This post is written from the perspective of a 30-something-year-old Christian woman from the U.S. who is married to a 30-something-year-old Christian man from the U.K and got married less than six months before the start of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
If you missed the first installment of the lessons I learned during my first year of marriage, you can read it here.
7. Maintain parts of your life that you had before you were married
Obviously, I don’t mean going out on dates, checking people out, flirting and starting new friendships with someone of the opposite sex. I’m talking about maintaining existing, long-term friendships, hobbies, routines, trips, traditions and things of that nature that you did before you got into a relationship with your partner (provided -and hopefully!- you were able to keep them up before marriage).
What I’m really talking about with this lesson is to keep pursuing your hobbies – both old and new-, maintaining good, healthy relationships, networking, alone time, things that only you enjoy and would be perfectly happy doing by yourself. And you know your partner wouldn’t feel like they would be missing out. Maybe this is easier for people from more individualistic cultures (US, UK, Canada, Australia, etc) to do rather than family-oriented (group mindset) cultures (African countries, Spain, Latin America and Philippines just to name a few).
Regardless of your family and culture of origin, this is a reminder that you will be creating your own family and subculture (or blended culture in our case). At the very beginning of your marriage, you will be blending the lives of people from two different families of origin, two different ways of doing things, two different styles of problem-solving and two different personalities. It’s only natural that you both will not approach a household task the same way (or from the same angle seeing as I’m right-handed, diestra, and my husband is left-handed, zurdo).
The most important thing you need to keep in mind is that you are two very different individuals who decided they wanted to share and steer their lives in the same direction, for as long as you both shall live. But you are first and foremost individuals, with different life purposes and personal goals.
You both will have lots of common interests and values (otherwise why did you get married in the first place?) but you naturally can’t share every interest or hobby together. And one of the biggest red flags in a dating relationship is seeing the person you’re dating say “yes,” to everything you want to do.
Or vice versa.
You’re the one saying yes to anything and everything you can.
(But do say yes to supporting or at least tolerating your partner’s all-time favorite football team!)
Don’t change your hobbies, interests or personality just to make someone love you. You’ll end up losing yourself and the true essence of who you are and no relationship, even a seemingly good one, is worth that sacrifice.
8. You will get out what you put into the relationship
Want more intimacy or transparency? Show your partner more vulnerability first and you’ll find it will naturally be reciprocated to you in time.
Comparison will steal your joy, especially early on. It’s best not to even entertain the idea that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.
Does social media not try and trick us to think it is, though?
It most certainly does.
A former pastor of mine gave me some great advice when it came to wanting to go deeper in a relationship. He told me that in order to receive more transparency and intimacy from someone, you have to show it first. And the more you are transparent, the more the person who you’re with will be too.
It’s important to be on the same page in terms of affection, intimacy and social life but also be aware of what your partner doesn’t like. And what triggers them. You’ll have the same reaction if you also approach this from a negative angle. If you’re always cranky or snap at your husband, he will likely play off your reaction and attitude and snap back at you. We have a rule in our kitchen – which we keep 99% of the time – that if one of us is feeling nervous or rushed, we stop what we’re doing and take a breather. It is a great way for us to connect with one another in the present moment and help each other forget about the current stress of the cooking process around us. And it can certainly be applied to other areas of your life.
We oftentimes focus a little too much on someone else’s advice or just getting advice from our friends about how to solve the different problems life throws at us. The best and most effective way you can have an impact on your marriage relationship is to work harder on becoming a better version of yourself and showing your partner what exactly it is that you need in order to be at your best. In turn, working on yourself and becoming a more mature and healthy adult will have nothing but positive effects on your relationship.
9. The beginning of a marriage relationship consists of joining and blending two lives together – literally
The beginning of your marriage often consists of working out things you both lived through separately and then the longer you are married, the more you will have shared or joint experiences together.
This one lesson is why some couples discuss expectations and “assign” household duties during pre-marital counseling. It’s likely some of your household chores and pet peeves won’t get discussed throughout your dating or engagement period. But if you’re a good communicator, you might bring up those topics intentionally.
We discussed expectations in pre-marital counseling and in hindsight, I am really glad we did. However, that did not resolve the internal expectations or fantasies of love and marriage that I had subconsciously stored in the back of my mind thanks to Hollywood. The first year (and thanks to a global pandemic blowing apart half of it) was really full of moments where I had to come to grips with the reality of married life. It is exactly that – real life!
Very rarely will feel like you’re a goddess sitting on the couch with a summer breeze gently drifting in from the open window while you eat grapes and watch the most romantic, heartfelt movie together. It’s likely that the small and spontaneous things will become big things in your lives.
Of all the things I’ve said here, just remember and remind yourself that these things take time. Strong and incredibly fulfilling relationships where you can be your true self take time to develop. There’s no way around it! And if anyone tries to tell you a shortcut you can use, you will likely get ripped off and will cheat yourself of a deeper connection.
We hit some sort of groove about three to four months in with a household routine and got used to seeing each other every day, whereas previously that wasn’t normal for us. The time it takes to adapt will depend on each individual person involved. The key thing is this: don’t rush yourself. That’s one of the best things you can do for yourself as a new wife, give yourself space and time to adapt to your new life. We only later got shaken to the core and thrown out of whack mid-March 2020 only to redo and reshape both our routines and lives so…
Be flexible and open to change! These two things will only help the process of blending your two lives, regardless of where you are in life. And set and change boundaries with friends and family so you can start your marriage off in the very best way that you can. It will save you a lot of grief, trust me.
10. The more life you experience together, the stronger and deeper your love will grow
You have things you bring into the marriage at first and then, later on, you will experience things together while being married – or things that happen to and test your love and marriage. And trust me when I say anything can happen to you…even a global pandemic.
Since September 2020, and just days before our first anniversary, a new form of counseling entered our lives. We’ve been attending a monthly event called “Monthly Live Date Night” by a Christian, licensed therapist couple called Dear Young Married Couple. The start time of the event is 5 pm PST but that’s 2 am CET/Spain time so needless to say, we don’t attend live. However, we have created a routine where one Friday a month my husband cooks a tasty dinner and we watch the replay of the discussion and take time to talk to each other and share our thoughts and feelings/needs during the group’s muted talking points.
Adam and Karissa create worksheets, handouts and sometimes even full-on e-books depending on the topic that month. The discussions and the lessons we have learned from year one of our marriage have been invaluable and I personally love that they also come from professionals. Since 2019, I have followed their Instagram account, where they post free advice daily, so this ministry and materials from the Gottman Institute and others have been a part of our marriage so very early on.
Going through life’s trials will only bring you closer provided you both face them together and come out better because of them. As we said in our vows, “for better or for worse…for as long as we both shall live.”
It goes to show you there that what is guaranteed in this life is that there will be trials and tribulations. But, if we can persevere through them and grow and develop the love we have in our hearts for our partners, then we can do hard things.
It’s a bit of a struggle to let go of the honeymoon phase of any relationship and believe me, I held on a bit longer than I maybe needed to when he and I were first dating. The reason was that I had never felt the way he made me feel before. It’s only natural to want to bottle up that feeling but there is one that is available to everyone that is worth so much more.
Loving a person’s essence. Being so attracted to and loving that person’s personality, character, mind, sense of humor… All of the things we can’t bottle up or touch because they’re intangible but they are the most important. Because my husband has such a brilliant mind and funny sense of humor and possesses twice as much character as the average Joe, he became the most attractive man in the world to me. And I love him. In whichever way he comes packaged up.
If you can cross over to that higher plane of deeper. more steadfast love, you, my friend, will have found a precious gem. Protect it and nurture it well.
11. Don’t neglect your friends, single or attached
By writing this penultimate lesson, I am closing the door on the old pain I experienced from seeing dozens upon dozens of friends and acquaintances get married before me and how I was later forgotten about. It was sometime around 2012 when the number of single friends I had started to dwindle down to less than two hands. If you are also familiar with the American Christian fixation on getting married really young (between the ages of 22 to 25), you might be able to relate.
I can only count on one hand the number of friends who, regardless of being married, still made time to hang out with me and include me in things or parties they threw. In other words, still keep our friendship going by communicating and spending time together. I’m not sure if it’s more of a millennial thing but, the number of men and women in the US who just completely retreat inside their relationships and stop going out, stop making plans with their friends and doing the social things they used to enjoy before they got married is astounding.
I’m totally aware that once you have a child or two, things change completely and you may not have time to do those things but I still think it’s important for a couple to get out and especially just check in on their friends. Something as simple as a check-in or a quick message every so often really does brighten up a single person’s day and ultimately life.
I’ll say it: your husband or wife cannot and will not complete you. They can’t be everything for you. And you can’t be everything for them. We’re human beings, not supernatural beings. They should not be your whole world because there was a lot more to your life before you met them. And your friends will need you throughout different seasons of life and you will need them. There’s no replacement for good friendships that have stood the test of time thus far. But, some friendships will only last for a season, both before your married life and after. Not all of them can go the distance with you. And not every one of them should.
What’s more is that you will also need your friends when you are seeking advice or when they need advice from you, just as they had many times before your new life. I read a particularly relatable article from Boundless.org (a website and ministry I often referred back to in my early to mid-20s) that discussed how to go slowly in a relationship and it highlighted the need for friends to speak godly wisdom in your life. It can apply to marriage as well as dating.
When godly people you respect offer perspective on your dating relationship, it is wise to heed their advice and adjust your pace accordingly. Foolish couples ignore the counsel of others.– Erica Giesow, Boundless.org
That last line is what resonated most in me because I experienced moments in some of my friendships where my good, solid advice was not heeded and that impaired our relationship. Like the quote above says, surround yourself with good counsel and take your friends’ perspectives into account. If you isolate yourself, whether dating or married, you give both and your partner even less of a fighting chance to cultivate a good, healthy relationship able to withstand any circumstance life throws your way.
It was actually about six months ago that I got hit with a strong sense of homesickness. The root cause of my feelings was due to a couple of things that had happened in the days leading up to it but it taught me an important lesson. Even after seven years abroad, homesickness can just wash over me out of the blue. After listening to a song that reminds me of someone, during certain special days or even just the slightest smell or reminder of something I used to find at home.
The best thing I can add to this is to not sacrifice time you know is supposed to be carved out to spend with your spouse. And also don’t bend over completely backward just to help a friend or accompany them with something. Provided you have set your boundaries well and your friend circles respect them, you typically won’t run into any problems. You will need time with your friends, as will your husband, but focus on learning how to balance your newly defined life after the wedding. And above all, protect your inner peace and sanity since whatever you do (or don’t do) will affect your spouse and the same can be said for them.
12. Bonus: For wives especially, don’t shame yourself for anything you do or don’t do in your marriage.
If you take only one thing away from this post, let it be this reminder.
Yes, marriage is a sacred covenant, but it is also the lifelong process of learning how to love another person.
This, like everything else in the world, will take time to learn and you will make mistakes. After all, you will become responsible for looking after a household (and the house itself), balancing both of your schedules, finding pockets of time to spend quality time together and quality time apart, growing together and so many dozens of other things, both big and small.
You didn’t have kids right away and instead waited three to five years to really enjoy being with your one and only partner, whom you chose to spend the rest of your days with?
Or maybe the plan was to get pregnant immediately and start expanding that family you had always dreamed of having?
That’s also great, too.
I am not able to say that I don’t have any moments of personal shame or disappointment about how something in the early weeks and months of my marriage went wrong. I simply wouldn’t be human if I didn’t! However, instead of making it worse, I refrained from posting two incidents where the shame would’ve been way worse than what I had felt at those times. The only way I was able to restrain myself was that my husband told me not to post anything to Instagram stories, Snapchat or anywhere else people could make either snarky comments or even send good thoughts.
The old me who used to post about every little thing on Facebook back in 2007 would’ve handled that differently. That’s also not a healthy thing to do. We have to learn how to balance this huge new life change with everything else in our life that may still be the same: family, work, hobbies, sports, exercise, social life and friend groups. The list is long.
And what’s also important to note is that as a precaution, I don’t indulge too much in listening to lots of romantic love ballads or the latest lovey-dovey pop songs.
Romantic songs and movies still paint an unachievable type of love that doesn’t exist in a real, honest-to-goodness marriage between two people who love each other deeply and consider each other as equal partners in the relationship. They sound good, sure, and they’re great for temporary “pump you up” moments or for a workout. But listening to lyrics that are subconsciously panting a picture of an unattainable, false love too much will not have a positive effect on how you view your partner. Your expectations can be raised from anything we consume these days because they’re just a highlight, “feel good” reel.
If anything in the last two years, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to smooth jazz to give my superactive pensive mind a break from thinking…well, too hard. It’s been a challenging past couple of years just in and of themselves, right?
(Side note: if my husband ever expressed a strong interest in smooth jazz, to which I have grown up listening ever since I was a little girl, that would be a red flag. There are very few people in the world who can recognize amazing smooth jazz artists like Dave Koz, Kenny G, Peter White, George Benson, Sade, Anita Baker, Richard Elliot, Brian Culbertson…the list goes on and on. Basically, I would’ve created a quiz to see if he really and truly had this interest of his own or if he was just saying he liked it to impress me or to get me to like him. As luck has it, we aren’t very musically compatible but we do love a good 80’s jam!)
Let your partner be himself and you do the same. Be open to where life will lead you two in your first year and beyond.
If you’ve been married for a little while or a long time, what advice would you give a newly married couple? I’d love to read your added advice in the comments!