choose love

We’ve all heard it, perhaps you’ve even said it, “The first year of marriage is the hardest.”

As many brides do, I received this so-called “advice,” numerous times. It always puzzled me that people would speak this warning with little to no follow up as to why it’s so hard or how to prevent it from being so. Most would simply state it as a proven fact that any newlywed might as well accept. As a hopeful romantic, part of me wondered if it was true, hoped it wasn’t, and deep down earnestly believed we would defy the odds.

So with all my eager, deep-in-love gumption, I picked up my bridal heels, headed to our wedding day and more or less sloughed this piece of dreary information to the side...but I did not forget it.

photo by Sarah DeShaw

After we were married, this statement lingered, and I wondered how it’s validity would be strengthened or weakened during our first year. When I tried to imagine what the first year "being the hardest" might look like, I got a mental picture of us throwing pots and pans and spending the better part of the year loathing each other. That sounds extreme to me now, but at the time, with mere weeks worth of marital context, I simply didn’t know what to expect. I figured if it were going to qualify as the “hardest” year out of decades of marriage, it must have the potential to be pretty bad.

When I tried to imagine what the first year "being the hardest" might look like, I got a mental picture of us throwing pots and pans and spending the better part of the year loathing each other.

Now I am seventeen months into married life, and while I have yet to throw a pot or a pan, this statement still intrigues me. Why do people say it, why is it so commonly repeated, and where does the truth lie in the midst of it all?

If we can understand that, then maybe we can focus on how to prepare ourselves and others to thrive in the first (and every) year of marriage, not just endure it. And maybe, we could spread a new statement about the first year of marriage—one of hope and promise.

I have spent a good amount of time reflecting, evaluating and wondering what it is about that infamous first year that has earned it such a reputation, and think I’ve finally been able to make some sense of it all. While I don’t have years of experience to compare, when it comes to proximity, my memories of the first year are quite fresh. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for me, and here is what I’ve found.

Marriage is hard. God's whole idea behind marriage is that two people come together as one, and quite frankly, the process of two becoming one is not easy. Becoming someone’s spouse means letting go of what you’ve always known in order to be part of something more. It’s setting aside “me” for “we” and it cannot be done without considerable stretching, changing, and sacrificing.

Perhaps it’s easier to conceptualize this through a more simple scenario. Have you ever tried to make two things become one? I think about mixing flour and milk to make biscuits or planting a seed in dirt to grow a flower. The milk and the flour, the dirt and the seed, through forfeiting their former selves, come together to create a new, better thing. They change their original form and become distinguished differently than they were before. In both cases, creating the new, better thing requires effort, attention and purpose. If the biscuits are to turn out golden and fluffy and the flower is to grow and thrive, intentional care must accompany the process. In the end, I’d say most would agree the results are worth the work. In the moment you taste the freshly baked biscuits and enjoy the beautiful bloom, the energy, the change, and the sacrifice all become unquestionably worth it.

Photo by Rachel Coffey

This is what the first year of marriage is like. It’s exchanging who you’ve always been to create something new with another person. Two become one and that process is hard, but without giving way to it, there would be no biscuit, no flower, no marriage.

Marriage is giving and sharing; it is the pushing and pulling of two becoming one.

About seven months into our marriage, lying in bed beside my husband, I bluntly stated, “Marriage is hard.” Snuggling closer, Woody entertained my comment allowing me to explain further (he is such a gracious listener). “I mean, it’s good, but it’s not easy. You share everything with someone else and you always have to consider them.” I did not stop there and proceeded to tell him how happy I am to be married to him, but this is the part of the conversation on which I want to focus. While it’s true that it is not easy to share everything and consider someone else all the time, there is so much goodness to be found right in that same spot:

*You have to share everything with someone else, but in exchange you always have someone to share your life with.

*You always have to think of someone else, but in this you get a greater perspective of life because you have someone other than yourself to consider.

So, if you think about it, what makes marriage hard is also what makes it beautiful.

I believe when something is hard, it’s because there is so much good to be found within it. Most great things worth having or doing require difficult sacrifice, but it's the struggle that makes them more valuable and precious. With the right perspective, the hard times can illuminate the value in having something that is worth your energy, your grit and your best effort.

what makes marriage hard is also what makes it beautiful.

What I have learned to appreciate about the hard times of marriage so far is the value of our relationship is not found in our circumstances, it’s found in our commitment. Even when I find myself feeling mad, frustrated, hurt or disappointed, I know I’m never leaving him. Likewise, I know he’s never leaving me. We choose to work through our disagreements and disappointments because leaving is simply not an option. With the end result settled—we are in it ‘til death do us part—it is all the more advantageous for us to figure out our differences and get busy living life as one. That is how God created it and that is how we must choose to live it.

“And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already 'one' in marriage. No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become 'one flesh.'”

-Ephesians 5:28-31 (MSG)

So if it’s true marriage in general is hard, then what is the common thread that makes people say the first year is the hardest? I’m convinced it’s because in the first year the process of two becoming one has just begun. Think back to the first day of kindergarten, the first day of college, or the first day at a new job or in a new city. With uncertainty on the horizon and a new life to adapt to and succeed in, those first days were not easy and the first year of marriage isn’t either.

It’s the first time two individuals experience what it's like to live life setting themselves aside and choosing their marriage and spouse first. This way of living isn’t easy and it certainly doesn’t feel natural. It’s a choice you must make and the first time you make a hard choice, especially when you’re feelings urge you to choose otherwise, it is hard. The first year presents a whole new way of life where you must develop habits, communication and understanding for what it takes to truly build a marriage that will last a lifetime.

Love is not about feeling good, it’s about doing good.

The truth is, hard times are a fact of life and will come in any marriage no matter if it’s your first year or your fiftieth. So, what can we do in the midst of an argument, a challenge or an all-out crisis? First, we must know what we cannot do. We cannot change another person, and we cannot make them see where they’re in the wrong. But, what we can do is honor our commitment to love them.

Love is not about feeling good, it’s about doing good. Quite simply, love is a choice. Marriage vows are not created to be said with a stipulation of “I’ll keep mine if you keep yours.” No, marriage vows are intended to be made by one individual to another in full trust, faith and vulnerability. It’s not our job to keep our spouse’s vows—it’s our job to keep our vows. Remember, love never fails. It doesn’t always feel good, but it never fails and that is one stellar promise.

Photo by Rachel Coffey

So what can we say to brides and grooms as they prepare to enter into their first year of marriage living life as one? Rather than predicting a looming fate for their first year, I imagine the sentiment going something like this,

“You have years of marriage ahead of you and some of them will be hard. In the moments, days, weeks, months or years that are hard, remember love is a choice, not a feeling. Keep your vows and always choose “we” over “me.” When it’s all said and done, let it be said that when you had a choice to make, you would always, always choose love."

However long you've been married, what lessons did you learn in your first year of marriage? Please share in the comments below!