Monday, March 24, 2014

Marriage is hard, but don't panic

By Mary C. Tillotson
Blessing of the Young Couple Before Marriage
by Pascal Dagnan Bouveret, 1880
Public Domain

After complaining about all the “marriage is hard” reminders I got during my engagement and rounding up two other married women to write notes of encouragement to young, frightened brides, I found myself typing an email to a college friend of mine, telling her that marriage is, of all things, hard. Perhaps I ought to forgive the older wives. Perhaps, like I was, they were trying to be helpful.

Most young brides are naive and doe-eyed about marriage, and I think we should let them begin their marriage doe-eyed and trusting! Marriage is a risk, and new wives will learn soon enough that love this deep carries the potential to be hurt this deeply. Don’t lecture them with horror stories or pass on your jaded view of marriage. It’s wrong to needlessly undermine their ability to love and trust their new husbands.

In college, worried about my ability to be a decent mother someday, I asked a mother of six to teach me how to change a diaper. While we were chatting over her wiggly six-month-old, she told me that no matter how prepared you are for motherhood, 90 percent of it you make up on the spot. I think the same is true of marriage. At least so far, mine’s been like that.

It’s impossible to describe to a new bride what marriage really entails, because some things can only be learned through experience. Even if it were possible to communicate to the new bride exactly how it feels to confront one’s own pettiness (and that of one’s spouse) in the inevitable argument over how to fold towels, what would that accomplish? She will still have that argument. And she will have it with her husband, not anyone else’s; she will bring her personality and experience to the table, not anyone else’s. She and her new husband need to learn how to make their relationship work, not anyone else’s.

I think young brides do need to hear that marriage is hard, but not from jaded or micromanaging wives. Marriage is hard sometimes, and it’s startling, at least at first, and it’s comforting to know that there’s no need to panic. Here is what I started writing to my friend:

Marriage is going to be difficult in ways you can’t imagine right now. It’s going to test you and try you and stretch you and call you to a kind of love that doesn’t even make sense to you, at least right away. You’re going to become painfully aware of your own immaturity and pettiness, and of your husband’s. You will find yourself failing over and over, and him, too; you will be tempted to despair and wonder if you made the right decision.

But don’t dwell on that right now. Right now, be joyful; plan your wedding and look forward to many long, happy years together. If you both work together and cooperate with grace, that’s what your marriage will be. Believe in love, because love is real; you have every reason to believe you will have a great marriage.

Tuck away those reminders that marriage is hard. Don’t stress yourself out over it. Soon enough the two of you will hit a bump in the road, and you’ll be surprised that marriage could be like this. Think back on what you heard, and take courage: this may be the hardest, most painful thing you’ve been dealt up until now, but many other women – many other marriages – have dealt with this kind of thing before. It is normal. Work through it and you will find a kind of love and joy and peace that you can’t imagine right now.

What do you think? Married women, what advice do you think would be helpful for young brides? Engaged women, what kind of encouragement could you use?

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