When Marriage Really Is “Hard, But Good”

Last year, I read an article about marriage that discouraged me to the uttermost.

I won’t share the article here, but the premise was a familiar one: people need to stop saying that marriage is hard! Marriage is not hard; life is hard. Saying that marriage is hard is just an empty cliche uttered by people who don’t understand the beauty of the union.

At the time, my marriage was… well, hard. We were on our second cross-country move in two years. I had been through a miscarriage and was pregnant, sick, and working full time. And my husband, who would have been my solace in my dream of marriage, was more distant than he had ever been. We worked through some really difficult things, things that would not have been on my radar if I hadn’t gotten married.

Life was hard. But so was marriage. I was being faced with my sin in ways that had been much easier to hide when I was single. And my husband would say the same.

A year later, our marriage is sweet. We are still both passionate, opinionated, and sometimes hot-headed people, but we’re learning how to balance those things. We’re growing as individuals, and we’re growing together. We are seeking help for the things that did not come naturally to us (step number one if your marriage is hard; do not keep doing things in a vacuum). And I love my husband more and more each day. I am not one of the girls who married her best friend, but we are becoming better and better friends all the time.

If you are one of those people who would describe marriage as “easy” this article may not be for you. But if you’re one of the ones dealing with “hard,” come on in, pull up a chair, and have a big old hug, because you are not alone.

The Age-Old Question

As a newlywed, I hated being asked, “How’s married life?” It felt like, 90% of the time, the asker wanted one of two things:

  1. To validate their experience. “Is it hard? Cause my first year was rough. I need you to tell me it’s okay to want to shank my spouse.”
  2. To validate their sense of romance. “Is it the best? Cause I need to believe in true love and courtship. I need you to tell me it works.”

And then, of course, there are the 10% who cared and wanted to minister to my newlywed heart. They were the best.

I understand both motivations. I remember sitting down at our first anniversary and feeling like I’d been through a war. I remember how awkward it was when I’d meet another newlywed and think I’d found a sister in arms, only to discover that not everyone’s first year is as tough as mine was.

I also understand the desire to be reminded that marriage is beautiful. When war vets like me walk around decrying the difficulty of marriage, it can make folks highly uncomfortable. After all, my husband and I had a courtship, the holiest dating experience of all time (read my heavy sarcasm), I saved myself for marriage, and I did “everything right.” If my marriage isn’t blissful, who on earth has a chance?!

(The answer is anyone. Literally anyone.)

A Dishonest Answer

Usually, rather than burst people’s bubble in either direction, I learned to smile politely and say, “Hard, but good.”

It sounded cliche because it was. I couldn’t say, “It’s just really hard, and I realize I had no idea who I was and God is shaking up my life!” because I didn’t want to disappoint people. I didn’t want it to reflect poorly on my husband. And I didn’t want it to reflect poorly on me (because if I didn’t marry the wrong person, maybe he did).

So I admitted that it was hard, but only in a passing way: “Hard… but good.” My little cry for camaraderie (“Is someone else’s marriage hard, too?”) was squelched by a sing-songy “But good!”

Don’t get me wrong, marriage is good. It’s a beautiful institution established by God himself in the Garden. It’s meant to illustrate the amazing relationship between Christ and his undeserving Bride!

But it’s also lived out here on earth, where our view of glory is often limited by the confines of our humanity. In heaven, we will experience the blissful, perfect marriage, because we will be blissful, perfect people. On earth, marriage is sometimes broken… because we are broken.

A Better Question

If the “how is married life” question feels like a validation trap, ask, the newlywed, instead, “How are you?”

Are you enjoying the blissful aspects of waking up to the love of your life every day? Or are you feeling the hard aspects of waking up to your sin? Are you feeling the hardship of tying your flesh to another human being? Or are you feeling the beautiful aspects of getting glimpses of eternity through your relationship?

It’s both and. It’s already and not yet.

I rarely hear people claiming that singleness isn’t hard. It is! And not just because life is hard. Sure, that’s where the hardship originates, but it also plays out in whatever state we find ourselves in. Married. Or single.

How are you? Are you dancing on the mountaintop after being married to your best friend? That’s awesome. No way in the world I would try to pull you down. You enjoy every moment of it.

Are you walking through the valley of being confronted daily with your sin? That’s normal. No way in the world I would try to tell you it’s not. I’m here for you.

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