I’ve learned a few things in my first month of marriage.
I know, I know. One month hardly seems like enough time for two newlyweds to come to any major conclusions about marriage. At least, not compared to couples like my parents who are coming up on 33 years of marriage this May (so grateful for them and their beautiful example of love!).
And yet, that paradox is part of what’s struck me this month: Marriage is at once a marathon and a sprint. It’s long – thank goodness, because we’re going to need all the time we can get to strengthen and enjoy these beautiful bonds that are forming – and it’s fast – so much has changed in such a short period of time.
This is especially true for James and me. Not only have we entered into this new phase of life called marriage, but we also moved to a little town called Los Angeles. The day we returned from our honeymoon in Cancun, we packed up the rest of my belongings in San Francisco – which we absolutely could not have done without the help of my amazing, generous family – and said goodbye to the little yellow house I’d called home for the last 7 years.
Leaving San Francisco also meant leaving pretty much everything familiar and warm. My job of 8 years, which I now realize had defined a bit too much of my identity. Family. Friends. Our beautiful church. The green hills. Even the fog that reliably cloaked the city in a cool haze almost daily. By comparison, Los Angeles is just so…bright.
But I think I needed this change. This massive life shift. Because it’s forced me to realize a few things about myself and my marriage that I likely wouldn’t have if I was still wrapped up in the comforts of home.
Whether you’re single, married for 5 years, married for 5 weeks, or anything in between, I hope these truths speak to you and encourage you in whatever season you find yourself in today.
1. It’s okay if things don’t feel different right away.
James and I were long-distance for the 7 months prior to our wedding day. I would not wish this on anyone, but this was our reality. And I found that we had to first get reintroduced to each other before we could begin acclimating to the new environment of marriage.
Even if your story wasn’t the same as ours, there’s a chance that you didn’t feel differently just because you said your vows and signed a marriage license. And that’s not to diminish those things in any way. From what people told me prior to my wedding day – and from what I’ve experienced this last month – marriage is a huge adjustment. Especially if you haven’t been living together before marriage, it may feel odd to suddenly be sharing the same space, going to bed together at night, having sex, and basically being “one.” And that’s okay. Let it be weird. Lean into the discomfort because that’s where the change happens.
2. You don’t have to do it the way everyone else does.
And no, I’m not just talking about sex. Although that statement is certainly true for that most intimate and vulnerable area of marriage. But that’s a post for another time.
James has always been adamant that we should not compare ourselves to other people, and I must confess I’m a bit of a laggard when it comes to that sage advice. On our honeymoon, we discovered there was another couple from our church honeymooning at the next resort over from us. And rather than just laugh at the coincidence, I immediately began to compare our experience to theirs…or at least what I perceived theirs to be (thanks, social media).
I imagined that they were being much more kind to each other than I was being to my new husband. I assumed their sex lives were starting off smoother than ours. And I was certain they’d planned out their trip better than we had.
Of course, I didn’t know any of these things. And because no one wins in the comparison game, I found myself lost in a mess of selfish, self-defeating thoughts. I’m certain our honeymoon would have been a lot more enjoyable if I’d just let myself – and my sweet husband – enjoy our first week of marriage for what it was instead of assuming it should have looked any differently.
3. Protect yourself and your spouse.
Halfway into our honeymoon, James and I got horribly sunburned. We’d put on sunscreen before going out for the day, but we’d done a poor job of maintaining our SPF protection after dips in the pool and walks on the beach. When we returned to our hotel room a few hours later, we realized our skin was turning a bit too pink and feeling a bit too warm to just be lingering heat from our time in the sun.
We spent the next three nights sleeping apart because we couldn’t bear being touched. We covered our bodies in aloe vera – which didn’t do much aside from make us feel a bit sticky – and slept with the fan on, doing anything we could to cool ourselves down.
Not only did this experience remind me of the importance of regular sunscreen application, it also made me realize that I need to protect myself – and James – in every area of life. We weren’t looking out for each other, and since then, we’ve made a more concerted effort to protect each other – physically, mentally, spiritually.
4. You’re more selfish than you think.
Well, at least I am. It’s so easy to think that my husband should be doing more to lead us spiritually. Or he should know that it drives me crazy when he leaves the cabinet doors open after getting a glass for water. Or he should be more appreciative of the work I’ve done putting our home together. And while it’s true that we both have areas of growth, I should be way more focused on mine than his.
Given my lack of focus on my own issues, I didn’t realize just how unraveled I’d become in our first month of marriage. I hadn’t allowed myself to properly grieve the end of our lives in the Bay Area, and my intimate times with God were hardly more than a couple quick prayers here and there, so my foundation was shaky at best.
Small things started to get to me. Like when I realized our new ice cream scoop must have gotten lost in the move, I quickly turned to blaming and self-condemnation instead of just letting it go and buying a new one. I obsessed over the few things I thought I could control since so much of my life recently has consisted of unknowns.
Thankfully, this Sunday’s sermon at our home away from home – Reality LA – was all about the knowns: God hears our prayers, he finishes what he starts, he’s freed us from our old ways of being, he’s given us one another. As I focused on these truths, my heart subtly began to shift away from the darkness that had come over me. And there in the darkness, kneeling on the prayer carpets, I realized something else…
5. You have to shed your old skin.
James and I are still going through a natural exfoliation process post-sunburn. Perhaps it’s the dry climate here in LA, but we’re basically in nonstop peeling mode.
Thankfully, that’s starting to happen in my heart too. I honestly felt so far from the woman – the wife – I wanted to be in these last few weeks that I doubted God’s call on my life. Can I really do this? Can I grow? Can I change? Is there a point to all this uncertainty? When will it be over?
The answers have been yes, yes, yes, yes, and…probably never. Yes, I can live in this place of uncertainty. Yes, I am growing through the experience of marriage. Yes, I can turn around and change. I can let the unknowns bring me to a place of God-dependence and submission instead of the constant frustration and self-condemnation that’s been plaguing me. And then, when the uncertainty continues, or something else comes at me or my marriage, I can face it with more confidence. Especially because I’ve remembered this truth:
6. Marriage is for life.
Yep. Not a revelation, I know. But it seems that in our culture, marriage is not really a lifetime endeavor. It’s a convenient-for-now, feels-good-for-the-time-being, as-long-as-we-make-each-other-happy kind of arrangement. But that’s not how James and I view it. And thank God for that.
Knowing that we are in this ‘til death do us part makes it so much safer to explore the most vulnerable parts of ourselves. Having the certainty of our vows makes the uncertainties of life just a little less scary.
Marriage is a long game, and thankfully I’m playing it with the only person I’d ever want to. I’m so grateful to be learning and growing alongside James. He really does show me God’s love every day because – much like Him – he gives me grace, speaks truth to my heart, and embraces the whole of me.
And that kind of love? Well, that kind of love is a teacher. It’s a friend. And it’s just getting started.
Photo creds go to the amazingly talented crew at Photoflood Studio: Courtney Yee & Jackson Lo. We’re so grateful for our dream team!!