In some ways, a marriage is a lot like taking a long road trip with a friend. You both are trying to get somewhere (hopefully the same place) and you’ve committed to doing it together. In light of this, there is a truth about something road trips and marriage have in common that I’d like to discuss.
The first turn is really, really important.
I live in Atlanta, which is a city dominated by interstates. I-75 runs through it, north to south. I-85 runs through it, northwest to southwest. I-20 runs through it east to west. Depending which interstate I get on and in which direction (which is the first turn in my trip), this determines a lot about where I will go. It limits a lot about where I will not go. That first turn forms the framework on which I will reach, or not reach my destination. The following turns are just the details, fleshing out whatever overall direction the first turn determined. If I want to go to New York, I’d better not get on 1-20, because I’ll never get there. Or, after moving in the wrong direction for a while, I’ll have to course correct…which is never fun. Or easy.
In a like manner, there are some important turns you can make early in your marriage that have a tremendous impact on the direction you both will take. They can either turn you towards things like maturity, wholeness, greater affection and trust, healthy communication and more oneness…or not.
In light of this, what are some really good ‘first turns’ young couples can make?
9. Take the first year to really concentrate on learning how to be married. That first year of marriage can be a really tender, sensitive time, when possibilities are open that may not come around again. There is never another season of life where you are more open to change, to really hearing what your spouse is saying regarding their needs and preferences, to be willing to accommodate the other, to be willing to learn. As time goes on, patterns get set, routines established, normal is defined. Once these things are in place, change is much harder and often more painful. This means the first year of marriage is a special window of opportunity to craft and shape things in your marriage. My advice? If you don’t have to, don’t fill up your schedule with other, less important things. Keep your evenings and weekends free to play, make love and talk. Make lots of fun memories together. Don’t commit to a lot of church or social activities – as good as these may be in another season of life. Try to meet up with other couples in the same season of life and talk. Try to meet up with other older, healthy couples in the next season of life and pick their brains. While it is true that you can always go back and fix things later, it is so much easier to build something right the first time as opposed to having to repair it down the road.
10. An important first turn is learning how to talk to one another. One the reasons sex is such an important part of marriage is in how it forces a young couple to learn to talk about incredibly intimate and personal things. “I like this. I would like to try this. I need this. I am not comfortable with that. Are you ok? This is stirring up stress in me, could we slow down or stop and talk about this? etc. ” Is there anything more awkward? Yet, is there anything more important to the longterm happiness and health of a couple’s intimacy? What a great skill for two people who have committed to do life together to learn! And I’m not just talking about sex here anymore. I am talking about the skill and art of learning to communicate about things of the heart. Ask any couple who have been married for longer than 2 minutes how important communication is, and they will probably fall all over themselves emphasizing this. For two people to navigate all the challenges, changes, pain, emotions, crises, joys, with another…you have to learn to talk. To listen. To engage. One of the most important things a young couple can spend the first season of life together learning is how to do this well. How to let the other know how they feel, when a subject is getting too emotional for them to continue healthily, how to say things like “I’m sorry,” and “I love you,” and “Help,” and “Stop,” – and how not to say those things in the way you want to say it, but in the way they are able to hear it. No one knows what life will throw at them as time goes on. But if you can build a relationship that contains the tools to communicate and problem-solve…the likelihood is higher that you can work through whatever comes your way. Young people…please, spend a lot of your first year of marriage learning to talk and listen to each other. (and making love to each other…which is material for another post:) It is a turn that leads you to good places in your relationship. And it is a turn that is so much easier to make early on as opposed to later.
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