Every girl dreams of that happily ever after, but unlike fairy tales, your dream-wedding day isn’t the end of your story. It’s only the beginning. That day starts a lifelong journey of friendship, intimacy, and teamwork. A true happily ever after requires work, intention, and strength.
When the confetti falls, and the cake’s all gone, it’s just you and your new husband. And it’s different from dating. Your communication is not limited to phone calls and dinner dates. Now, you see each other every day and talk all the time. You’re under the same roof, eating the same food, and sharing the same bed every night.
With that sort of frequency, even the little things can wear on you, like a pebble stuck in your shoe on a hike.
It’s no wonder people talk about the honeymoon phase ending! But here are three phrases you can use to breathe strength into your new marriage and help your marriage stay strong and sweet:
1. “What do you mean?”
My husband and I are both professional communicators—literally. I used to be a teacher, and am now a writer and speaker. He’s a counselor and pastor who leads marriage retreats and counsels people regularly. We both are pretty even-tempered and relatively good at conflict resolution. Communication is the last thing we thought would be an issue for us.
Guess what causes 90% of our disagreements: Communication.
We’re both skilled communicators, but sometimes it can feel like we’re speaking fluently in two different languages. Our problem wasn’t articulating ourselves clearly but, instead, assuming we knew what the other person meant when they said what they did.
Many experts encourage couples to practice active listening. In active listening, you repeat what your partner says either as a question or with the prefix, “What I hear you saying is…”. But just because you hear what someone says doesn’t mean you necessarily understand what they mean.
For instance, several of our disagreements early on was caused by misunderstanding my husband’s priorities. He might say, “Today, I would like to clean the office.” For me, that meant, “This is what I want to do today.” That would shape my expectations for the day, and I would get frustrated when we didn’t accomplish it, and then more frustrated that he wasn’t frustrated about not finishing it. It turns out it wasn’t a priority for him, just a thought.
After a few rounds of this, we realized the typical tricks of “active listening” don’t work well for us. In our marriage, we hear each other clearly and can repeat word for word what has been said, but we don’t always understand what the other one means. So, we ask “What do you mean?” or we ask each other to rate things (“I want/need/would like to do that” or “I don’t want/like that”) on a scale of one to ten.
Asking your partner to expound on what they mean helps strengthen your communication skills and cut back on disagreements caused by simple misunderstandings.
2. “We’re Still Learning”
A second phrase that can help strengthen your marriage is a “grace phrase” I picked up while working as a high school teacher: “We’re still learning.” I spent five years teaching high school math and would watch as my students would get discouraged struggling to solve geometry proofs or calculus equations. Reminding them that they were still learning encouraged them that I wasn’t expecting them to get everything right away. This phrase recognized that the content might be hard for them, but offered the assurance that they could get it.
Those same things apply in marriage.
It can be discouraging when there are snags in the road. When the balance is hard to find, and you feel worn down by the days that are a little bit harder, you may feel inadequate. You may even feel like a failure. When he says something that unintentionally hurts you or you do something that unintentionally hurts him, it can make you wonder if you will ever figure this out.
Instead of saying, “This isn’t working,” or “I can’t do this,” adopt the phrase, “We’re still learning.”
I’m a bit of a perfectionist and can expect myself to master things quickly. I’m a problem solver and analyst; that’s my MO (method of operation). So, I can be exceptionally hard on myself. In the first couple of weeks of our marriage, when we felt the pressure of adjusting to life together, I would be in tears feeling like a failure. I was failing at this marriage thing, at this stay-at-home wife thing. When we would have moments of tension or disagreements, I would get discouraged.
It’s easy to compare your fledgling marriage to the couple in your church who have been married 50 years and is still madly in love with each other.
You might think, “This is hard. Why don’t we have that?”
And the answer is because you’re not there yet. No 1-year-old jumps up and starts running a marathon. No 3-year-old solves quantum physics equations. There is time to grow and mature, and then even with growth and maturity, there is training. It doesn’t matter how long you have known each other; you’re still learning. Knowledge is power!
Plus this phrase carries with it so much grace! Hard days are often caused by misunderstanding, and “We’re still learning” relieves you both from the expectation that everything is supposed to be perfect. It strengthens you as a team and encourages you to ride the bumps in the road knowing they make you stronger.
3. “I Choose You”
My original third phrase was, “You’re my favorite” because my husband and I say it all the time. But, let’s be honest, there are days when the person sitting across from you at a tense dinner table isn’t exactly your favorite. If we’re talking about bringing strength into your marriage, false affection won’t do that.
“Fake it until you make it” isn’t exactly a great marriage strategy. It doesn’t strengthen your marriage or your intimacy. In fact, faking can wear away at intimacy. That doesn’t mean you express every negative emotion to your husband, but it also means you don’t filter out those moments when he’s not your favorite.
Instead, use this phrase: “I choose you.”
Because that’s what you did, you stood in front of friends and family, at a church, park, courthouse, or an exotic beach, and declared that this person was the one you chose for life. And on the days when communication is shaky, and the learning is hard, that choice is the bedrock of your marriage. It is why you weather communication issues and why you keep learning.
A happily ever after doesn’t just happen; it takes a lot of grit and a lot of grace. But as time goes, you will understand each other more clearly, know each other better, and find your marriage grow stronger and stronger. Remember, your wedding day isn’t the end of your story; it is a glorious and beautiful beginning.
Feature image by Hernan Sanchez.
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