why we need to share what being married really looks like

2011, our first year of marriage, was one of both pleasant surprises and bitter disappointment. I was angry at much of the world for the first six months of our marriage. I cried so much, and Mr. S. cried with me.

Marriage was good, but it didn’t look like how we thought it might. It didn’t look like what our handful of married friends said it would. It didn’t look like TV and movies and books. It didn’t even look like what preachers and ministers had told us it would. I was angry at the media, who told me marriage and love and sex and life together is always ah-mazing. I was angry at, yep, some of my married friends who portrayed perfection. Most of all, I was angry at myself for using these examples to create unrealistic expectations for myself and for our marriage.

My most angry and most frequent cry: No one told me. I felt broken as a woman and broken as a person and broken as a wife.

How dramatically different my first year of marriage may have looked if I’d heard more variety in the stories. I craved — and still crave — real, true honesty.

As days became weeks and weeks became months, coming to others for help grew difficult. I was sick — sick, sick, sick — of the world telling me how things are and how things will be and what it means about me if I am not. Vicious jealousy took its place in my heart.

Too few people tell the whole truth about marriage. Married people, we owe it to our communities to talk about what marriage is really like. Marriage looks different for everyone. And your friends need and want to hear your story.

For some people, marriage is perfect. Share it. We need to hear the romantic, sexy, fun, best-friends-forevah! stories.

For some people, marriage is difficult and rotten. Share it. We need to hear the broken, struggling, so-much-work stories.

For some people — and I’m guessing it’s most people — marriage is a bit of both. Really, it’s been a bit of both for Mr. S. and me. I love him dearly, and he loves me dearly. What that love looks like is different every day. Honestly, Mr. S. is a dream come true. At the risk of retitling this post “Ode to my Husband,” he’s remarkable. He’s studious and also sets aside time to be with me. He does all the laundry. He makes me laugh and put up with — no, celebrates — my shenanigans. He’s my biggest cheerleader and I’m his. He’s tall and has soft hair and I love when he smiles at me. He’s intelligent and curious and loves to learn. Most of all, he loves the Lord.

He’s close to perfect and yet our first year was one of so much joy and also a bit of anger. Mr. S. and I are both driven, Type A, semi-perfectionists. We aim for the best in every area of our marriage. Too often, we see only where we fail and miss out on where we succeed. I often get discouraged.

God is using this experience to teach me that He will complete the good work He’s started in me, and in our marriage.

So when a trusted confidante praised us on Monday, her sweet words were welcomed with open arms. She reminded us that just because we struggle in one or two areas, that doesn’t make our marriage a failure. Greater still, when we struggle, we struggle together. Yes, we struggle, but we’re struggling in the same direction. God used her words to remind us that we’re for each other. And for that, I praise God and smile big. We’ve come a long way and still have quite a long way to go, and I hope to share more of this walk on this blog. But today, we celebrate because here we are, together.

Marriage is hard. Marriage is really hard. And, at the very same time, it’s wonderful. It’s wonderful because when we struggle, we struggle as a team.

Furthermore, I’m learning that this is a covenant. It’s not about just husband and wife; it’s about Creator and husband and wife. It’s a message I wrote on my pointer finger on our wedding day, and one God has written on my heart every day since.

Some dear, truthful friends have shared their stories. We treasure every last one. But still, how I wish I had heard more this past year. More honest stories. Please, tell me what your covenant really looks like. Because what we see on TV and in movies and magazines is rarely the truth. Marriages should not have to be built on these at-best half-truths. Hearing stories of marriage — both good and bad — may have helped me keep the faith.

To those who are married, open up and share. Open your arms for a hug and know that it’s hard to share but it’s good to share! Share the good and the bad. Share the wins and the losses. Share what you’re tackling, and how you’re tackling it as allies and not as adversaries. The world, and its marriages, need to hear about it.

(part 2 here)

Linking up today with the fantastic Joy of Joy in this Journey. Every Wednesday, she hosts life:unmasked, where she invites us to share the vulnerable messy truth about us and how God is working in it.

Photo credit: Covenant photo taken on our wedding day by the talented and wonderful Maggie Rife.

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40 thoughts on “why we need to share what being married really looks like

  1. Yes, friend, you’re so right!! There’s definitely a reason they include “for worse” in the vows. 🙂 we’ve been married 11.5 years, and I can’t tell you how many times one of us said, “this isn’t what I signed up for.” our marriage is far from perfect. I think our biggest area of struggle is in service to one another. We have 3 kids, we work from home, and we’re tired. All we want at the end of the day is someone to rub our feet, or make a cup of tea, or draw a bath, or whatever. So, we sit down…and wait. Instead of reaching out in humble service to one another. But then, there are the deep, meaningful times of great laughter, the knowing that comes from sharing every aspect of life together for so long, the intimacy and comraderie. It is a mixed bag, this marriage thing, and the learning curve is steep.

    That’s why we, when asked our opinion, encourage people to wait awhile after the wedding for kids (In as much as you are able to control that kind of thing). My real, “no one told me” moments came after our first child sent us both reeling. The better, more firm you establish that partnership now, and allow the hard times to strengthen you now, the less of that lesson you will have to learn if/when baby comes along.

    • Jennifer, thank you so much for your kind words of wisdom! I cherish your honesty! Yes, it is such a mixed bag and a beautiful one at that.

  2. I’m so glad I stopped by to visit. I’m not married, but many of my friends are engaged or married, and it’s good to be reminded that it’s a messier, more complicated thing than we think it is. Thank you for sharing that truth with us.

    • Anita, it’s my pleasure! I’ve finally come to the point where I’m bold enough to share honestly. I pray that this piece opens up dialogue where it wasn’t before.

    • Yes, me too. They say it takes a village to raise a child — I agree with that, and I’d also say it takes a village to strengthen a marriage. Thanks for visiting!

  3. Sarah, I loved this post, but it’s actually instilled more curiosity in me about marriage. What exactly is so hard about marriage? I’ve never understood what people meant when they said that, because I didn’t understand what changed about your relationship from the day before you said “I do” to the day after. I’ve always heard, “Marriage is hard and a lot of work,” but I’ve never heard WHY it’s hard or HOW it’s a lot of work. You know I’m not married or engaged, but I’m in a very serious 4-year-relationship that’s leading in that direction, and any insight I could get now before we reach that life-changing milestone would be much appreciated!

    • Ali, thanks so much. You bring up some very good questions, and I think it deserves a follow-up post. I am so grateful that you visited, and that you weren’t afraid to ask. Stay tuned!

    • Hi Ali,
      I, too, always wondered what was so hard about marriage. I had been married for 25 years before I got divorced. I think the hard work is not being selfish and wanting my own way, taking time to pay attention and really listen to what the other person was saying, serving the other person when they are sick and when they are well rather than me wanting all of the attention, mindreading, or rather, expecting him to know exactly what I needed and when and what I needed him to say and how and then becoming hurt when he didn’t (men truly are from Mars)….communication….I wanted to KNOW about the finances and became very upset when he spent money on something I didn’t think he should have but feeling free to spend money my own way without him questioning me…so I would rather be able to do my own thing anytime I wanted in my own way and feeling free to not be encumbered by the wants and needs of another person…and, fo course, the spiritual aspect..I expected him to be the spiritual leader (he didn’t know how) and then became upset when he wasn’t.

      Marriage is about sacrifice….sacrificing one’s own self and selfishness for the good of another, because you love that other person and want the best for him. I’m not sure how you can learn all of that before marriage but I think one has to be happy and content with the life you have as a single person so you are not marrying another person to “fulfill” your needs but rather you are bringing a whole, healthy self into the marriage…it really is a partnership…you, him and God. Thanks for letting me share. Joanne

      • Joanne, thanks so much for visiting and for sharing a bit of your own story. We would do so well to listen to wise stories like yours. My favorite line of what you shared: “it really is a partnership.” That’s where I keep my focus when things get sticky.

        I’m planning a follow-up post to this that will go up later today/tonight. I’d love your insight on it later this week!

  4. Our first year was definitely the hardest (of 3 years so far) because we were merging our lifestyles and still getting used to the idea of sacrificing some of our independence. Marriage IS hard and unrealistic expectations can be a huge struggle to overcome. Our contentment should rest in the Lord, though. People are broken and will let us down at some point. God won’t.

    • Hey Alison! Thanks so much for taking the time to visit and read my blog! (I can’t get enough of yours!)

      Glad to hear your first year was the hardest — we are certainly all smiles when people say that to us! If there’s one thing God has taught me this year, it’s exactly what you said: that our contentedness should absolutely rest in Him. It’s been a beautiful lesson for both my husband and myself. Thank you so much, friend.

  5. in many ways, our first year was the most difficult…out of 43:) but we have had our share of difficult years…just difficult in different ways.

    i have a young unmarried male friend who i talk to about relationships and marriage and i tell him that no matter how well he thinks he knows a woman, once they marry, it is like walking through the wardrobe into narnia:) it is a different world and each of your changes…often in ways you don’t expect.

    you can think you know each other b/f marriage, but after is when you b/c one in ways beyond even the sexual relationship. you change in ways you don’t expect…either of you.

    if you are called to marriage, it can be wonderful with someone who loves God and shares similar goals in life. if not, it can be miserable. singleness is not the worst thing. a mismatched marriage can be hell on earth. yet God can even redeem that.

    • Martha, thank you so much for your wise words! You’re right that God can redeem anything; Mr. S. and I have definitely seen that in our short time of marriage.

      I’m planning a follow-up post to go up later today/tonight and I’d love your insight on that too! So glad you visited, Martha.

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  7. What a beautiful, honest post. I so appreciate your transparency Sarah. Marriage is such a beautiful mixture of messy blessings, isn’t it? Blessed by the wonderful moments and blessed by the transformation God brings into our lives through the difficult moments. I know I wouldn’t be the same girl whose heart is so drawn to the love of my Lord, if I had not needed to cling to Him so tightly through those messy moments of marriage. If my husband was always able to meet my need for perfect love then I would be in danger of finding my contentment in my marriage alone, rather than in my God. That is a truth that makes me continue pressing on in this growing love. One of my favorite quotes…. “Never look to your husband to fill a need in you that only God himself can fill.”

    • Amen, Stacy! I’ve heard that quote many times too and find such strength in it. Another line I hold close in my heart (from the wonderful book Sacred Marriage): Marriage exists not to make us happy, but to make us holy. Thanks for visiting!

  8. 17 years ago, I was right there with you! My husband & I strive to paint a realistic picture of marriage for our children as well as people we counsel. It is ugly and it is beautiful. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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