by Jana L. Howson
My grandmother-in-law-to-be told me on the night before the wedding, “Never do anything in the first week of marriage that you don’t want to do for the rest of your life.” While that might be a bit of an exaggeration, the first year of marriage is a time to set up healthy habits to serve you well for the years to come. Here’s a list of resources that can help you start off on the right foot.
You’ve probably spent a lot of time getting to know each other better during your engagement, but there’s always more to learn about each other. One good way is through a guided couples’ journal. Try “Why I Love You: A Journal of Us” by Suzanne Zenkel. It has gender-neutral reflection prompts that can be done individually or together, focusing on the connection between partners. When the journal is done, it makes a great keepsake.
Keep up the activities that drew you together in the first place. Attending church events or Bible study together, or going out for a regularly scheduled date night can help you continue to deepen your friendship as well as your marriage.
Deepening your faith
Faith and spirituality are important to married life, but it can be difficult to know how to begin having conversations with your spouse. A good way to get started is by sharing a devotional book of daily readings and prayers together. If prayer and liturgy speak to your shared faith life, check out Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. It has daily responsive prayer, suggested scripture readings and a short reflective reading. For something short and sweet, try Bread for the Day: Daily Bible Readings and Prayers. If you want an online resource (and bonus – it’s free!) Luther Seminary’s “God Pause” is a great option.
No matter what source you use for your devotions, consider incorporating into your devotional a question that speaks to you and your spouse. For example, “How does this devotion reflect on our life together?” or “What is God calling us to in our marriage through this text?”
One of the interesting challenges of marriage is managing the daily routine of sharing space, time and resources. Time and organization can be a big challenge, so a family calendar – either the old-fashioned on-the-wall kind, or a shared calendar app that you sync on your phones – can help manage the ins and outs of sharing a family schedule (particularly if one or both of you bring children to the marriage).
Money is the other big thing that newly married couples can struggle with. If you’re not in the habit of talking about money together, a good resource is “Mind Your Money” from the “Share, Save, Spend” site (http://sharesavespend.com/products/mind-your-money). It’s a collection of 100 conversation prompts that explore your ideas, commitments, attitudes and priorities around money, and are designed to get you talking.
If you haven’t already, make a budget together. An expense tracker like YNAB (www.youneedabudget.com) can help you set one up and track your expenses and offers a whole host of free classes and articles online as well.
As wonderful as it would be if marriage always went smoothly, even the best relationships can have some rough patches. While in-person resources–talking with your pastor, or a professional counselor, or a trusted older couple who have been there–are often best, there are some good general-purpose books as well. “Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love” by Dr. Sue Johnson covers the basics in an at-home guide for couples. Written with inclusive language and examples, this is a good resource book for navigating through stormy times in your relationship, or setting up good habits before you encounter any storms.
Gary Chapman’s “The 5 Love languages” is a old favorite, notwithstanding some dated language and assumptions about relationship roles. That said, the basic premise–that everyone has certain ways they express love and prefer to receive acts of love–is solid, and can ground some helpful conversations as your relationship grows.
The lighter side
As you begin your life together as a married couple, don’t forget to have fun as well. For a light-hearted take on life together, check out The Lutheran Handbook on Marriage. Though the illustrations and language aren’t as inclusive as they could be, the articles–ranging from humorous topics such as “How to Prevent In-Law Encroachment” to practical thoughts such as “How to Support Your Spouse through a Serious Illness”–cover a wide variety of common situations couples may encounter throughout their life together. Tongue-in-cheek humor added to sound advice – it’s a winner.
Remember your wedding vows. On our one-year anniversary, my spouse and I took out a copy of the promises we had made to each other at our wedding and reminded ourselves what we’d promised that day. While no marriage is perfect, keeping those promises fresh in your mind can help as you walk together through better and worse. Thanks be to God.
Jana L. Howson is a pastor serving a congregation in the ELCA Northern Illinois Synod. When not pastoring, she enjoys archery, quilting and stabbing her spouse of 12 years during fencing practice.
Photo by Jackie Babe. Used with permission.