The sudden change that comes after the honeymoon can be one of life’s most sobering moments. Some young couples describe this as “being hit in the face with cold water” or “being struck by lightning.” It’s the problem of getting used to being one together.
Others express it this way: “I feel like I’m on another planet, and I want to go home!” I miss being able to do what I want to do, when I want to do it.” And here’s a favorite that marriage therapists hear often: “If two becoming one means that I disappear as a person, forget it!”
Two Becoming One
If you feel like this, don’t think you’re alone or that your situation is hopeless. The following quotes illustrate the adjustment period from aloneness to togetherness is often complex:
“I figure that the degree of difficulty in combining two lives ranks somewhere between rerouting a hurricane and finding a parking place in downtown Manhattan.” (Clair Cloniger)
“I love being married. It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.” (Rita Rudner)
Many couples wonder how the blending of two personalities and sets of ambitions, desires, and dreams could ever be expected by a wise and all-knowing God! Trying to adjust from “freedom” to partnership can be difficult. It can also be exasperating. But it’s a process, not just a determination.
Here are two principles to remember when moving from independence to interdependence in marriage:
1. The feelings are normal.
When we shift from being single to being married, we experience loss. Losing something leaves us feeling sad. But as we grow in our relationship with the person we committed to, the grief can turn to joy and contentment.
It’s common for young couples to experience various levels of “buyer’s remorse.” That was the case for Nicole and Ted.
Nicole had waited for many years to find the right man to spend the rest of her life with. At age 33, she met Ted. Within 13 months they were married in her hometown of Atlanta.
Though she was certain Ted was the man God had chosen for her, Nicole missed her independence. Often she felt sad, conflicted, and confused. She wondered whether she’d made the wrong decision about marriage. She loved Ted and was thankful for him. But Nicole realized she couldn’t have asked for a better man. Still, she struggled with having to give up her “alone time” and sense of freedom.
After praying, studying the Bible, and getting direction from Christian friends, Nicole began to see that her feelings were normal. She saw that most people experience them. She accepted the responsibility of honoring the relationship God had given her with Ted. Each day she made conscious efforts to enjoy her relationship with her new husband in the fullest sense.
Though she occasionally needed time alone, Nicole learned to think in terms of two instead of one. When tempted to do her own thing at Ted’s expense, she resisted. When it would have been easy to plop down on the couch after a hard day’s work, she spent time with her husband first. Ted responded in a similar way. And their marriage developed into a bond filled with joy and intimacy.
That’s how closeness and biblical oneness develop in marriages in spite of selfish tendencies. Though challenging and often confusing, the transition from independence to interdependence is absolutely vital to your union.
2. It takes work to grow in oneness.
On a torn envelope, Sarah finds the following note left on the kitchen table one morning:
“Sarah I know you said you would like to spend time with me. I agree that we’ve really grown apart lately. I think we need to spend more time together. And I know you were looking forward to relaxing for a couple of evenings. Well, you get your wish. The boss called and said I have to work tonight.
“By the way, would you mind ironing my golf shorts when you get home? I have a tournament tomorrow. Oh, before I forget, tomorrow night the guys are coming over to watch the game. You don’t mind, do you? And something else—I’m leaving on business to San Diego Monday. I’ll be gone the rest of the week.”
Closeness Doesn’t Just Happen
If Sarah is like most wives, she’s thinking, “How in the world does this goof-ball think we’re going to get close if he’s always gone or having someone over?” She’s right. Healthy relationships don’t just evolve, they’re nurtured.
Suppose Jesus had taken the attitude that closeness would “just happen” with His disciples. “Okay,” He might say. “I have called you guys to be apostles. You have left everything to follow Me. But I have a lot of stress on Me. I have to save the world! So My ‘alone time’ is very important. Your job is to take the gospel to the whole world. But I really think you can handle this without Me. I’ll spend Saturdays with you. But the rest of the time you’re on your own.”
Is that how Jesus became “one” with His disciples? No. He understood the value of spending time with them. He was always talking, teaching, dining, and experiencing happy and challenging moments together with them. There were times when Jesus needed to be alone. But He understood the value of being with His followers, too. In the end, He gave His life for them. And they gave theirs for Him. This is the ultimate testimony of oneness.
If you find yourself struggling with the challenges of togetherness, here are some simple suggestions:
1. Remember who brought you together.
God has united the two of you for a reason. It’s no accident. He calls you to become one (Genesis 2:24), to honor one another. (Ephesians 5:22-33) Also, you are to love one another (1 Corinthians 13), and to remain together until death separates you. (Matthew 19:9)
2. Change the way you think.
You’re still an individual. But God has called you to leave your father and mother and unite with your spouse. That means making changes in your thinking (you belong to someone else now) as well as your behavior. (You don’t act like a single person anymore.) Changing the way you feel. Start thinking like a married person, and you’ll probably begin to feel like one.
3. Educate yourself about God’s desire for unity in your marriage.
Read Bible passages that emphasize the importance of oneness and unity. (John 17; 1 Corinthians 7) Personalize them by inserting your name and the name of your spouse. Pray that God will show you any attitudes and actions that stand in the way of oneness. Stop focusing on your mate’s mistakes. And start working on unity by changing yourself.
4. Learn from others.
Ask couples you know who have strong marriages how they moved from independence to interdependence. What mind-sets and habits did they adopt that worked for them?
If you asked that of Bill and Ruth, here’s what they might tell you.
Bill was independent. So was Ruth. For the first three years of their marriage things were so rocky that both felt they’d made a mistake in getting married. They developed separate interests and friendships, and spent little time with each other. Eventually they grew apart and even considered divorce. But because of their church background, they felt they had to stay together.
Things changed on their third anniversary. They made a commitment to each other. No matter what, they would learn how to connect and develop intimacy. They began studying the Bible and praying together, and attended every marriage conference they could find. They made spending time together a hobby. Where you saw one, you’d see the other. They took up golf and skiing. For the next 20 years they would have at least one date a week.
Recently Bill and Ruth went to another marriage retreat. At this retreat they were voted Most Dedicated Couple. Their switch from aloneness to togetherness hadn’t just happened. They’d intentionally drawn closer and stuck with that commitment.
They’d probably tell you that intentional intimacy is an investment that always pays off. And they’d be right.
This article comes from the terrific book, The First Five Years of Marriage: Launching a Lifelong, Successful Relationship, which is a Focus on the Family resource, written by a number of Focus on the Family Counselors, published by Tyndale House Publishers. We highly recommend this as a marriage guide! You’ll find that it’s quite comprehensive in the variety of topics it covers—which could help your marriage immensely. What’s also great about The First Five Years of Marriage is that it’s written by a team of experienced counselors who have dealt extensively with the issues covered. And all of them contribute a different slant on the expertise they’re able to share with the readers. So it’s like having a team of counselors helping you!