelong goal: for the health of the couple, and not what works for “me,” but for We. What works for you as an individual might be good, but what works for the couple turns out to be great. It’s not half plus half, nor is it one plus one, but with grace and synergy equates to an exponential growth of each other’s hearts.
3) Marriage means there’s nowhere to run: except towards each other.
Our first argument in the first week was different than any argument we ever had.
When we were dating, our conflicts were always able to be delayed. A few days of separation could cool us off. The problems might come back, but a little bit of distance smoothed things over. We could just bury it and move on.
Now we have no such apparatus.
No buffer, no denial, no escape.
We could either go to bed angry, or we would have to wrestle with our exposed demons all the way to resolution.
For those who are more likely to avoid confrontation, this proves extremely troubling. If you’re like me and you absolutely need to resolve things on the spot, it can still prove difficult, because you’ll end up defending yourself in the most tone-deaf ways possible. It’s all rather very embarrassing when we realize how bad we are at the Rules of Engagement.
We had to figure out a system. We had to know what words we would never, ever use. If we were going to fight, we would have to fight fair, with no low blows and no dragging up the past against each other. None of this is a perfect process. The initial start of a conflict will never be smooth; our first reactions are always emotional because it feels like your own value is at stake.
It’s in these moments that my wife and I had to learn to seek an end-point to our arguments. The beginning would always be rough, but with enough humility and self-awareness, we could run towards intimacy instead of towards an exit. This kind of spousal love is not only a means to an end, but the end itself.
We’ve discovered that when confrontation has a direction, it’s always an opportunity to grow.
And if a guy like me can learn these things: I guarantee you, we all can.