Let’s face it! The first year of marriage can be rough! (Successive years can be difficult, too!) The wedding alter is like a prize door on Let’s Make a Deal; you’re not too sure what’s behind it, but whatever it is, its yours for the keeping…forevermore.
Some days you feel like you won a brand new car as you coast happily down life’s highways on cruise control. Other days the prize seems more like a unicycle, unsteady and impossible to master; the temptation to quit is all too appealing.
But with a little intentional effort, your marriage can start strong and stay healthy. And…for all the seasoned veterans, your marriages can be revived! I’d like to share with you a few ways my Husband and I strengthened our marriage from the start.
5 Ways To Nurture A Marriage
1. Resolve to Leave and Cleave
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:24
Whether you’ve been married for one month or ten years, the temptation to run to caring family and friends when things get tough can be overpowering. The desire to be understood by someone can outweigh your desire to patiently wait for your beloved to come around. When my hubby and I would argue, my loving family would welcome me home with open arms ready to lick my wounds. My poor husband, who left his home, family and life in South Africa to live with me here in the states, was often left feeling isolated with no family of his own to run to. Seeking comfort away from my husband kept us from cleaving (which literally means “to stick to”). It’s hard to “stick” to each other when you’re not even together!
We decided to do something bold for our marriage. We packed up our things and moved to Hawaii. Why not? Life is short and marriage is invaluable! The remainder of our first year as a married couple (plus three more) was spent apart from all things familiar. We learned how to face our differences, depend on each other and work together. We had no one else to turn to; free from the influence of family and friends, we were vulnerable to each other and life was beautiful. We spent our free time laying on the beach, talking and getting to know each other better. Our bond grew strong and our foundation steady.
I know it sounds radical, and maybe for some of you, simply not possible. But, if you can, during that first year of marriage, try to get to a place where you and your beloved can learn what it really means to cleave to one another. For some, it may be as simple as resisting the temptation to run to family when the “going gets tough”. For others it may mean renting or buying a home in a town other than the one your family resides in. Still, for some, it may mean moving to Hawaii (which is actually way more affordable than most people think)! Whatever it is, make it happen! You won’t regret it.
2. Take a Year Off
Why not? It’s a completely Biblical concept. Take a year to focus on your marriage. For some, this might mean taking less shifts at work, for others it might mean minimizing your commitments in ministry. I’m not saying to skip church and I’m definitely not telling you to forsake fellowship with other believers. My advice to you is to take time to really focus on your marriage through the investment of your time and energy. That is a difficult commitment to make if you take on too much in other areas of your life!
Check out Deuteronomy 24:5!
If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.
It seems like God knows exactly how important the first year of marriage is!
My husband and I took this passage of scripture very personally. Having met on the mission field, we were both well acquainted with the demands of ministry. We decided that investing our time building a healthy marriage would enable us to give more to others in the future. I saw how God honored our decision when, during our second year of marriage, God placed us in a great church where we quickly became small group leaders and overseers of the mission’s board!
Life is busy. Take a year and slow it down; enjoy your beloved without having to ration your time. See it as one of God’s many wedding gifts to you!
*If you are passed your first year of marriage and feel your commitments are keeping you and your beloved from spending enough time together, it’s not too late for you! Take a time-out and enjoy each other guilt free. Build onto your marital foundation using the tool of time. You won’t regret it!
3. Go to Bed Together
Sounds like an easy task and maybe even a little inconsequential. But, this small commitment yielded abundant fruit! During our first year of marriage, Wouter and I made a habit of ending the day together. It required compromise since I like to be in bed early and he’s a night owl. We made our bedroom a little haven where we talked, laughed, prayed and shared intimate moments. Sometimes we would lie together and read or watch a movie. Sometimes we were too tired to say anything at all and still, other times we spent hours talking through our problems. We were together, winding down from our busy days. I loved that season of our marriage; too sweet to ever be forgotten. Admittedly, now 6 years later, with the demands of work, school and raising a family, we don’t retire to the bedroom together very often. I still miss my husband terribly when I have to go to bed alone and I look forward to the day when the things that demand our time begin to loosen their grip and we can end our days together once again!
4. Pursue a Mutual Interest
My hubby and I only have few things in common. Even after 7 years of marriage we struggle to find mutual interests. However, one thing that we have almost identical taste in is music. We both love the same Christian and secular artists and attending concerts together has been something we’ve enjoyed tremendously. During the first months of marriage, we would take off for evenings or entire weekend adventures, driving hours away to attend concerts or conferences where our favorite artists were leading worship. We often stayed in Bed and Breakfasts to make mini-getaways out of our excursions.
One of my husband’s favorite memories was from a Paul Wilbur concert. We drove two hours to get there and we were very late. Wouter was so mad; thinking he missed the first few songs. When we walked in, we were escorted to the only remaining seats in the building. Guess who was seated right behind us? Paul Wilbur himself! Wouter got to shake his hand and make small talk with one our favorite singers! He was elated by this little “annoyance” that turned into a big blessing!
Find a mutual interest that you and your beloved can pursue together. That shared connection builds friendship in marriage as you and your beloved make joyful memories!
5. Go on a Mission Trip Together
Uniting together for the sake of the Gospel is one of the most valuable and important experiences you can have with your spouse. Not only does it give you a humbling understanding of the work and presence of God in another part of the world, but it also gives you the opportunity to become vulnerable to one another in ways you won’t experience in the familiarity of your own home. When comforts are removed and hearts exposed, a new kind of bond grows between husband and wife. Your faith is turbo-charged and your priorities rearranged.
After our second wedding anniversary, Wouter and I went on a mission trip to Cambodia. At the time, we were used to living in beautiful, clean Hawaii where the country’s most wealthy citizens reside. We were shocked and heartbroken as we walked through the poverty-stricken streets of a country ravaged by mass genocide. Young girls sold as sex slaves and children living in garbage dumps moved us too deeply for words. Witnessing God’s light shining in the midst of despair tied our hearts together in a bond of joy. We were refined and our priorities redefined. Going on a mission trip can prove to be a turning point in your marriage!
Isn’t marriage worth our all? The more we put into it, the more we get back!
I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. Hosea 2:19