An Article for Newlyweds or Those Just Getting Married written today by Heather Paulsen, author of the book, “Emotional Purity: An Affair of the Heart”, on her blog, prompted my thoughts to return to the first days of my marriage. Heather encourages Newlyweds to back off, so to speak, from activities and commitments in their first year of marriage (please read the article for her own words) and focus on their marriage. I agree, to a point. I had already written a post, but not published it yet, on a subject relating to this, so it led me to think even more of our first days and years of marriage. Let me share my story, and another side of being a Newlywed.
My early days of marriage were one bump after another on a long, rocky road. My earliest recollection of married life is of me standing in front of the full-length mirror in our bedroom. Within days of returning home from our honeymoon, I stood looking at myself in the mirror and realized I had no idea who I was. I felt like I’d lost my identity. I had been telling a well-rehearsed story of who I was, in the context of my family’s somewhat dramatic story, for as long as I could remember. Our family name was unique, which required that I spell it for people, but I always liked that. My father’s family had a one-of-a-kind story and a hundred members, just to the level of cousins. Who I was had always been inextricably linked with my last name and family identity–superglued to it, in fact. It felt like, now, that was gone. There was a time when I thought that I should have kept my maiden name, but I didn’t know then what amazing symbolism there is in taking on your husband’s name.
But that day as I stood there looking in the mirror, saying my new married name out loud, I thought, “Who on earth is that?” There was no picture of a person that came to mind when I said my new name. I was in the midst of an identity crisis. Was I supposed to become like my husband in everything? We were polar opposites! Was I supposed to do everything his way, and only please him (which seemed to me meant not having “my way” in anything)? If I changed to fit into the family name I now possessed, what would become of the “real me”. I felt lost. I felt the very essence of who I was being swept aside.
My husband was quiet, I loved to talk; he was a morning person, I loved staying up late; I was relational and energized by being with people, he liked being alone and felt drained by being with people. He liked working on projects and fixing things and checking things off a long To-Do list. I liked meeting new people and doing new things, analyzing people and building relationships. He thrived on absolute, rigid routine, was always on time and reliable. I thrived on spontaneity, was very bubbly, energetic, loved to start new projects but had trouble finishing them, was able to relate to people well–I was frequently late, but placed more importance on dropping everything to help a friend or be there to meet a need, then living by a schedule. I was a city girl and he was a country boy. This was the “short” list of some of the differences we faced.
Our differences came to a head on one particular night I vividly remember which took place very early in our marriage. It was a Monday night. Monday night, for my husband, was laundry night. Having lived alone for many years prior to our marriage, he had his routine down to a science, and saw no reason to change now. When we got married, I was excited about staying home to be a “wife” and, having quit my job, threw myself into learning to take care of a “home” (just a 2-bedroom apartment) and a husband. Though young and inexperienced in the ordinary household duties and responsibilties, I looked forward to trying and learning. The process itself was fun to me! The planning was every bit of the experience, and it was part of my finding my new “identity” to find out how to run our “home,” and to be able to “do things for my man.” So, on this memorable Monday, when, in the course of the ritual of laundry night, he told me just exactly how to hang up his pants in the closet, even demonstrating it for me, and gave me instructions on how I was to do our laundry, I did not take it well! I can still remember the scene. I felt insulted. I felt offended. What right did he have to tell me how to do laundry?! Didn’t he believe that I was capable of doing anything without instruction?! The truth is, that my selfish and unloving motives were exposed, and my pride was hurt, when he was simply telling me how to please him better in doing this menial, but important, task for our family. If I truly were interested in finding out how to run our home and do things “for him”, I would have been happy to learn this information, right?
After 32 years of marriage, I now realize that: my husband was using his spiritual gift of “teaching,” he was acting out his personality type of engineer, and even more importantly, he was and is a man. This means, he sees the world in a vastly different way than I do as a woman. He was simply sharing information which he felt would be helpful to me, in order for his world to continue spinning in an orderly fashion, as it always had done.
Neither my husband nor I understood much about marriage, or each other, when we got married, though we’d dated for 2 years and gone through 3 months of pre-marital counseling with our pastor, including personality tests, prior to our wedding day! We had a lot to learn. I had a lot to learn.
One of the things I had to learn was that I was no longer an “individual” person! The two shall become one flesh, God says in Genesis 2:24. And Jesus says in Matthew 19:4ff: And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, 5 And said , For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? 6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” We two individuals both had to die so that Christ in each of us could live Himself out in and through our marriage.
We brought many expectations of life and each other into our marriage, though we didn’t realize it. He thought his life would stay pretty much the same: he kept on working at the same job, and thought he should keep most of his same routines, such as working on his To-Do list and projects every evening until bedtime. He really didn’t understand that getting married changed his world drastically. He expected I should have little or nothing to do with my parents (because I needed to leave them, and “cleave” to him) and he expected that I would not talk to them or any of my friends on the phone in the evenings (the only time they were home) or be with them (because I was married and would be with him). I expected that he and I would be together every moment when he wasn’t working and that we would do fun things together, and with other couples. He expected that we would stay home and save money every way we could. He also expected that we would go to his parents’ home to help his mom with processing the acre of garden produce that she had and was sharing with us–every weekend of the first three months of our marriage. I expected to continue hanging out with our group of single friends. I expected that I would have enough to do to be able to fill up my daytime hours with taking care of our tiny apartment and doing things for my husband. This last expectation is why this story relates to Heather Paulsen’s post for Newlyweds.
I was extremely busy before marriage working full-time, going every evening to exercise at a women’s workout facility, planning our wedding, having showers, etc. etc. etc.–you know the routine. Just before the wedding I quit everything: I backed off from all activities to concentrate on marriage. I quit my job. My husband didn’t think it necessary for me to go somewhere to exercise, and also it saved money, so I quit that. We moved half an hour away from our church, family, and friends–which may not seem like much, but in the inner city, I was moving 3 suburbs away, which was another world. I had no ministry, no friends, no life, and my husband didn’t understand what I was experiencing–his life basically hadn’t changed, or so he thought. Three months after our wedding day, I was extremely depressed.
God used this time of deep loneliness and depression to cause me to grow in Him. (It didn’t happen overnight, but took years, but it did happen.) However, God removed every possible source of support in my life so that I would *have* to turn to Him. Though God used those experiences in our first years of marriage, I wouldn’t say that I would wish that on anyone. I have often thought back on what could have made those early days different.
One simple fact was that I didn’t have enough to do. I needed something to do during the day. I needed to meet some other stay-at-home wives. The church we attended was a distance away, as were all our friends, but our single friends basically “dropped” us once we got married, so the distance really wasn’t as much of a factor. The few friends I had were working. Everyone expected that we were ecstaticly happy and that we wanted to be left alone. There was no one I could talk to (and my husband was very sensitive, as most men would be, about anything I might say about him to someone else and of course I wanted to be loyal). To make matters worse, for awhile I had no car. Every effort I did make failed. (I thought I would brush up on my piano playing, and tried to get permission to use the piano at a church nearby our apartment building which I could walk to, for practice, but they wouldn’t give me permission without a formal request made to the church board which wasn’t going to be meeting until the end of the summer.) This was how my story went, it seemed. Every door closed.
I have come to the conclusion that it would have been beneficial for me to have a ministry during the daytime hours–not something draining or demanding of my time–but something which involved other people, got me out of the apartment, and which involved giving of myself in service and involved using my spiritual gift(s). The internet didn’t exist at that time, but now, I think that I would search for a solid, Biblical church in the area which had some ministries during the daytime, or better yet, a moms group. Though I didn’t have children, this would have, at least, put me in touch with other women from the area, and other couples. They would, possibly, have been able to put me in touch with those who organized the ministries of the church, or they would have known of needs perhaps which a person with time and energy would be blessed to meet. Perhaps an older widow in the area who was also lonely, or who needed groceries bought, or needed to be taken to doctors’ appointments, etc. Maybe a young mom with kids who needed a helping hand once in awhile. It’s amazing that there can be someone willing to minister, but unable to find areas to serve. And it’s amazing, but true, that sometimes newlyweds aren’t in a “bubble” and so, we shouldn’t expect that they always are, and leave them alone. I believe that it’s unhealthy to their marriage, that it’s unbiblical and that it encourages selfishness in a new couple. So, though Paulsen’s comments are good, and I would agree that we should discourage extreme busyness and over-involvement on the part of a newlywed couple, (especially if it means they’re going in separate directions) I don’t advocate dropping “everything” when you are a newlywed. I would encourage courting/dating and engaged couples to be involved in ministry, and involved in relating to and having friends of all ages and both single and married, and pray about what ministry they will continue to be involved in after marriage–preferably together–but to ask, “How will a new keeper-at-home use her gifts and time to serve others and the Lord, and be busy while her husband is at work, after they are married?” There is, in this area, a large ministry for older women to support and encourage young newlywed wives. I deeply wish that there had been an older woman in my life during that time.
To hear the end of the story, go to “What’s A New Wife To Do? (Part 2). (Also, for more on “Love and Marriage” type those words in the Search box in the sidebar, and please grab the button for the series).