When people learn I was married six months ago, the first question I often hear is, “So, are you still in the honeymoon stage?”
This question has irked me from the beginning, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. Then one day at our married couples’ Sunday school class, a man asked us, “Do you feel like you were ever able to experience ‘a honeymoon phase,’ given your situation?”
This question didn’t bother me. This question told me he understood. He got it.
A Different Kind of Newlywed
My husband and I aren’t your typical newlywed couple. With my husband’s two nine-year-old twin daughters and ongoing tension with his ex-wife, we haven’t been able to enjoy the blissful, relaxing post-wedding existence of living in a newlywed bubble.
The first week when we returned from our actual honeymoon, reality hit—big time. We had two sick children. My husband went back to work. As a teacher on summer break, I was home with the kids all day long. I’d never folded so much laundry, cleaned the kitchen so many times, or prepared so many meals—specifically meals I’d never cook for myself.
After 15 years of being a single adult in Los Angeles; making healthy, organic salads; keeping a tidy apartment; dealing with very little personal drama; and only having to take care of myself, I had no idea how different my life would become after the wedding. Learning to clean other people’s messes, serving children who are oblivious to my efforts, and making lots of boxed mac ‘n’ cheese made me wonder what the heck I had gotten myself into.
As someone who had tried to be the “perfect Christian girl,” waiting physically and emotionally for her husband, I believe God had produced quite an ironic twist to my life’s plotline: The virgin girl with hardly any baggage marries the previously married man with two kids and a contentious relationship with his ex-wife.
At first I sometimes felt like an outsider in my own home. I had to learn how the girls like certain foods prepared and tried to remember who liked spaghetti sauce on their pasta and who didn’t.
I also learned that when we have the kids with us we can’t go do whatever we want. Typically, young lovers in their first few months of marriage can go out for dinner on a whim. Instead, we had to do kid-friendly activities, and we stayed home unless we wanted to pay for a babysitter. Instead of sleeping in and cuddling in bed on weekend mornings liked I’d imagined, we woke up at 6 A.M. to children climbing into our bed, asking us to make breakfast.
And as an “instant-mom,” I didn’t get the chance to gradually grow up with these children. I couldn’t form them or train them in my own habits or customs. Instead, I learned everything right on the spot, trying to fit in and hoping they love me, all while still trying to be a parent for the first time.
During those times, I didn’t feel like a blushing bride. I felt like a woman who has been married at least ten years, complete with messy hair, children crying, and a house in never-ending chaos. I struggled with resenting my husband for marrying someone else before me. Why couldn’t he have waited like I waited for him?
Am I Okay Today?
Through all of this, I have spent many an early morning writing in my journal, praying, and reading through Scripture. The Psalms have become real to me in a way that they never have before. I cling to God’s promises and have been learning to trust in his victory, even when I have no control over the situation. I simply need to surrender it all to him, leaning on his grace day by day. For a competent woman who’s used to achieving her own goals, this has been a huge test of my faith in the Lord.
Over the past few months, I have been learning to create my own boundaries, accepting that I can’t be the “perfect” wife or stepmother, and I can’t make my husband’s ex-wife like me, no matter how much I try. I’m realizing the importance of taking time to go out with my friends and spending alone time to enjoy a bath or read a book in silence. I am training myself to take each anxious thought captive, be content with what I have today, list everything I am grateful for, and ask myself two questions: Am I okay, today? and Has God provided for me, today? Always, the answer is yes, so I can find joy despite some challenging circumstances, as the apostle Paul commands.
One of the most important things on my daily gratitude list is my husband. I can trust that he’ll do what he says he’ll do, and I can trust that he’ll help, in huge ways, around the house. I know this isn’t always the case for many newlywed men. My husband knows the work it takes to make marriage successful and constantly lays down his life in a Christlike way both for the girls and for me. If God allowed him to undergo everything he has gone through to become the godly, servant-leader that he is now, then I have to appreciate that journey.
Furthermore, in contrast to the cliché image of newlyweds arguing over whether the toilet paper roll goes over or under, who cleans the dishes, or what we want to eat for dinner, we have much bigger problems to worry about. When we finally have a moment’s peace, we don’t want to argue—we want to spend that one quiet minute with just the two of us in gratitude.
All day long I look forward to the time after the girls go to sleep so that my husband and I can finally be alone to talk and cuddle. I never take a weekend alone for granted because we can actually spend quality time together without interruption or utter exhaustion. In just a few months of marriage, we’ve already taken a financial class together and joined a marriage class at church. Reading books, learning and discussing ideas, and finding accountability in other married couples who have done this longer than we have is allowing us to grow and work together in our day-to-day lives. In a lot of ways, I think our marriage is stronger than most because we started out as a team, working against many obstacles and choosing to communicate about everything.
During our wedding ceremony, our pastor gave us a strategy he calls “The 5 As” to discuss with each other: Apologize, Ask, Affirm, Affection, and Amen. These moments in the evening, when we tell the other what we need an apology for, ask for what would help us feel more loved by the other, affirm the efforts we’ve made to serve the other, show affection to one another, and most importantly pray together daily—the Amen—have truly saved us. They’ve kept me strong through moments when I wondered how I ended up here or worried about what the future will look like.
When my husband tells me he appreciates everything I do, when the girls come home on Wednesday nights and run for a hug and tell me they love me, when we all cuddle on the bed at night and read The Chronicles of Narnia and pray together, I feel that I am right where the Lord wants me to be. During these times, I know my husband and I are truly “one flesh”—we will be able to make it through anything—and I quietly say a little prayer of thanks for our own version of the “honeymoon phase.”
Jennifer Olson lives in Southern California with her husband, her three-month-old son, and her two ten-year-old stepdaughters. A graduate of UCLA and Stanford University, Jennifer has been teaching high school English for ten years. Check out more of her musings on PictureofPassion.blogspot.com or connect with her on Facebook.