“Surviving” the First Year of Marriage
“IT WAS rough.” So say many regarding their first year of marriage. “Before I got married I thought I was the world’s foremost authority on family life,” confessed a young husband. “I was confident I’d know how to deal with every problem. But once I was married I found I didn’t know a thing.” His wife adds: “I cried more the first year than I ever have. I guess it was all the pressure and not really knowing what was expected.”
While the first year of marriage is not that difficult for every couple, it may not necessarily be easy. The Bible says: “Those who do [marry] will have tribulation in their flesh.” Or, as another translation puts it: “Those who marry will have pain and grief.”—1 Corinthians 7:28, The New English Bible.
Marriage can bring joy and fulfillment, but it takes time—and hard work. Two different personalities must merge. You face new pressures, new challenges, new situations. No wonder your first year is critical. Specifically, though, what problems do newly married couples face? Can they cheerfully “survive”? Does the timeless advice of the Bible really help?
Getting to Know You
With the glamour of the lacy wedding gown and the tuxedo stripped away, you are left with a person. How well do you know this person? Courtship hopefully gave you some insight. Sad to say, during courtship couples often allow romance to blind them to flaws and personality quirks.
Nevertheless, there is only so much you can learn about a person during courtship. Living with someone is the real test. Your mate may try to exude perfection during the opening weeks. We can sympathize with the young bride who showered three times a day so her mate wouldn’t think she had body odor.
But it won’t take long to find out what your mate is really like: humble or high-minded, petty or reasonable, neat or slovenly. If some of your mate’s living habits shock you, it is likely due to a difference in upbringing. You may have to make allowances; old habits die slowly. It may also take time for your mate to master household skills. The faucet may still leak; supper may be catastrophic. But you learn much about each other as you laugh away minor calamities.
Today’s pace of life is pressure filled and it’s easy to fall into a routine that erects a barrier of silence. One husband recollects: “I had a difficult time at work and I would ‘take my job home.’ I’d clam up around my wife and be oblivious to what was going on.” Another recalls: “I used to come home and immediately turn on the TV. But I learned instead to sit down with my wife and just talk.”
Yes, it takes effort to keep the spark of interest alive in your relationship. Don’t let it stagnate. Rather than dwelling on differences, build on similarities. Grow together and you’ll never outgrow each other.
Likely, engaged couples look forward to the sexual intimacies of marriage, as did the Shulammite maiden of Biblical fame. (Song of Solomon 1:13) Such relations can be beautiful expressions of love and a source of mutual “ecstasy.” (Proverbs 5:18, 19) While most adjust quickly, it should not be surprising if sex relations are disappointing at first. One husband said candidly: “The first month was trialsome for both of us. I got seriously depressed.”
Problems like this are not uncommon. Brides often experience initial discomfort during sex relations. Husbands often do not realize that a woman’s sexual response is generally slower than that of a man. Being ignorant of a woman’s need for tenderness and affection, some fail to prepare their wives for intercourse. Haste or a lack of control results in quickly satisfying their own passions, leaving the wife frustrated. While time, experience and patience can be cures, both mates should put forth effort to understand each other’s needs and limitations. (1 Peter 3:7) When each ‘seeks the advantage of the other,’ sex is rarely a problem.—Compare 1 Corinthians 10:24.
Ignorance abounds regarding sex, and some find it helpful to prepare in advance. A young wife said: “I really didn’t have any trouble in this regard. I wasn’t squeamish about doing my ‘homework’—reading up on the subject. I knew what to expect. My husband also understood and he was very gentle.” Sometimes medical advice can be helpful. Due weight should be given to the thoughts of a Christian parent or a mature married friend in whom one can confide. The above-mentioned wife adds: “My mom was really good about explaining matters. She was very open.”
Friction can develop, however, if a couple fails to share responsibility. For instance, when couples decide to delay having children, men often feel it is the woman’s job to prevent pregnancy. (“It’s your problem. You work it out!”) Burdened with “her problem,” a woman can come to dread sexual relations. How much better it is when a Christian man accepts his share of responsibility, regardless of the method of birth control a couple may choose to use.
Sharing feelings is also very important. A man may feel his wife is unresponsive. A wife may feel her husband is demanding. Some let frustrations build. Yet one couple advises: “Talk it out. You may cry your heart out. You may even get mad. But talk it out!” When it comes to these intimate matters, real communication will build your love and confidence in each other.
“Insight” Slows Down Anger
It won’t be long before you have your first disagreement. It may be a slight tremor or a devastating quake. So the Bible counsels: “Let all malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you.” (Ephesians 4:31) “But you don’t know my wife,” you may say. “Sometimes it’s impossible to discuss things with her calmly, and I lose my temper!” However, Proverbs 19:11 advises: “The insight of a man certainly slows down his anger.”
For example, men often have little “insight” into the emotional changes a woman experiences due to her menstrual cycle. “It’s all in her mind,” some think. Even some modern women may tend to deny the seriousness of such mood swings. Movies and TV seldom portray women as so affected. Yet medical research indicates that these changes in the body can greatly affect a woman’s personality.
“I had no idea women could be so moody,” bemoaned one man. Oh, he observed a measure of crankiness on the part of his mother or sister. But “there’s no comparison between a sister and a wife,” he adds. Yes, the full brunt of your wife’s tensions may now be directed at you. She may be irritable, critical, prone to burst into tears, and may have any number of other symptoms most women experience during this time of the month.
Understanding your wife’s feelings—or at least trying to understand them—may ‘slow down your anger’ if she is brusque or sharp. Said one married woman: “I can get real ‘picky’ around that time of the month and sometimes my husband forgets why. At times even I forget why I’m acting that way.” For this reason, one couple keeps track of the wife’s cycle so as to be mindful that she may not be up to par during that time of the month and will need extra love and consideration. Women, too, should understand that men also have “highs” and “lows,” good and bad days. Such “insight” may be the very thing that defuses an argument.
Who’s in Charge Here?
“Subjection”—anathema to many women today—is the course the Bible outlines for women. (Ephesians 5:22-27) Much can be said to show how practical this God-ordained arrangement really is, but this doesn’t necessarily make submitting to headship easy. Some women have enjoyed considerable independence and may find submission difficult. One new bride admitted: “I married young and didn’t have a lot of freedom before marriage. Still it was hard to be in subjection. Maybe it’s because I didn’t give much thought to what subjection really meant.”
Initial resistance to headship can be frustrating to the young husband, still grappling with his own insecurities. What can you do if your wife doesn’t immediately respond to a request? You might reconsider. Maybe she has a point. If you still think you’re right, try again to reason with her calmly. But what if reasoning with her doesn’t work? Confessed one wife: “I’ve said ‘NO!’ right off the bat, but I don’t think I’ve ever stuck with that decision.” Like the son in Jesus’ parable, most will comply later if given time to reflect.—Matthew 21:28-31.
A married man says: “Sometimes men take themselves too seriously. Really, the longer you’re married, the more latitude you give your wife.” He, like most men, learned this the hard way. “At first I wanted to care for all the money matters. She didn’t like that because she had been independent.” But with the passing of years he has learned to trust his wife’s judgment. Remember, the “capable wife” portrayed in the Bible at Proverbs 31:10-31 is no mindless female needing direction every step of the way. She is an astute buyer, an organizer, even a real-estate investor! Why, “in her the heart of her owner has put trust”! Trust your wife. Don’t hem her in with needless rules and restrictions.
Wives, you can minimize strife by being “ready to obey.” (James 3:17) Express your feelings on major issues, but don’t make issues over trifles. Avoid “forcing one another to a showdown” by challenging your husband’s position.—Galatians 5:26, New World Translation, footnote, 1950 edition.
Some wives complain that their husbands fail to take the lead, to “carry on as men.” (1 Corinthians 16:13) Husbands, is this true of you? Your background and upbringing may be partly to blame. One man said: “In my family I spent most of my life under my mother’s direction without a father to take the lead.” The effect? “Sometimes I’ll ask my wife, ‘What do you want?’ and she says, ‘What do you want?’ and I reply, ‘But I asked you first!’”
If you husbands are trapped in such a merry-go-round of indecisiveness, you will have to develop your latent abilities to lead. How? By making decisions. It won’t be easy at first, but as your wife encourages and supports you, it can become second nature to you. Oh, you’ll make mistakes, but better that than shying away from responsibility!
“Survive”—And Enjoy It!
Such may be the tribulations and joys of your first year of marriage. But mere survival is not your goal. You survive a car wreck, but you want to enjoy your marriage. Stay optimistic. Avoid unrealistic expectations. Keep your sense of humor. Know your partner and be flexible. No marriage is perfect. No two people are perfectly compatible. But your flexibility can make up for any lack. Build on the love you first felt and never let it grow weak.
King Solomon said it well: “Better is the end . . . of a matter than its beginning.” (Ecclesiastes 7:8) Yes, with time and patience, even marriages with the shakiest of beginnings can blossom into mature, enduring relationships.
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Men often have little “insight” into the emotional changes a woman experiences due to her menstrual cycle
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Laugh away minor problems
Old habits die slowly
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Talk it out!