By Leah Arthur, Crosswalk.com
My husband Ian and I reach one year of marriage this weekend, and it feels like a huge milestone. My first thought is, wow that went by fast! My second thought looking over our past year together is how proud I am of how we've grown in our relationship and how amazed I am at what the Lord has done in just one year. I always knew I loved Ian, but the covenant of marriage has the power to make two people even more unified; you truly become one and come to know your spouse as well as you know yourself (if not better). You see your spouse's lowest moments when frustration or anger gets the best of them, habits that irritate you, and sins they are struggling with. In the same way, you get a front-row seat to their triumphs, successes, and admirable moments of strength and character. You continue to see why you fell in love with them at the very beginning.
God's design for marriage is truly beautiful, and until you enter it, it remains mostly a mystery. Until I did, that's exactly how I felt. Every couple with advice would joke about how you'll eventually fall into mindless "Yes, dears" and "You're always right." Others would end their "It's absolutely wonderful" speech with just enough sprinkle of "But it's hard, too." Beyond that, it felt like a room of secrets hidden beyond a veil. Until you enter it, you just don't know what marriage is like. And I think that's true. The best way I’ve heard it explained is two imperfect people who are perfect for each other coming together in a flawed world to seek to selflessly love each other in order to honor one another and God and reflect that love to those around them.
But how does it work? What does that look like lived out? What are practical things to know going into marriage? Many of my single friends have asked me what advice I have after getting married, and I always take a second to think. So, after a lot of thinking, here is a compilation of eight things I've learned one year into marriage.
1. Don't Take All the Advice You Hear
This might seem counterintuitive to this article, so hear me out. When Ian and I were first engaged, everyone had something to say. And while we gladly welcomed most of it, now looking back, we realize that we let it skew our expectations. Everyone advises based on their very specific experiences and circumstances. Every couple is distinct and struggles with different things. Of course, it is great to seek wisdom, but know that ultimately, the best advice and guidance come straight from God's Word. Couples may claim to have the "secret" to a lasting and joyous marriage, which could be excellent advice to heed, but still know that you will figure things out together in your marriage. You will figure out what habits grow you closer together, what activities keep you feeling connected, and how you manage communication and disagreements. Take advice, but don't treat it as inerrant Scripture; give yourselves grace if your experiences don't match those of others.
2. Fight Sin Together, Not Your Partner
"Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you." Ephesians 4:32
This is one of the most significant things I took away from premarital counseling. All of us struggle with certain sins and temptations, and they will absolutely leak into your marriage – don't fool yourself by thinking they won't. When your partner falls short and is found in sin, you have two options. You can fly off the handle, give them the cold shoulder, and dwell in your bitterness and hurt. Or, you can meet them with Christ's love and help pull them out of the pit of shame. It's not easy to do, and you may just want to have that time alone to feel hurt before addressing your spouse's sinful habits. This is okay – in many cases, you have every right to feel hurt and let down. This may even be exactly what your spouse needs to witness in order to break the shackles of sin they are stuck in! But ultimately, we are called to forgive as Christ has forgiven us and to come alongside our husband or wife in their struggle. They will most likely feel embarrassed and ashamed the first time your "honeymoon phase" is slapped across the face with this reality of our sinful nature. Meet them there and assure them that your love is not faltering. One of the greatest gifts a spouse can give is forgiveness, unconditional love, and bringing sin into the light. When we remind each other of the gospel's truth and openly discuss our struggles, Satan's grasp is loosened. He thrives in our shame but cowers in the light of forgiveness.
3. Plan and Save, But Also Be Spontaneous
This mainly applies to newlyweds, but it is so true! Now, depending on how you each handled money coming into your relationship, you may fall into the realm of penny-pinching or mindless shopping sprees. If you find yourselves leaking money and having trouble figuring out finances, you may need to buckle down and attend a financial class or ask another couple how they budget first. But once you find your balance, it's important to be spontaneous every now and then. Allow yourselves to go to a nice dinner, take that trip you won't be able to go on once you have kids running around, and treat each other to sweet surprises. You will never have as few responsibilities as you do early on into marriage, so enjoy it.
4. Go on Dates
Yes, now you spend every evening together, and it's lovely, but that can quickly turn into binge-watching a TV show and doing the same routine each week. Date like you used to. Get dressed up, surprise your spouse by scooping them up for an outing you planned, or make a list of places to explore together. Some couples will say that simply doing the laundry together counts as a date, and if that's true for you, then great! But there is something intentional about keeping each other on your toes and staying connected through dating. It can be difficult with busy schedules, but you will never regret the time and effort you put into planning dates.
It's a great time to de-stress, get away from work, and have a heart check with your partner. Laugh together. See how they are really doing. Talk about what you're looking forward to in the upcoming months. Discuss how you think your marriage is going and how you've felt loved this past week. Communication and honesty are the foundation of any relationship. If you tend to bottle in your feelings and passively show anger to your spouse, this can lead to resentment, bitterness, and unresolved issues that come up in the future.
Having this time set apart where you're not just going over business things to attend to is critical to a healthy and flourishing marriage.
I gave a gift to my husband over a year ago that keeps on giving, and it's perfect if you and your spouse struggle to come up with ideas for date night. I found a mini mason jar and wrote various things on slips of paper: "free back massage," "let's have dinner at your favorite spot," "movie night of your pick," "turn this in when you need a good hug," etc. Once we got married and moved to a different place, I took out the tiny slips that mentioned specific spots in our old town and simply replaced them with current restaurants, museums, and activities we enjoy here. You can also put in favors or flirty messages. It can create a thrill of getting to choose a paper at random when you need some inspiration.
5. Set Boundaries and Establish Yourself as a Family Unit
"Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." Genesis 2:24
I cannot stress how important this is in a new marriage. It's also one of the trickiest aspects to navigate. You may have parents that respect the new family unit you and your spouse have created, but chances are, this will take time. They are still used to having their son or daughter home and involved. It's hard for many parents to let go. It can be equally as hard for newlyweds to truly "leave and cleave," but it is a part of God's design and necessary if you want a healthy marriage. While setting boundaries can be uncomfortable, it is also crucial. It was an adjustment for me to realize I didn't answer to my parents anymore. I answer to my husband and make decisions with him. We run ideas by one another and ultimately do what is best for our relationship – and that is how it is supposed to be.
Just as, if not more important than physical boundaries, is emotional boundaries. This will look different in every relationship, but I have seen some situations where the lack of boundaries with family tears marriages apart. Spouses need to feel that they are the new top priority and that their marriage is not being put on the sidelines. They need to feel honored, defended, and supported in every decision. This could lead to difficult conversations with family, but it is an inevitable topic to navigate in every relationship. Parents and their children can mutually offer respect, honesty, and a willingness to grow.
On the topic of family, you can be a blessing to your spouse by putting effort into getting to know them. Prioritizing equal time can also be one of the greatest gifts to your parents. Parents can quickly feel hurt and second-best when they feel pushed out of the picture; don't let this happen. Make a plan for holidays, whether that's Thanksgiving with one side and Christmas with the other or splitting between both. In-law relationships are often depicted as strained and competitive, but they don't have to be.
If you or your spouse comes from a broken family, pray with each other. Pray for healing and God's intervention where hurt or bitterness lies. He is a faithful God capable of softening hearts of stone.
6. Get Involved at Church
This is an integral part of marriage – entering kingdom work together. My husband and I met through a Christian ministry in college, so serving together seemed natural. We both served on the worship team, went on a mission trip together, took on leadership roles, and worked at a Christian summer camp. Once we were graduated and married, we had to find our roots again in a new city and a new church. We decided not to over-commit in the first six months of marriage, which I would recommend to any new couple. It allowed us to adjust to the new routine of sharing life and focus on each other. After that time, though, we looked for ways to serve in the church and get plugged into community. It takes time, but we need to be poured into as believers. We need encouragement, fellowship, and accountability.
So serve together. Join a small group. Volunteer to work in the children's ministry. Make friends as a couple. You have each other, but isolation can be a stale place. Talk about politics, things going on in the world, and the sermon. See where you agree with your spouse and where your ideas differentiate. If you have gone or are going through premarital counseling, you've probably touched on these topics, but build upon your foundation and talk about real things in life.
Related: 5 Ways to Serve as a Couple
7. Speak Well of Your Spouse and Keep Some Things Private
Have you ever heard someone talk ill of their spouse? Maybe they mention how long it took them to get ready that morning, how they failed at a simple recipe, or how they're not as handy as other husbands. It may seem small and harmless, but it can be embarrassing for our spouses. How we talk about each other in public matters. I have never beamed as much as when I overhear my husband in another conversation proudly explaining what I do for work. Just as we ought to talk highly about one another, some things should stay within a marriage–arguments, your sex life, your plans for the future, etc. You can share certain information with trusted friends, but there is a point that it's unnecessary oversharing, and you should never break trust with your spouse. Keep some things sacred and between you two.
8. Don't Live in Fear of the Hard Days
Ian and I recently realized that we haven't had any big "fights." We've had miscommunications and deep hurt, but we've always found a way to talk through it and resolve it. Knowing a lot of other newlyweds who have found their first year to be especially difficult, we started feeling on edge, wondering when we'd eventually break and fall into the inevitable bickering of marriage every seasoned couple talks about. Admitting that we both felt an ominous nervousness waiting for the "hard days" ahead, we decided not to live in fear of it.
Take it day by day. Seek to love your person each day and continually die to self. Pray for a patient and gracious heart. The petty argument over clothes on the floor often isn't worth it. If both people have a mindset of selflessness and service, the relationship as a whole will be better for it.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/jacoblund
Leah Arthur is the Family Editor of Crosswalk.com. She graduated from James Madison University with a B.A. in English and minors in Creative Writing and Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication.