My husband and I look at each other from across the restaurant table, unable to hide the growing smirks across our increasingly red faces as we stifle bouts of laughter- both of us having just witnessed the embarrassing scene a few tables down between another couple and their melodramatic, louder-than-necessary debacle.
It was one of those moments we’ve had so many times before- looking at each other with the same expression across our faces and not needing words. The looks in each of our eyes actually prompting us towards more uncontrollable laughter as we realize we are both thinking- quite literally- the same exact thing right now. Knowing in that moment that we were so in sync with each other that no sound was needed in this conversation between us shared with looks, snorts, and eye gestures. And when that snorting and hide-your-face-in-your-jacket-so-they-don’t-see-us-laughing bit was over, we would look at each other and simply say “we’ve been together too long“, in a sarcastic but knowing way that speaks volumes.
I cherish moments like this. The ones where I can look at my husband and know- without a single shred of doubt in my mind- that this was the man God created for me. The ones where I know that all the unspoken things really aren’t unspoken at all, because he knows the inside of my head better than I do some days.
The ones where we can look at each other and believe in our heart of hearts that there’s no possible, fathomable, conceivable way that any other couple on the face of planet Earth is as close or as intimate with each other as we are. That no other couple knows each other like we know each other.
The ones where I think, “It’s you and I against the world, babe“.
But here’s the truth of all of it:
It wasn’t always this way.
In fact, about a year ago, in what was supposed to be the “honeymoon phase” of our relationship, the scene of our marriage actually looked more like this:
Slamming doors. Raised voices. A permanent makeshift bed on the couch fit for one. Me getting in my car to drive off for hours without my phone. A silent house for days on end, despite our presence. Me, somehow, menacingly standing in the kitchen with a hammer in my hand while making threats of packing my bags (to this day, I can’t remember why I was holding a hammer. Intimidation purposes, I guess). Wondering when the other was coming home- or where they even where, for that matter. Questioning if we had made a mistake in choosing each other.
And tears. Lots and lots of tears. From both of us.
I’ll pause here:
I don’t know where you stand in terms of marriage as you read this testimony. If you’re currently engaged and lovestruck, and thus horrified at my title of choice, thinking “Well, my marriage will be different“. If you’ve been married for 50+ years and have already assumed that pitiful head-tilt position that says, “Aw, she’s so naïve, this kid…“. Or if you’ve been married for only a few years like I have now, and fall on one of two sides: Either your marriage has been total bliss in these first few years as you hit all the milestones and navigate life together without speedbumps; or you’re having your own holding-a-threatening-hammer-in-the-kitchen moment, wondering why on Earth anyone calls the first leg of this journey a “honeymoon”.
I have to be honest: I’ve postponed this story of our first year of marriage for a long time, simply because I knew to expect the obvious skepticism and backlash:
“Married for two years and she’s suddenly qualified to give marriage advice? That’s cute.”
“Sharing those personal details about her and husband to the world? She needs some discretion.”
“Obviously just sharing for attention.”
These are just a few of the thoughts that always kept this blog post warm and comfy, safe and sound, at home in my “drafts” section. And I was determined to keep it there for awhile.
Because let’s be real- even as I write this, I still feel wholly unequipped and unqualified to be telling anyone anything about marriage or how to make it work. It’s been two years for me. But perhaps in a world where celebrity marriages can also span the exotic lifetime of a mere 72 hours, maybe I’d be considered an expert by some.
Jokes aside, I promise I don’t write as any type of supreme knowledge-holder, nor do I believe my words should substitute those of a qualified counselor.
But despite all the procrastination, I do think our words matter. Mine and my husband’s. Maybe they will matter just to one couple. And that’s okay. Because all of those anxious thoughts and expected criticisms that have delayed this post?
I started recognizing those voices for what they were: Lies from the enemy. And I started to understand why I was hearing them when I realized what the importance of our marriage story actually was: Testimony.
So, I hope that’s the purpose this can serve for you if you’ve opened this piece curiously, maybe looking for a bit of camaraderie to hold onto today. If you’re struggling in your marriage- at any stage of your life or relationship- let me be the first to say: We get it. We were there. You’ve never been alone.
Back to our story.
You know what question I absolutely hated hearing during the first year of my marriage? You know… that one where people come up to you with sly smiles on their faces, ready to get all the deets on your new life:
“How is married life treating you?! Isn’t it just the best!”
I can’t tell you how many times I mentally envisioned throttling someone in the nose in response to this question, all while politely appeasing them with a rehearsed answer of how amazing it was all going.
But it would be a lie. Every time. Or at best, even on the “good days”, a respectful fabrication.
Meet the Pfeifer’s. (That’s us). We’ve been together for six years, married for two. And of these six years, let us be the first to tell you- even as we sit practically on top of each other with these lovey-dovey looks in our eyes today with stories of moments where we feel soooo in sync- that our very first 365 days of marriage?
They were the absolute worst of our entire relationship.
That bad. And we were not even remotely prepared for it.
You can’t prepare yourself for all things you’ll face in marriage, of course. But when I say that any type of turbulence post “forever and ever, amen”, especially after things had been going swimmingly for four years prior, was anywhere on our radar of expectations? Definitely not.
And as I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, unmet expectations only compound an already desperate and heated situation.
And so, in addition to all of the specifics and details that everyone deals with in love, looking back, we can confidently say that this was the real enemy against our marriage in our first year: the expectations of how we both thought it would all be. The misguided beliefs. The lack of anyone standing beside us and saying “Hey, you know we really struggled early on. If you need someone to talk to, let us know”.
The enemy of our marriage in our first year was the deep isolation we felt. We truly believed we were the only couple in the world that was having a terrible “honeymoon” phase. And that made us angry. It made us confused. It made us resentful. And frankly, it made us feel totally jipped of the experience we thought so many others were getting. We had had a wonderful four years prior to the “I do’s”.
And then, all of a sudden, something snapped.
To add to it, we weren’t motivated for a long time to do anything about it. Our lives followed a pattern:
Fight hard. Breakdown. Ignore the problems for a few days. Make up. Repeat.
But in that cycle, nothing was ever addressed, resolved, or inspected for underlying issues. In that cycle, we didn’t ask for help because we thought that no newlywed couple should be needing help- less they shouldn’t have gotten married at all.
The point is this: we had issues! But we had been led to expect that the newlywed life shouldn’t come with issues. We were led to believe, with pitiful comments from friends and family, that we should “Enjoy our first few years while it lasted before reality set in“, or “Remember these days now for when you have kids and start to hate each other“, or something to the tune of “This is how you’re supposed to feel and act right now, so soak it up!“.
I know you’ve heard them all before. And they’re innocent- really. They were said in good humor and affection. But the world has a way of painting a certain picture of what marriage “should” be like and we all tend to scramble to make sure we fit the mold at the expense of our sanity or our honesty with those who really care about us. And this mold isn’t just warped by the world itself- Christians are fully capable of warping the idea or picture of what a marriage should look like in pristine photo frames and sappy posts. And all of it compounded on top of us in a tornado of guilt and shame and confusion as we struggled to make sense of why we were… well, struggling.
There’s plenty to our story. But frankly, most of it is best shared over coffee by the fire, so I’ll spare you the 400 pages of testimony I could be writing and get to my point. Here’s what we did.
Eventually we both got desperate enough that we were questioning our relationship and looking for “outs”. It’s a rock bottom that I don’t wish on any couple. And I wish it hadn’t taken us falling down into that pit in order to do the sensible thing:
We sought people we could talk to. We questioned the very thought we had been holding onto about whether we were the “only ones”. We dared to believe something different- or at least put the belief to the test.
We met with wise advisors who could help mediate. We talked with people who shared with us that they did have similar stories, and that we weren’t ever as alone as the enemy wanted us to believe we were. We poured our hearts out to couples whose marriages we idolized and found that they didn’t get where they were by never encountering some really rocky times- and most of those rocky times? Were right in the beginning of their marriage. Just like us.
It’s a wonderful thing to discover that you aren’t alone. Crazy. Royally messed up. But instead, understood, loved, and heard- and dare I say… normal.
Here’s the truth: The enemy wants to attack your marriage because he knows it is the source of your power and strength- God given, God-created, and meant to be the most meaningful human relationship here on Earth. And so his goal is to spur you towards division. Thus, one of his easiest methods of driving wedges between you and your spouse is through 1) unmet expectations you should never have had to begin with, and 2) convincing you that your struggles with each other are a rarity to be kept silent… until you break.
A few months after my husband and I had gone through counseling and were beginning to make some huge strides in our relationship, I remember sitting down with a group of people for lunch. Over the course of a conversation about romance that I don’t quite remember, some comment slipped out from a well-meaning friend that said “If you need counseling in the first few years of your marriage, you probably shouldn’t have gotten married”.
My husband and I just smiled at each other- we didn’t take offense. And we didn’t share our secret at the time. But because we had reached out for help, we were finally able to recognize in that moment the lie for what it was- even when it comes from the loving and caring mouths surrounding us.
Love birds: Don’t let the enemy win.
Don’t let him warp your mind with the ideas that a “good” or thriving marriage is one where the rainbows always shine and the rose colored glasses never slip off. And if you need to talk to someone about how your fairytale is not what you expected, then please: do it now, do it soon, and do it fearlessly without shame.
Because here’s a fact we have now learned in our early years:
Marriage is not supposed to be a fairytale.
At least not in the way you’ve envisioned all your fairytales since your kindergarten days.
Because fairytales in essence are really quite simple: Boy meets girl. Boy slays dragon. Girl falls in love with boy. They live happily ever after. Doves fly off into the sunset to the tune of a Savage Garden song.
And you and I know that there are a lot of clichés circulating out there about how when you meet the right person, everything should be “easy” and “effortless”. How when it’s “right”, you’ll know it’s right. Nothing will ever shake you. But I think we can level with each other that if marriage were flawless and easy, then frankly, more people would be doing it and less would be facing the heartbreaking journey of separation.
(Another pause here: If you’ve been separated or divorced, please know- my heart aches for you, friend. And my testimony isn’t meant to be a shaming tool. I don’t know what you’ve walked through. I don’t know your reasons or your experiences. But I stand with you, too, and I wish I could hold your hand and let you know that my own heart hurts for the hurt you have gone through. I don’t pretend to understand.)
But if perhaps we stopped the façade of fairytales and honeymooning, we all might be better prepared for what awaits us after “I do”.
Marriage was created to be an amazing, unique, intimate, and out-of-this-world, close-to-heaven experience. It’s supposed to be awesome, so get excited! But, it’s also supposed to be work. God tells us so clearly in scripture how we are to treat each other, how we are to speak in love, how we are to behave in a marriage. And these aren’t niceties- they’re a command. They’re a depiction of the work that love requires. A reminder of the nurture that can’t be ignored.
“Love is patient, love is kind“, isn’t just a poem. It’s a teaching. And I’d even venture to say- it’s a warning. Because I don’t know about you, but being kind and patient has never come easy or without effort for me. So why did I ever believe that marriage- even my own love story- should have been uncomplicated, painless, or simple?
Spoiler: it’s not.
Perhaps the real fairytale is this: walking through those storms hand in hand- those storms that threaten to rip you apart at the very seams and pit you against each other in a battle-royale. Coming out on the other side- wounded and tattered, but also stronger, wiser, and more loving and full of grace. Perhaps the fairytale is in the more quiet days where you have figured out the routine of who does which chores and the fighting has finally given way to more time being spent on the couch reading a book, knowing you are safe with the other beside you. Perhaps the real fairytale is doing the hard, nitty gritty, capable of breaking you, work- and realizing that you survived it. That you’re better for it. That this, too, was all in His plans for your marriage. To show you what love does.
Perhaps the real fairytale isn’t just in happy endings, without ever getting down in the messy beginning and the chaotic middle.
And so if you’ve made it this far in my post and are struggling together in this married life, I want you to know: Most people really don’t have that honeymoon phase in the first year or two. At least not the majority of couples, family, and friends we have now learned from. I know, I know- with the help of social media, fake smiles, and great acting, it can seem like absolutely everyone in your circle is having a great married life. But this truth I’ve learned comes from countless other couples, advisors, counselors, and well-experienced other “married’s”, that the first years? They’re rough. In the words of some (and us), they may be your worst years.
That’s not the type of truth that bodes well in the speech from the officiant on your wedding day, though. I get it. But you know what? I wish it were a truth someone had told me. A truth that could have prepared us instead of leaving us looking around at all the other smiling, lovely faces, wondering why they got their honeymoon phase and what the heck, by comparison, was wrong with us.
So. I’ll say it again. Your marriage is not supposed to be the fairytale you’re probably used to. It’s actually going to be so much better. And part of that “bettering” comes with a whole lot of mess. But you have a partner in your spouse. You have a partner in us now, too. And you probably have partners all around if you have the courage to step out, speak out, ask for help, and share your story in humility.
If you’re struggling- at all– you’re in good company.
The story of your marriage can just as easily become the testimony of your life and your faith. Don’t let the anything rob you of that.
P.S.: I promise that when you see smiling photos now of my husband and I, they’re no longer fake. And that is thanks to help, counseling, wisdom, and a lot of hard work.
Don’t be afraid of the work, lovebirds. That’s where true love resides.
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”
— (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8)