If you’ve shared an honest conversation with me or followed my journey on social media, you know that I’m pretty upfront about the hardships and lessons learned from the first year of marriage. Authentic and honest stories were what I craved and needed most in a tough season, and I have made it my mission to help other women feel content in their imperfect relationships. However, to do that I need to take it a step further. I need to put our marriage story out there in hopes that it reaches one woman who can breathe a sigh of relief. The wife who needs to see that she’s not alone in her journey of walking a tough path. The woman who believes God is still in control. Here’s our story and the marriage advice I wish I would've known before saying "I do."
From the day Shawn put a ring on my finger, it’s been nothing like what I imagined it would be. In our engagement, Shawn and I faced a layoff, his career move to California, a long distance relationship, and many of my unexpected insecurities that stirred from the 1600 mile and 2-hour time difference. I personally kept my eye on the wedding date, naively thinking that saying ‘I Do’ would fix everything. It would fill the voids, heal the hurts, and bind the connection that we’d been missing the four months leading up to the Big Day.
Spoiler alert: It didn’t. Little did I know that when we left our ceremony and festivities in Colorado Springs that I’d be in for the biggest and most unwanted surprise of my life. Marriage (or, ours at least) is HARD. There were and still are several factors that contributed to this journey being difficult.
First, our work schedules were unlike anything we’d experienced when we first fell in love. Shawn left the house by 6:00 AM and sometimes wouldn’t return until 7:00 PM, due to traffic and long work hours. By the time he got home, he was emotionally and physically spent. In comparison, I was working from home for the first time, in a state where I didn’t know a single soul besides my Safeway grocery checker. I was lonely and deprived of social interaction for the first time in my life. A time when we were supposed to be soaking up all the supposed Pinterest-inspired honeymoon phase had to offer. This created the perfect cocktail for resentment and unmet expectations on both accounts.
Second, Shawn and I are both ESTJs on the Myers-Briggs personality scale. Imagine, two CEOs trying to run the same company. That’s what it’s like to be in love with each other. It’s a constant push-pull of ownership and power, which has both humbled and hurt us.
Lastly, we are still getting to know each other. I had several friends strategically point out to me that our relationship is still forming. We only knew each other five months before we got engaged, and due to his career move, were pushed to exchange vows a short seven months later. Granted, we wasted little time with courtship and were very open, honest, and direct about ourselves and our intentions from the beginning. But still, we still have a lot of growing to do.
You Should Know Before We Dive In
Now, before getting into the takeaways and tips I’ve learned from the first year of marriage, please let me say what no one told me before my wedding. There is no God-given blueprint for the perfect marriage. I often joke that marriage was a secret club where members encourage you to join and will tell you it's fun and great and life-giving. Then, when you enter the secret club, everyone starts sharing all the deep, dark, behind-the-scenes secrets and struggles of membership. Now that you’re a member, you see that this club is just as dysfunctional as singleness. In all honesty, I found those friends and personally said “Thanks for the bait and switch!”
Some couples may seem to have the perfect union, but for most it’s not what it seems. Marriage is as unique as a fingerprint. No two fingerprints are alike like no two unions are the same. While there are moments and milestones you can strive for, you can’t hold your picture of marriage up to the templated Instagram profile of another couple. Comparison can steal every single ounce of your joy if you let it.
Just because you’re going through a rough patch doesn’t mean it will always look like that. I believe that every couple has a different journey of high and low points. While your friend or favorite social media influencer may have a marriage that’s in its prime, it doesn’t mean that your prime isn’t to come. For some, it’s the first year. For some, it’s year ten. Regardless, we have to be willing to hang on long enough to find out. God created marriage, and He can redeem it. It may be miracle-level redemption, but we have to trust His timing and believe in His power.
With that said, there are lessons that I’ve learned from this first year of marriage that I hope you’ll find helpful in your journey.
Tip #1: Level the Playing Field of Grace
Throughout the first year, and often still, I’d catch myself holding my husband to a different set of accountability than my friends and family. If my best friend forgets to call when she said she would, or my brother has to change plans because of work, I’m quick to forgive and give grace. If my husband does any of the above? It’s a sin that can’t be easily overlooked, and I make him earn his way back into my good graces. But that's not what we're called to do. Ephesians 4:32 says very plainly for a simple mind like mine to forgive as the Lord forgave: with love and unwavering grace. We can't refuse to forgive, because we're forgiven, and we can’t change the rules of grace based on the person we’re supposed to extend it to. Level the playing field.
Tip #2: Never Have Hard Conversations After Two Glasses of Wine
Something we learned very early on, was that we don’t fight fair when we have liquid courage. There’s a reason why the Bible instructs us to be filled with the Spirit rather than alcohol.
“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit..” - Ephesians 5:15-18
I didn’t take this verse too seriously until I got married. Then, after a few battle-filled nights of resentful words, I realized that the more we tried to imbibe in wine as an excuse to have more courage and fewer inhibitions with conversations, the stronger of a foothold Satan had. If you’re struggling with resentment or you have something on your chest, find a time to have an open conversation when you’re both of sober mind.
Tip #3 Engage in Preventative Maintenance
I’m very upfront about the help that our Christian counselor has given Shawn and me as both a couple and as individuals and hope I can help take some stigma away from marriage counseling. Some people think it’s only a place you go when there’s a problem. Please friend, get that out of your head. One of the best pieces of advice a great friend and spiritual mentor gave me before Shawn and I got married was to find a marriage counselor right off the bat. With all the change we've experienced over the last year, it's been an incredible outlet to share, process, and grow. I believe it's like going to a Dentist to maintain dental health. While it's necessary to put in the daily work of dental hygiene, you also have to visit a professional on a consistent basis to have the best health you can. Sometimes we can’t do it all on our own, and thankfully we don't have to!
Tip #4: Be Honest
One of the biggest hurdles I faced in my relationship with my husband was not being completely honest about my feelings. I was afraid of opening up about what I was feeling in fear that it would be too much. But the funny thing about hidden feelings is they have their way of making it back to the top when you least expect, or want them to.
The anxiety from the distance from family and friends, job change, the transition of molding two very structured humans’ routines, and brokenness of two sinful people finally collided. I had my first anxiety attack in the departure line at San Francisco International Airport as Shawn dropped me off from a week-long visit just a month before our wedding ceremony. I experienced my second meltdown the next day, just fifteen minutes before the start of my bridal shower. These attacks continued over our first year, all because I refused to be honest with my husband, myself, and God. I told all three that I was fine and could handle it, but it was a fear-based lie that would come crashing down at the most unexpected, and inopportune times. It wasn’t until I owned my emotions and story, expressed those feelings and fears to Shawn, and admitted my struggle for control to God that I felt free. Because let’s face it. We owe it to our ‘other half’ to be truthful, and we’re never going to scare God away.
Tip #5: Surround Yourself with People Who Support Your Relationship (Not Just You)
The friends you open up to, the music you listen to, the books you read, the people you follow on Instagram: it all matters when fighting through a dark season. When things are tough and the soul is weak, you have to be strategic about guarding your heart. I can remember one Saturday while sitting on my patio listening to the traffic whiz by on the nearby freeway, as I felt the weight of my circumstances. Shawn was at work, and I sat and cried about how hard this move had been on us. I had no one to open up to and didn't want to let anyone see my struggles. Three seconds into a prayer, my best friend FaceTimed me from across the country. Rather than put on the brave face like I usually tried to do, I lost it. I told her my fears and struggles as I sobbed. When it was all said and done, she brought me the peace, assurance, and grace that I’d longed for. In this case, my friend shared my belief that marriage was a gift from God, not something that can be thrown away when it doesn’t feel right. She knew my husband well and cared deeply for him. She was not solely on Team Jantzen; she was on Team Miller.
Whatever you’re going through, whether it be marital issues, singleness, struggles with health and body image, job woes, etc., it's important to guard your heart by carefully choosing who you share it with. Rather than spilling your situation and struggles to someone who will automatically take your side and breed prideful behavior, bad choices, or drama, find people who believe in what you’re fighting for. Let God use them to speak truth, love and biblical wisdom to you.
Tip #6: Pray - Every Single Day
The single greatest tip I could give you for marriage is to pray for your relationship and your spouse on a daily basis. Books like The Power of a Praying Wife reiterate this advice. The habit of praying for your husband is critical because it reminds us of God’s place in our marriage. He is the CEO, the Blessed Controller and Creator of all things. He can change hearts and outcomes, and heal the most broken of people and situations. The Lord desires and requires reconciliation, but we have to turn everything over and allow Him to move. Our dependence and reliance on God is our only job in this life. With these lessons learned and changes made, I can tell you that our marriage has made so much progress in the past year and continues to grow. And while there are times when I wish it could be easier, I know it's all for a reason bigger than I could imagine. As with all imperfect seasons of life, without the climb we could never look back on the messy and beautiful upward journey that God had planned for us all along.
Whether you’re single and desiring marriage, or already married but in a tough season, I hope these words resonate with you. I hope they show you that God is in control of the timing, and we have to stick it out long enough to see how He moves. But most of all, I hope you’re encouraged to own and share your story. When we’re brave enough to tell others about our truth, we give God a platform to create deeper connections with both Him and His children.
Joyful Takeaway: Marriage is as unique as a fingerprint. No two fingerprints are alike, like no two marriages are the same. While there are moments and milestones you can strive for, you can’t hold your picture of marriage up to the templated Instagram profile of another couple. Comparison can steal every single ounce of your joy if you let it.