Marriage Problems, Part 2: The Honeymoon Is Over
Within the first few years of marriage, challenges may arise that we never saw coming. What do we do when we finally realize that “the honeymoon” is over?
“How’s married life?”
We remember being asked that frequently when we were newlyweds. And we’ve also said it several times to other newlyweds. The answer is usually the same: Great! Being a newlywed is exciting and fun, with lots of firsts to experience together as partners in marriage.
However, much of the excitement of that honeymoon and newlywed stage is the newness of it. But what happens afterward?
One pastor mentioned that in counseling couples he often sees certain trends arise in this stage. These problems include complaining and grumbling about one another—and the temptation to look outside of the marriage for support or fulfillment of needs (for example, the proverbial “seven-year itch”).
What are some ways we can acknowledge and address the problems that sometimes surface when we realize the “honeymoon” phase is over?
1. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.
According to the article “These Are the Most Common Arguments Married Couples Have,” some of the most common topics of arguments revolve around personality, friends, intimacy, commitment, relatives, habits, money, work, leisure, communication, chores and children. We’ve experienced some of these issues in our marriage—as did those we surveyed for this series.
So, if you are frustrated and wondering if you are the only married couple having challenges and arguments about one (or more) of these issues, rest assured, you’re not! Many married couples have dealt with, are dealing with, or will deal with the exact same issues. We also need to remember that our enemy, Satan the devil, hates marriage and will try to weaken yours.
It can take years for a couple to learn how to effectively communicate with each other.That’s a battle you can’t let him win.
Of all the problems mentioned in the above article, communication was the one that came up the most in our survey of pastors and married couples. Simply put, we have to learn how to openly and appropriately communicate our feelings, wants and needs to our spouse. Sometimes this can be the hardest challenge a married couple faces. It can take years for a couple to learn how to effectively communicate with each other. The faster you learn to communicate, the better.
Action steps: Once you know the problems you face in marriage, especially communication problems, start addressing them.
“Why does [fill in the blank] make us so angry with each other?” If you notice negative patterns, talk about them. “What can we do differently to improve the quality of our communication?” Appropriate communication is a major way we show love to others (1 Corinthians 13) and can be crucial in analyzing why a conflict is happening and what we can do about it.
We often try to set ground rules for conversations and give each other a lot of grace and patience, due to our past experiences of failed attempts to communicate effectively. Reactionary anger and offense can easily explode into mundane talks that resolve nothing.
2. “Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene . . .”
[Note: A basic knowledge of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet will be helpful for this point.]
The putting together of two people from different families, experiences and cultures does not usually lead to literal fighting in the streets as it does with the Montagues and Capulets. But sometimes it might feel like that. Blended families, step-relationships and just two very different people coming from different places can be very hard to mesh together in one home.
Some of our marriage survey respondents mentioned this when asked what significant marital challenges they faced within the first few years of marriage:
- “Figuring out how to work together when you both come from very different (and very dysfunctional) families. Overcoming the hurtful ways of thinking/speaking/behaving that we all naturally have, but even more so when your families of origin were/are dysfunctional.”
- “Mostly cultural, due to coming from different cultural backgrounds and also moving from one state to another.”
- “The biggest challenge has been to not run everything my way and [instead] make joint decisions, especially financial.”
- “Cultural differences. We are from different areas of the country and have totally different backgrounds.”
- “Blending the way he did things and the way I did things. Even the different toothpastes had to be figured out.”
- “Integrating a new husband into an established single mom family with two older kids.”
- “Spending so much time with his parents.”
Actions steps: You don’t just marry your spouse’s family; you marry all the experiences and family culture that come along with them. Be prepared to be enmeshed in an entire world of differences in many ways, but hopefully not in core values and spiritual priorities (Matthew 6:33). Setting up reasonable boundaries, discussing what works and doesn’t work for each other, and affording as much grace as possible are crucial in bearing with and forgiving one another (Colossians 3:13).
3. “The early bird gets the worm” (or the better marriage).
Guess what happens to a problem that arises early in marriage, but is never addressed? Well, it magically disappears, of course!
There are several things we wish we had tackled earlier in our marriage that we are dealing with now in the midst of raising two young children who are not great sleepers.
Several pastors made this point in the survey. One stated that in marriage “the biggest adjustments tend to come early . . . the longer specific difficulties or problems [are allowed to] become more deeply entrenched, the harder it is to identify, face, admit and work to change them.”
Another pastor commented: “Younger couples are more likely to deal with issues such as video game addiction or social media messes they created or chose to become a part of. They seem to care more about what other people think and say than those who have been married longer.”
Still another mentioned: “My two cents’ worth: If you get stuck, whether early or way into the marriage, reach out to the pastor [or a professional counselor] to get help. Get help right away before resentment starts to build.”
Action steps: Use the early years of your marriage to address problems. Those same problems will become much harder to address later in marriage. Just as young children have more neuroplasticity, helping them bounce back from injuries, young marriages usually have more wiggle room and more freedom to work out the really hard challenges that come up. Use the honeymoon phase to work hard on what needs to change in the marriage, before resentment can build (which, in the worst-case scenario, can turn into contempt for one another).
Be on the lookout for problems and work together to avoid the evil that you can foresee coming as the years progress (Proverbs 22:3).
The bottom line
To address problems early in marriage, respondents mentioned that taking time, talking things out, seeking counsel, compromising, establishing roles and rules, exercising patience and personally staying close to God through prayer and Bible study have helped tremendously. Attacking problems early in the marriage—before defensiveness, laziness or apathy invade—can make needed change much easier.
In the next post, we’ll explore how having kids brings about a whole new world of joy (and pandemonium) to marriage.
Click here ot read part 3 of this series: “Here Come the Kids.”