Have you heard of the “honeymoon phase” of a relationship? The time when everything is easy, life is fun and simple, and you feel totally in love with your boyfriend or spouse? I thought I was very prepared for marriage knowing this stage at the beginning of our vocation would probably be short-lived, and that some struggle and suffering would inevitably soon follow. What I didn’t expect was that we wouldn’t really experience the honeymoon stage at all.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I love my husband. I believe God has blessed our choice of one another and is using it for our sanctification. My husband is a servant, a leader, incredibly fun — oh, and also very handsome.
However, even with all of the great things we both bring to our relationship, we also have our fair share of struggles. Some hotheadedness and strong opinions coupled with our own hurts and unmet expectations made for an engagement and beginning of marriage that came short of the honeymoon phase I was expecting.
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I recently saw some newly married friends at a party. “How is marriage?” I asked eagerly. They looked at one another and said shyly, “You know, it’s good.” Their faces said it all. “It’s really hard isn’t it?” Eyes widened, clearly feeling seen and known, they both went on about how, though they loved each other and being married, the first couple months had been really difficult.
If you are a newlywed and struggling, know you are not alone. I know it can be draining to continuously hear “marriage is hard,” but that’s the reality: marriage is hard, even for the most virtuous among us. There are many reasons why this is true, but there is also much hope for you if you find yourself struggling. Here are a few things to explore if you’re finding yourself in this position.
Acknowledge your hurts, fears and unmet expectations
Coming into marriage I had my fair share of unhealed wounds. My dad had passed away years before, I had a very poor self-image, I was a recovering perfectionist, and I had anxiety. The hurts I was carrying made me have unrealistic expectations for my husband, and I subconsciously thought he would heal all the broken parts of me.
Though not chosen consciously, this mentality caused a lot of hurt at the beginning of our marriage. It led to repeated arguments and a breakdown of trust. I felt so alone and isolated, wondering if my husband regretted marrying me or if there was something I missed in our discernment. Many hurts became compounded because we didn’t have the right tools to address what was going on.
Thankfully, we were told many times that when (not if) things got tough, we should seek help. We went to six months of marriage counseling in our third year of marriage where we unpacked so much hurt, misunderstanding and unforgiveness. We were given awesome tools for more effective communication and realized there were areas where we both needed to grow in understanding of each other.
Often we act out of hurt and fear, sometimes without even realizing it. Getting to the bottom of some of these struggles, both individually and as a couple, can help so much in giving a marriage a healthy start. While I’m sure we’ll continue to have hardships in our marriage, I believe we now have a stronger foundation from which to build.
Remember what a vocation is
Our vocations are one of the most concrete ways that God’s grace makes us holy. And as we probably already know, vocation requires many deaths to ourselves out of love for the others in our care and community. I can honestly say marriage and children have stripped me of so many areas of selfishness in my life. It has been incredibly difficult, and I can’t say I’ve always handled it with great virtue, but it sure seems to be working.
I am so much more of the person God has made me to be because of leaning into the hard parts of marriage and family life. In those tough moments, it may seem unmanageable, or just flat out not fun. But I look back at the woman I was three and a half years ago and see so many ways I have grown into who I always wanted to be.
It’s important to remember, however, vocation is not one-sided. It is a mutual death to self that requires effort from both parties. There are seasons where one party might be asked to give more than the other, but the trend should not be lopsided. It is important to keep in mind that, while there will be things we sacrifice in marriage, it is a mutual striving for holiness that a couple should engage in, to share the burden together.
If you feel like your marriage struggles are more than normal, this might be a good thing to bring your challenges to trusted friends and family, and professional help.
Newlyweds aren’t professionals
Have you ever expected yourself to be perfect on the first day of a job, or thought you should pass the final exam on the first day of a class? No, of course not. Then why do we expect ourselves to have marriage figured out on day one?
Part of our marriage preparation included meeting with a married couple and discussing a book together. They are still mentors to us whom we can go to whenever we need clarity or advice. We’ve also been given many awesome married couples in our greater Catholic community to whom we can lean on for support and look to as models.
We know it takes work to grow in any skill we pursue, and marriage is no different. Every day brings about new challenges, uncovering things about yourself and your husband that you might not have previously known about. No amount of marriage prep can perfectly prepare you for what you are undertaking. Because of this, it is probably a good idea to have couples around you from whom you can learn. This is not a comparison game but an example of what you hope your marriage and family can look like.
A few practical tools for getting on the same page
We learned well as FOCUS missionaries how to be of the same heart and mind in our teams and on our campuses. My husband took this vision and applied it to our family life so that we could also strive to be on the same page.
Here are a few tools we’ve found helpful:
- Have a shared vision for what you want for your family: This can include a mission statement, regular meetings for important topics, or a values or goals list. We have a shared document we use for meetings and a whiteboard on our refrigerator with whatever particular goals we are currently working on.
- Express and support each other’s dreams: It’s good to dream about what your future looks like! It’s important to hold dreams loosely but to also champion each other’s hopes. This was a hard one for me, as I am not a dreamer. But I think I’m getting better.
- Find ways to give of yourself while together (and apart): Sometimes this is through community service, being involved in some sort of ministry, or, in some seasons, simply giving of yourselves to your children.
- Continue to live sacramentally: Regular confession and Mass, even outside of Sundays, is good for keeping your hearts and minds focused and headed in the right direction. It might also be good to be part of a Bible study or small group. Having other women and men to share fellowship with is key to a healthy marriage. Oh, and don’t forget to pray regularly.
- Don’t be afraid to seek help: Again, it is good to seek counseling if you’re finding things are difficult. It is always better to seek healing for something that seems “small” before it becomes a larger issue. It is also important that both parties be open to the healing process and recognize you are a team.
Marriage is hard work. Even couples who have been married 50 years still say that everyday there is something new to learn about each other. New seasons of life, tragedies and constantly changing circumstances make it so that the work of loving our spouse is never complete until we reach our heavenly home. So, lean into the hard parts, and know you are not alone!