5 Things that Make Marriage Hard (But Worth It)

by Erica Layne on April 25, 2012

“Marriage is hard work.”

I had heard that statement all my life.

But I suppose because I was young and my head was full of images and qualities that I just knew I would find in a spouse, I never thought to ask more about what makes marriage “hard.” Subconsciously, I probably even believed that the type of guy I would snag would never make it that hard.

In reality, marriage can be incredibly hard no matter how great the guy. It takes a lot to meld two lives—two different personalities, from two different backgrounds, equipped with entirely different ways of dealing with conflict. So without further adieu, here are five things that make marriage hard (but worth it!). I only wish I could have read this seven years ago!

1. Overcoming Expectations Based on Family Experience. The relationships you observed and experienced your whole life in your own family are likely very different from what your soon-to-be spouse experienced. Ryan and I laugh now at how similar we thought our families were before we married. We both come from tight-knit families of six. Our dads are quiet leaders in the home; our moms work in education. Our families share the same faith and values. But beneath those things, there are a million things that make our families significantly different, and those roots shaped us individually.

2. Settling into Roles. Getting comfortable and settling into roles is GREAT with the roles that work for you as a couple. He is the night owl who hangs out with the wide-eyed newborn while she catches a few hours of sleep before taking over. He makes lunches while she gets the kids dressed. She walks the line of pessimism while he (the diehard optimist) helps her see the silver lining.

However, settling into roles can be disappointing if certain roles leave one or both partners wanting. She needs to vent; he thinks problems feel smaller if you don’t dwell on them. She hears every sound the kids make at night; he could sleep through an earthquake. She wants more sharing of household work; he is spent from working all day. Once roles become comfortable and familiar, it can take superhuman effort to change. (And if one spouse isn’t interested in changing, that is another ballgame altogether.)

3. Forming Habits. I had an inkling about this beforehand, but I’ve learned that even the smallest of your spouse’s habits can get under your skin and fester if you let it. Marriage is as much about choosing what habits you can live with as it is choosing which habits to ask your spouse to work on. (And of course, we can’t forget confronting ourselves about our own habits!)

4. Keeping Marriage Private vs. Needing a Sounding Board. I was cautioned to keep marriage matters private. I heard things like, “If you complain about your spouse to your mom, she’ll think less of him, and you don’t want that.” And, “If you want to build your husband up, you should never say anything bad about him.” There is truth in these statements: Of course I want to build my husband up! And of course I don’t want my mom to dislike him! But I found myself very isolated as a newlywed trying to navigate  marriage struggles that I felt unprepared for.

I NEED to talk my problems through, and for the first time in my life, I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone (except my poor husband!). A few years into my marriage, I began cautiously opening up to a friend. I tried hard to paint my husband fairly but honestly and was liberal in admitting my own flaws. Her understanding and encouragement gave me a tremendous boost, and things began looking up. I felt so much lighter knowing I was not alone in my marital struggles. My husband and I were normal! Totally imperfect, but normal! I just hadn’t known it before, because most people around me were quiet. (A few sessions of counseling after our second baby also did us a world of good. Marriage maintenance with the help of a neutral sounding board! Best money we ever spent.)

5. Accepting that Love Changes with Time.  I love my husband differently—more completely—than the day we were married because we have been through some highs and lows together. We have gone to sleep unhappy and trudged through days feeling unconnected. But we forgive and reconnect and love each other more. It’s not the shinny-new-penny type of love and euphoria that we shared on our wedding day, and I admit that I sometimes miss that. But it is a richer love, because it is based on more shared experience than it was day we said “I do.”

Now that you’ve read all five, you’re probably thinking, Wow, that girl knew nothing about marriage before she jumped in!

I won’t argue with you there! I got married in the middle of my junior year of college—almost (but not quite) 21 years old. I had known my husband for less than a year. Our engagement was three months long. The learning curve, once married, was steep. But six years and three kids later, I’m so grateful for where we are now.

And besides, at least now I know what they mean when they say, “Marriage is hard work.” :)

For more marriage talk, please feel free to read my 5 Less Obvious Benefits of Marriage.

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Becky K April 25, 2012 at 9:34 pm

A thoughtful and heartfelt post. I once read a Purpose Driven Life devotion that said (and I’m sure I’m paraphrasing), “Marriage is God’s laboratory for learning to love an imperfect person the way Jesus loves us.” I have kept that phrase stored in my head and heart through many years now. I was 27 when I got married and had known my husband more than two years, and I assure you I was just as clueless as you describe at age 21! Marriage is a lifelong learning experience, and there are no shortcuts to wisdom. But that’s half the fun, right?

Vindie April 25, 2012 at 9:48 pm

I can’t get enough of your posts! I feel like you voice so much of what I am thinking and going through! Your posts help bring things into focus for me and I so appreciate your honesty and experience. I feel the same way about marriage (and love) and am glad I’m not alone in that!

Erica {let why lead} April 25, 2012 at 10:07 pm

I am SO glad! Thanks, Vindie!

Ashley April 25, 2012 at 11:20 pm

Great post, Erica! All so true! They should have some kind of class you have to take before you get married or something :0)
And I love that photo! So beautiful!

Erica {let why lead} April 25, 2012 at 11:36 pm

Amen to that! Thanks, Ashley!

Shelley @ Calypso in the Country April 26, 2012 at 2:26 am

Hi Erica,
I always enjoy your insights. I agree that marriage/love is always changing. We go through so much personally that it makes sense that it would be reflected in our relationships. We didn’t get married until we were 31 but it doesn’t mean we were more educated in the field of marriage. I think it is so important to pay attention to the little things before they get blown out of proportion and become big things. I tend to let that happen when I don’t want to deal with something! I guess we are all just learning as we go along!

Erica {let why lead} April 26, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Thanks, Shelley! Yep, learning as we go is what keeps life dynamic. :)

Sarah April 26, 2012 at 3:50 am

I love reading your posts Erica…you are a talented writer :) Your honestly is so genuine!
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Flor @ Life in Progress April 26, 2012 at 4:43 am

loved your post and agree with every single thing you’ve written.
can’t wait to read through the rest of your posts :)

Erica {let why lead} April 26, 2012 at 2:54 pm

Thank you, Flor, for stopping by! Your blog is lovely and your style adorable!

Ashleigh April 26, 2012 at 6:08 am

Your list captures everything I’ve learned during the past few months, and phrases it so much more eloquently. You’re such a brilliant writer!

courtney April 26, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Something that was (and still is!) difficult for us to figuring out how to actually live with someone else. This is a lot like what you said about habits. One thing I realized that was difficult early on is that, living with roommates/friends, it’s so much easier to brush off things that bug you. If they don’t do their fair share in cleaning, or if they say something a little thoughtless, it’s no big deal. But when you live with someone with whom all your emotions are entwined, it’s easy to take everything personally. But living with someone means those little things are all bound to happen nearly every day. I had to realize that Sam never meant to hurt my feelings (ha! that sounds horrible.) but that I was being oversensitive. It is HARD to live with someone you love– especially when it’s a boy. :) It takes a lot of humility.

Leslie A April 26, 2012 at 9:16 pm

You make such great points! I wasn’t prepared for all that marriage held either…but 24 years later our relationship is stronger than ever. I especially agree with your #4 – it is a point I don’t think people often think about. We need to talk with discretion, but it does help so much to be able to talk things over with our moms, sisters, or a close friend. It makes me feel so much less alone! Another thing that has been so beneficial to our marriage is being willing to forgive when we are hurt by the other person AND being willing to humbly apologize when we mess up.

Thanks so much for visiting my blog today. I appreciate it!
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Jennie April 27, 2012 at 1:31 am

Wow! Our situations seem so similar. I got married my junior year of college (at 21), our engagement was only 3 months long, and while we had been friends for quite a while, there was a serious learning curve about how to be more than friends.

I totally agree with all of your points. Our quirky story that has become more of a metaphor over the years is that we had to use different blankets our first year of marriage. It was a new situation for both of us getting used to sharing a bed and we were not prepared to share a blanket. We needed that time to adjust from being alone to being together all the time, even asleep. And now we use the same blanket just fine. :)
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Jennie April 27, 2012 at 1:33 am

Also, that’s the Salt Lake Temple. Where you married there? That’s pretty much right across the street from where we live. We love downtown Salt Lake!
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Erica {let why lead} April 27, 2012 at 2:23 am

Yep! That’s us in the picture! Seriously, that blanket analogy is PERFECT! Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment!

Janelle-A Story of Grace April 28, 2012 at 1:34 am

In my marriage, learning my husband’s love language has been super important. And he opening up and telling me what he needs from me. I’m so blessed to call him mine.


Richella @ Imparting Grace May 1, 2012 at 4:40 pm

Let me tell you, THIS girl knew nothing about marriage before she jumped in! But over the course of 27 years, I’ve learned a lot–much of it learned the hard way. Truthfully, some of the lessons have been VERY hard. But they’ve all been worth it.

This is a wonderful post, and I salute you for your honesty. Marriage IS hard–but it IS worth it, isn’t it? God bless your family!
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Erica {let why lead} May 1, 2012 at 6:12 pm

Thanks, Richella! I’m grateful for your honesty too! I really think admitting that marriage has been hard should not be so taboo, so I really appreciate it! And yes, it has been SO worth it for us! Nothing is more beautiful than family.

me May 2, 2012 at 1:47 am

I grew up without a father in the home so any thing my husband did was good, and over the years he has gotten better and better.

J April 19, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Great post, Erica! I actually just found your blog while searching info on Blurb books, then noticed your family pic on the side…I think we were in the same married ward in Provo for a while (behind the Provo Temple). Anyway. Love your writing style! And the points you list here! I imagine that pretty much all couples (at least LDS ones) have this learning curve after they marry…especially since we all seem to date/marry quickly. :)

Emily @ Love, Pasta and a Tool Belt February 13, 2014 at 2:19 am

I really enjoyed reading this! Thanks for sharing. #SITSBlogging
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Erica - Let Why Lead February 13, 2014 at 2:21 am

Happy to! Thanks, Emily! Hopping over to your blog right now – you KNOW the combo of love, pasta and a tool belt is too much to resist… :)
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