During my teen years, Dad and I enjoyed watching the TV series Seventh Heaven together. The show’s characters Mary and Lucy were around my age and I related with many of their growing pains. Being one of the cleaner shows on television in the late 90s and early 2000s, I watched it without conviction and loved those Monday night viewing parties with my dad.
Recently, I found Seventh Heaven offered on one of our television streaming services, so I decided to give it a re-watch and see if it held the same joy for me it did all those years ago. Just as before, it sucked me in, but this time it came with the option of watching season after season without having to wait – a convenience of which my teenage counterpart could never have dreamed!
Watching it again, I found myself filled with nostalgia, missing my Dad, and remembering the struggles my tender young heart faced back in those days. Along with my happy trip down memory lane, I noticed something else as I watched the show again from an adult and married perspective: this show (and others) totally warped my expectations of relationships and marriage!
Oh my goodness! George Stults never flirted with me in an airport. Eric (my husband, not the television dad) would never put up with frantic outbursts of disrespect or crazy jealousy. Neither Eric nor I ever bounced back from an argument after a three-minute discussion and a grin. We were not able to operate as adults while also living in a convenient garage apartment and eating every meal with my parents. Thinking back to my dating, engaged, and newlywed days, I expected my life to turn out much like Lucy’s – a lot of pleasure in exchange for having to endure a bit of hardship.
The realities of life were, not surprisingly, much more complex and much less dazzling. Marriage came with real bills, real arguments, and real growing pains. Whether we realized it or not, we entered this marriage gig with preconceived ideas of what it meant to be married. So, we got married and each of us immediately started expecting from each other (as couples often do). We went through a church-sponsored premarital counseling program with a sweet, older couple; but, that program only scratched the surface of what was coming in marriage. We walked into marriage mostly blind and if we had the chance to relive our first year, we would surely make the following changes:
- We would take on a lighter load. “When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be liable for any other public duty. He shall be free at home one year to be happy with his wife whom he has taken.” (Deuteronomy 24:5, ESV) If you have followed us for a little while, you would know that Eric and I got married during our first year of graduate school. Working towards the same counseling degree program, we thought going to school together would bring us closer – it did not. ~smile~ We quickly discovered that our study styles are quite different. He works first and plays later; whereas, I play until I am forced to work. Though we approached school differently, I think the bigger problem we faced as newlyweds was our deeply divided focus. Eric does not take on a task without giving it his all. My heart became bitter and resentful at the time he spent with his face in a textbook rather than spending time with me (even though we were in the same program and I understood the need to read). In retrospect, we wish we had put school on the back burner for a year and spent that year getting to know each other better, spending time together, and creating good habits for our marriage.
- We would get in the habit of reading the Bible together daily. Speaking of good habits, Eric and I have always struggled to maintain consistent daily Bible reading together. Friends of ours began their daily reading when they returned from their honeymoon over ten years ago and they continue in this discipline today. I admire them for it! School was a good use of time, but not nearly as important as getting on a firm Biblical footing. We both wish we had taken the time to establish this practice in our first year. Fortunately, we are (currently) back on track through the assistance of The Bible Recap (check it out!).
- We would prioritize building couple friendships. This is where I must apologize to Eric. When we were first married, I was terrible – I repeat, T-E-R-R-I-B-L-E – at building couple friendships. Caught somewhere between a child and a woman, a large part of me wanted to live as though I was still in college and hang out with my college friends. Eric wanted us to establish couple friendships, but I pushed the idea away for years… years!. So much of my resistance came out of fear – fear of leaving my old life behind, fear of change, and fear of rejection. When I finally did start to open myself up to hospitality and getting to know other couples, I found a lot of joy in it. If I could go back to my twenty-three-year-old self, I would tell her to let her guard down, perfect three recipes, and invite some people over. Not every couple is going to be your best friends, but one or more of them might end up being like family. It is worth the effort and risk. On this item too, I have even made progress this year and we have started spending more time with couples – a trend I am aiming to continue.
- We would be better aware of our expectations. Expectations are tricky. Often, we do not realize our expectations until they are violated. When Eric and I had some of our early arguments, I would leave the room in anger and expect him to follow me and try to reconcile. (After all, that’s what my Dad used to do to my Mom.) Much to my surprise, he did not! After shedding some tears, I would emerge from the bedroom and find him on his computer. How dare he?! Did he not know he was supposed to follow me? I also found that movies and TV shows had (unhelpfully) shaped my idea of “normal.” Eric quickly showed me otherwise! If we could go back to that first year, we would take some time to proactively unearth more of our expectations before situations unearthed them for us! When you are aware of your expectations, you can analyze them to make sure they are fair and realistic.
Watching newlyweds with perfect lives on TV brings a different feeling to my heart than what it once did. What once held the dream of a fairytale romance is now a reminder of how I was set up by the media. Real marriage is full of real frustrations and real joys. Your spouse will not be perfect – and neither will you – but, you can compile lessons learned from us, your parents, your grandparents, your friends, and any other couple who is willing to share their story with you.
- Interview them.
- Laugh with them.
- Learn from them.
After you take down their notes, make some plans for your first year. As the saying goes, we plan and God laughs. So, no, your plan will not work out exactly as expected, but a house built with a blueprint stands firmer than a house built with no preparation. Do you need to postpone school for a year or finish school before you get married? Do you need to look for work which does not require as many hours or as much travel? Do you need to take a long, hard look at your inner-expectations (perhaps by thinking up scenarios and playing the what if game)? Do you need to spend more time investing in couple friendships you can carry into your marriage with you?
We got married and expected the best. We did not realize at the time that we had not planned or prepared well enough for the best. We just took our expectations into marriage and thought the other shared our ideals. Before taking your vows, talk through your first year. What do you want to get out of your first year of marriage? What do you want to put into it? What sacrifices will you need to make to bring your plans to fruition?
Lord, thank you for our fourteen years of marriage. Thank you for the good times and the struggles as they have helped us to grow. Please bless these couples as they look towards their futures. Please light their paths and show them how to have a rich and rewarding first year of marriage. A year which will set habits in motion for the rest of their years together. We thank you for being Lord of all and caring about our relationships.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
How are you preparing for your first year of marriage?