Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley take a look at the first year of marriage and offer tips on how to get past “culture shock."
Congratulations on your wedding! Now that you've returned from your honeymoon, scraped off the “just married” sign from your back window, and cut the tin cans off your bumper, you’re ready to start your new life together.
Needless to say, we want to help you avoid some of the most common mistakes that newlywed couples make during their first year of marriage ...
1. Trying to get your spouse to love you.
One of the greatest myths is that a successful marriage is about loving and being loved. The lie is that you need to find someone to love you. The notion that we need to be loved by our spouse is completely false.
The truth is that I don’t need Erin to love me. I know this sounds counterintuitive — opposite of what you may have learned about relationships. But, there is not a single verse in the bible that says you need to find someone to love you. Let that sink in. You don’t need your spouse to love you; you need God’s love. The truth is that your need to be loved has been completely met by God.
Therefore, instead of spending time, effort, and energy trying to get your spouse to love you, your job is to love. This theme is evident throughout the scriptures. For example, 1 John 4:11 says, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
The verse begins by calling us “beloved.” This is a great phrase that means “much loved.” Then, before the main point is even made, we get a quick reminder that God loves us. Finally, we are given our job: loving others.
It’s almost comical that before we can love others, we need constant reassurance that we are loved. Freed from the bonds of trying to get your spouse to love you, you are now able to fully invest your time, effort, and energy into loving your spouse.
In spite of all the cultural scams and myths about marriage, this is the real job your heavenly father has given you: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34).
To love your spouse is your destiny in marriage.
2. Not taking a leave of absence from family and friends.
Ephesians 5:31 says, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” We believe that one of the greatest gifts you can give your new marriage is to take a “leave of absence” from family and close friends.
In military terms, a “leave” is defined as permission to be absent from duty for a period of time. We’re not talking about severing or “cutting off” the important relationships in your life. Instead, we’re encouraging you to reprioritize the emphasis you formerly placed on these core relationships. For the first couple of months, your main priority should be strengthening your identity as a newly married couple.
Interestingly, the Bible makes this exact provision for newlyweds: “If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married” (Deuteronomy 24:5).
Make sure that you reserve plenty of time for your new marriage to grow strong and healthy.
3. Avoiding conflict.
Every couple is going to experience hurt feelings, frustrations, and conflict. This is normal. The sign of a healthy marriage is not the “absence” of conflict, but how couples manage their moments of conflict.
Sadly, many couples avoid conflict like the plague. But avoiding conflict is the worst thing you can do for your marriage. Research show that one of the best predictors for marital success is when couples work through their problems and use conflict as the doorway to deeper intimacy and connection.
Another powerful gift you can give your marriage is to keep short accounts and learn how to work through conflict. Instead of avoiding it, remember God’s promise in James 1:2: “when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity. . .”
Conflict is always an “opportunity” — an opportunity to learn something about yourself, your spouse, and your marriage. View conflict as a gift instead of something to be eliminated or avoided. Fight your way to a better marriage!
4. Putting your marriage on cruise control.
It can be very difficult to nurture your marriage amidst the busyness of life. It’s easy to become absorbed in your career, managing household responsibilities, and fulfilling the endless wave of commitments — and it’s often marriages that get neglected.
However, the real danger is the hope that in the midst of this hectic stress, we can put our relationship on cruise control. Unfortunately, marriage doesn’t come with an autopilot setting where we can push a button, attend to other obligations, and experience a thriving relationship.
Instead, we must regularly invest in our marriage. I love how marriage expert David Mace explains the importance of spending time together. He says, “One of the great illusions of our time is that love is self-sustaining. It is not. Love must be fed and nurtured, constantly renewed. That demands ingenuity and consideration, but first and foremost, it demands time.”
Continue to date your spouse!
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We hear all the time how difficult the first year of marriage is for many couples. But, does it have to be so hard? Surely not.
Your first year of marriage doesn’t have to be difficult in the “negative” sense. Your joy and satisfaction will come down to how proactive you are in caring for your relationship.
The right expectation is that the first year will be difficult in an “adjustment” sense. You are facing an enormous amount of change: job, career, school, moving, setting up a household, sex, sleeping arrangement, added chores, dealing with in-laws and extended family, adjusting to personality and gender differences, leaving family, reorienting old friendships, and so on. All this “blending” tends to create some “culture shock” that often leads to conflict.
Think of your first year of marriage like moving to a foreign country. Everything will seem different in the beginning — the food, the people, the money, the language . . . everything. It’s not bad — just different.
Relax. It will take time to adjust and effort to blend into “one.” But you can have a great first year of marriage. Heed these words from Ecclesiastes 9:9, “Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which God has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life.”