In a month, my husband, Josh, and I will celebrate three years of marriage. In that span we’ve moved three times (in three different states), had a baby, worked long hours and traveled extensively. We’ve learned more about one another than we ever thought we could learn—how to fight well, how to give grace and how to show love when we don’t feel like it.
A lot of people say the first year of marriage is the hardest. We don’t agree; we found the hardest year was the one after we had our daughter. But that first year is full of lessons that—if embraced and understood—builds a foundation for every year to follow.
I use the following five principles every day in my young marriage, all of which I learned in that pivotal first year. Whether you’re engaged, just married or wondering what biblical marriage will look like for you, here’s an inside look at the reality of marriage for two people who love Christ.
1. Respect is an action, not a feeling.
For our premarital counseling, Josh and I read Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs. Respect is easy to talk about, read about or even think about—but it’s much harder to live it out! Before I was married, I thought respect was something you felt toward a person based on their actions. I quickly learned that respect in marriage is both a mentality and a choice—but only sometimes a feeling.
Respecting your husband is easier when he’s respectable. But God’s command for wives to respect their husbands (Ephesians 5) doesn’t change when your husband doesn’t act respectable. Just as our husbands are commanded to love us even when we are unlovable (also Ephesians 5), we obey God by respecting our husbands even when we don’t feel like it. This is why Christian marriage is so countercultural! And the craziest part? As you give unconditional respect, your husband rises to that standard and becomes more respectable.
2. Girlfriends are essential.
A lot of young women look to a husband as their future “best friend” and ultimate confidant. While your husband will be your most intimate relationship on earth, he can’t fulfill all your emotional needs—nor will he want to.
Of course, your foremost relationship should be with Christ. But besides God and your husband, you need your girlfriends. The godly women in your life before or after marriage will make your marriage stronger. They will help you navigate tough decisions, choose respect when you don’t feel like it and see the big picture when you’re struggling to be content. Don’t let your female relationships end when you get engaged—you will need those women to champion your marriage.
3. Communication is key.
Ask any couple who’s been married a while and they’ll emphasize the importance of communication. There are many layers to this conversation, but the basic idea is this: Every fight between two people who love God begins with miscommunication. Assumptions lead to accusations, accusations to generalizations, and pretty soon you’re both offended! A peaceful, unified marriage requires constant communication.
Communication isn’t just about talking, however. More than anything it’s about listening. I struggled with this in our first year! As an extrovert, I was more concerned with being heard than with hearing my husband out. But with each argument, we learned how to fight well, listen to each other and give each other the benefit of the doubt. Communicating your thoughts and controlling your emotions is key to maintaining a marriage that honors God.
4. Don’t expect your husband to read your mind.
The idea that a man should always know what his woman wants is cultural, not biblical. While husbands should make an effort to know and love their wives (something God will hold them accountable to do), wives can’t expect their husbands to know what they want without first saying it!
I learned this specifically regarding our home. When we were first married, we both worked full time and traveled on business. I’d get home, cook dinner and then start cleaning the house and doing laundry. For several months, I did this all by myself—waiting for Josh to “know” I wanted help. Meanwhile, Josh knew I liked to clean and cook a very specific way, so he didn’t offer to help because he was afraid he’d mess it up. When I finally asked him to help me, he was delighted to do so. He had no idea I was getting resentful because he didn’t help—and I had no idea he was afraid he’d mess up my process!
Communication is once again the easiest way to stay in unity. Your husband will not read your mind. Be kind enough to share your mind with him, and then work through the details together.
5. Love is a choice that leads to romance.
Hallmark movies tell us that romance—the “spark,” the kiss in the elevator—is what leads to love. That’s not what the Bible tells us. God’s design for love is based on sacrifice and commitment. When the romance comes and goes—and it will—it is commitment that keeps us in covenant to our spouse.
I love my husband, but I don’t always feel romantic about him. I don’t always look at him and feel overwhelmed with affection. But I choose to love him anyway, because I choose to obey God. And as I make that choice every day of my marriage, the romance surprises me along the way.
True, biblical love burns like a quiet ember, every once in a while bursting into a flame to remind us just how powerful it really is. When it burns back down to the quiet, “boring” glow, we remember it’s up to us to keep stoking it, doing the work to keep the flame alive. Marriage is not a wildfire; it’s the steady glow on the fireplace of home, tended daily so it doesn’t burn out.
The first year of marriage is a learning experience. Learn well, and you’ll build a foundation for every year to come.