Today is the ultimate Throwback Thursday. Alison and I are celebrating our four year wedding anniversary. We’re a different family than we were on that day, and different people, too. I can see now how each year has progressed and the different stages that we have moved through. The early stages of any new marriage can be tumultuous. I fear that we give newlyweds and engaged couples the wrong perspective. They’re sold on the idea of a honeymoon phase that I don’t believe is real. I see three distinct phases that every marriage goes through.
The First Year: Disruption
I can think of no better way to describe the first year of marriage than disruption. Everything is up for debate and discussion. The first year is full of fights about things that the newlyweds never fought about when dating. Daily routines, idiosyncrasies, and habits collide in the most magnificent way. All that's left after the collision is a giant mess.
This is a time when the spouses get to know each other in an intimate way. In the marital bond, people are free to completely let their guard down and be their most true selves. This can cause friction if the true self contrasts with the one presented to the world. It’s a special bond in that, perhaps for the first time ever, the spouses feel safe, free, and cared for.
These martial fights occur because expectations are not properly set. Living together for the first time presents new ways of doing things. These differences must be worked through and that, at times, requires fighting. Premarital cohabitation wouldn't make things any better
. Cohabitation creates only the illusion of preparedness. This false sense leads both parties to change their behavior. They make behavioral decisions based on likability instead of being true to oneself.
Into this chaos, children can arrive. The decision to add children to a family must come through discernment. This decision is within the discretion of the married couple. At the same time, it can be advisable to hold off on having kids for a time. Children can make this martial transition more difficult. They are always a blessing, but again, this must be a decision through discernment.
What is remarkable, if not beautiful, about the first year is that we start to see true love. Though the discussions and fights, spouses open themselves to change. These small changes are not made out of necessity, but out of consideration for their beloved. These sacrifices are the foundation of strong marriage.
The Second Year: Asynchronous Unity
Around the first anniversary, the hard work of marriage begins to bear fruit. The couple then moves into the second phase of marriage: asynchronous unity.
In marriages, especially between young professionals, career weighs on the relationship. Different jobs and schedules pull the spouses in different directions. It’s imperative that a couple works together to find common time and space. Similarly, the differences in the spouses continue to pull each other apart. Despite this tension, they fight together for common ground.
There's a great deal of settling in the second year and with it, a significant reduction in fighting. The points of contention resolve and peace starts to reign. In this peace, the spouses can begin to work together on joint goals. This is an excellent time to consider starting a family. The couple may be getting good at working together as a team, but are still not in sync.
The true power of the martial bond is evident when this asynchronous unity blends into unity.
The Third Year: Self-Surrender
If you want to be the spouse that you ought to be, you must master the practice of loving self-surrender. What is marriage if not total commitment and total service? Without question, this is the most difficult part of marriage. Some learn it in the first few years, many never even try. To truly love, you must overcome your own selfish tendencies. To be loving, you must spend all your energy in service of your spouse.
There's a peace that settles on a home when a husband and wife reach this third stage. Fights are rare, differences are respectfully discussed, and each feels cared for. In a world of turmoil, the home is a quiet refuge were all are safe and valued. This is the bedrock upon which children thrive. When the parents are living in this peace, children will flourish.
Mastering self-surrender and true love are practices that happen gradually. Once achieved, they require constant attention. Selfishness is easy and requires no effort; true love and self-surrender require total commitment. For those who undertake the journey, the payoff is worth it.
Our marriage prep work with engaged couples needs serious attention. We need to develop better programs to help them prepare for the married life. We must also follow-up and help them to adjust to this new life.
Marriage and the raising of children is the highest good that a man or woman can experience. It is the root of our civilization, but more importantly, it is where we can find safety and fulfillment. We must work first to strengthen our own marriages, and then to help those who come behind us.