You’re in your first year of marriage. This is the time you imagined, prepared for and were pressured about through your dating life, and likely long before.

You recall watching other couples, while considering how amazing having a partner would be. And it’s true—there are a dozen new blessings you have now. But what about those other parts to the relationship? You know, the challenges, questions and doubts, that you didn’t think would be there? Is all that normal?

Too often, we approach marriage with rose-colored glasses. Then, when reality hits us square on, we wonder if there’s something wrong. Couples are not given an instruction manual or list of FAQs that can help guide their first few years. The good news is that most of the time the challenges we face are common. Sometimes, we just need to know what’s typical and how to approach it.

Here are six things that could help you while navigating this new, sometimes bumpy road called marriage.

This time is a transition.

Often we assume that once we say “I do,” we will magically fall into the role of a spouse. And our husband or wife will naturally do the same. Unfortunately, that’s just not realistic. Most of us have become very accustomed to a single life. It may have been the only world we’ve known, after all. Carrying this new identity of spouse day and night is something we have adjust to.

The early stage of marriage is that place between a dating relationship and an experienced partnership. You can expect a learning curve, just as you would at a new job. You’re going to be gaining insights, questioning interactions, having breakthroughs and breakdowns. This doesn’t mean anything is necessarily wrong—it just means you’re in new territory.

You can still be an individual while being part of a pair.

When you have an instant “other half” you may wonder where “you” go from here. How much of an individual should you continue to be? Are you supposed to do everything together? Is it even OK to want some time apart?

Yes, you are now tied to this person as their most intimate, one and only partner. But you’re also still you, and that’s a good thing. Psychologists often refer to this healthy middle place as being “interdependent.” It’s the sweet spot between being independent, and dependent, where two people keep their identity but also work as a team.

Practically speaking, this means supporting your spouse by getting to know some of their interests. It also means having time to yourself to do what you love. It means continuing to listen and grow as individuals by having alone time with God, while also seeking God together and growing as a Christ-centered couple.

You can choose what you focus on.

It’s human nature to focus on things we don’t like. While you were dating, you may have thought your partner’s habits were cute or interesting. Or you may have thought they were borderline annoying, but you were able to ignore them. Now that you’re married, these habits are standing out like four exclamation marks, and other tendencies you didn’t know about are clamoring to the surface.

That happens. But while these preoccupations are typical, we can decide if they stay after arrival. Yes, it can feel extremely difficult, but in the end, we choose what we focus on.

Look for the things you always loved about your spouse, and make it a plan to uncover more positive traits you didn’t see before. Consider your own quirks and humbly realize that you’re not perfect either. Gaze upon the things in your spouse that matter, and the small ones will more easily fade into the background.

Your thoughts can’t be read.

It can be easy to assume that if our spouse knows us well and cares for us, he or she should know what we’re thinking. And there will be times this happens. There will be other times when we’re going to have to speak up ourselves.

The truth is that no human being can always read our minds. We might believe our thoughts should be obvious, but that’s easy to think since they’re our thoughts. No one can know the ins and outs of your mind except for God. A partner’s degree of love is not correlated with their degree of accurate predicting.

Clearly, share your thoughts with your spouse. Be willing to invite and listen to their feelings as well. Be an example for the type of communication you hope to receive back from them.

Your spouse will let you down.

It’s something you don’t want to expect. But the inevitable fact is that you married someone who is imperfect, just as you are. How do you handle it when he or she lets you down?

It can be easy for us to make our spouse into our foundation. But we will find they can’t always hold us up—or hold us up completely. There will be times you won’t feel understood no matter how much you explain your feelings. Moments you feel wounded by critical or careless words. Take those times as reminders to shift the foundation of your heart back to God. Remember that He is the only one who understands fully why you feel what you do. Remember He knows how to love and support you perfectly, with constant patience and grace.

Marriage is a blessing and an opportunity.

Before marriage, most single people look longingly toward the happiness that married life will bring them. While marriage is a tremendous joy, it’s also one of the most intense arenas of God’s refinement. We must listen and allow it to change us into our potential. God desires us to use these challenges as opportunities to learn and grow.

Of course, nobody affects us as much as those we’re closest to. But can you imagine if, instead of following our old tendencies, both partners asked themselves, “How can I use this situation to become more like Him?” If that happened, you’d have a marriage that only gets better as the years pass. Even if just one spouse did that, it could begin a new reaction of love in response.

Marriage is the uniting of two completely different people and all the baggage they bring with them. It was built with extraordinary potential—to be an example of Christ’s love on this earth. The partnership we take on with another person is dynamic and beautiful. But it often takes a windy road of repositioning and adjusting, for it to become all we hope it will be.

Truth be told, a marriage will only be as healthy or prosperous as the two people in it endeavor to be. Fortunately, God will help us flourish as individuals and as a pair, if we are committed to Him through it. He is the one who created marriage, and He’s the expert at developing it.

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