“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, as I have mentioned before, six years and three kids later, not a day goes by that I am not 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.