The day my soon-to-be husband and I had been planning for eight months had finally arrived: June 10, 2022. Nerves and excitement swirled as I curled up in bed, reading a letter from Perry. I’m easily anxious about big life changes. But as I read the letter, I knew as long as we kept God at the center of our marriage, marrying Perry was the right decision.

I was still anxious as my hair and makeup were done. I was just a few hours away from one of the biggest moments in my life. Was this really happening? Was today the day I would become a wife?

The rest of the day was a dream. The things that didn’t go as planned went unnoticed. And in the blink of an eye, I heard, “Perry, you may kiss your bride.” We were married!

The first year of marriage: when dream meets reality

During the first year of marriage, the dream became reality as we both realized the first year of marriage is full of things we didn’t expect.

Here are five surprises that have shaped and grown us to look more like our Creator and have taught us how to love each other better.

Surprise 1: understanding love languages

We all want to be loved the way God loves us. Jeremiah 1:4-5 reads, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

The word consecrated means to be set apart as holy, to be treasured. God treasures you in the unique way He made you, and He treasures your spouse in the unique way He made them. At the core of your heart, you desire to be set apart as unique, holy, and special by your spouse too. This is part of why you said, “I do,” at the altar. 

In The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller writes, “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God.”

But to make your spouse feel fully known and truly loved, requires intentionality. This was a surprise in our first year of marriage. Learning Perry’s love languages—the way he feels seen and known—was eye-opening. 

My love languages are acts of service and receiving gifts. I appreciate it when Perry randomly vacuums the house, puts away the dishes, or picks me up flowers. But Perry’s are quality time and words of affirmation. He loves uninterrupted time together and to hear, “I am proud of you.” 

I was surprised at how foreign it felt to give love to Perry in the way he desires, versus how I like to receive love. I still struggle to know how to love my husband well at times, and I’ve had to learn to love him the way God made Him to be loved. But our differences are beautiful because they showcase more of the unique, complex character of God.

Surprise 2: balancing independence and interdependence

Naturally, some people are more independent than others. While dating, it was easy for Perry and I to have our independence from one another. We’d see each other a few times a week, but the majority of our relationship was structured. We had a lot of spaces and places where we were still able to be independent and make our own decisions.

A friend once told me that, when you get married, you surrender your right to make unilateral decisions.

A desire for independence came as a surprise to both of us early into our first year of marriage, even though we knew we needed to work together to make decisions that may affect the other. 

Perry and I wondered what interdependence looked like—where we still each had some independence, but we also leaned on one another for support, friendship, and partnership. 

In our marriage, interdependence often looks like choosing to share hard things with one another—a tough day at work or a difficult relationship. For me, it’s also consciously choosing to share the deepest parts of myself with Perry and to lean on him for support and comfort. But in that, we have also acknowledged our need for same-gender friends who understand us.  

We are still learning how to navigate what independence and interdependence look like in marriage. The walk between the two can be tricky. But God uses the tension between independence and interdependence to reveal to us our sin patterns and faulty thinking in marriage and to help us grow closer to Himself and our spouse.

Find out why over 1.5 million couples have attended FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember.

Surprise 3: merging of family systems

As you entered into marriage, you carried with you different family traditions and traits. When these merged for the first time, you may have been surprised at how they affected you.

In our first year of marriage, holidays looked different with Perry’s family than with mine. While my family has a small gathering, Perry’s family has a large gathering. Our first Christmas as husband and wife was nothing short of a surprise. 

After spending the days leading up to Christmas with Perry’s family in Indiana, we planned to fly to my parents’ home in New York on Christmas Eve. But due to a winter storm, we didn’t arrive until Christmas afternoon. I’ve never not woken up at my childhood home on Christmas morning. This felt like a heavy, painful weight in my stomach, and this loss/change took time to process, grieve, and move forward from. Perry and I navigated this experience by beginning to plan for what this upcoming year could look like for our family. 

Jesus meets us in the grief of change. He also meets us in the joys of change. With both, we learn that this life is not our own and there is a bigger story He is writing. He wants us to grow and see the world through different perspectives, through different family systems. 

God gave us the gift of families, and the uniqueness within them is something we celebrate! 

Surprise 4: Resolving conflict

“Will you forgive me?” I asked Perry after a long evening of arguing about summer travel plans. This has been a recurring question throughout our first year of marriage. 

Perry and I naturally respond differently in conflict. I outburst and/or withdraw. Perry is more likely to want to talk it out, but if it doesn’t appear to be reaching a resolution, he may withdraw. You can see how these two approaches collide at times. 

Yet conflict is a beautiful thing. (You may read that sentence and struggle to believe it.) Conflict: 

  • Showcases the differences we all possess. 
  • Points out our sinfulness, how we mess up and fall short of God’s perfect standard.
  • Shows us our continual need for God.

I wouldn’t trade a single fight we’ve had if it would rob me of an opportunity to trust God, love Perry more, and experience humility in my life. When conflict reveals what’s happening at the core of our hearts, real transformation happens in marriage.

Surprise 5: desiring to be understood

In our first year of marriage, counseling has been pivotal for Perry and I to dissect misunderstandings and hurt. Through counseling, we discovered another surprise in our first year of marriage: the difference between listening and understanding. 

To truly understand Perry, I need to ask deeper questions when he shares something with me. Often, that means setting aside the phone, the laptop, and the book to be fully present with him.

I thought this would come easily in marriage, because I try to care well for my friends and family members. I imagined it would be like sitting across from a friend in a coffee shop and having a deep, soul-level conversation. There may be tears shed by my friend or me, and I’d work hard to help them feel seen and heard, while also feeling seen and heard by them. 

Over the first year of marriage, I’ve been learning that Perry thinks and feels differently than me. But at the core, he desires the same depth I give to my friends, and  I desire the same from him.

Surprises in your first year of marriage are inevitable

Be patient with yourself and your spouse. Most likely, neither of you has done this “thing” called marriage before. So here are a few tips on navigating the surprises that come your way during the first year of marriage:

  1. Seek wise counsel from mentors or professional counseling. This can help uncover what’s beneath the surface of any tension and move toward wholeness. (Note: On this side of eternity with God, there may be things that don’t completely heal until we meet Jesus face-to-face.)
  2. Go vertical with your relationship with God, especially when surprises arise in marriage and you or your spouse disappoint the other. God is still there with you.
  3. Tell yourself your spouse is not your enemy. There is a greater enemy who is seeking to destroy your marriage. Thankfully, you have a loving Father who is protective toward you and your marriage.

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Brooke Wilson is a content writer and editor for FamilyLife at Cru’s World Headquarters in Orlando. She is newly married to her husband, Perry, and they have a chocolate labrador named Willow. Originally from Syracuse, New York, Brooke moved to Florida to pursue writing and editing content full time. A few of her favorite things are photography, running, and sipping a warm chai latte across from a friend.