How to Handle Transitions in Marriage

As newlyweds, we face a lot of transitions. In the early years of marriage, we may move, change jobs, attend college or grad school, and even have our first babies. There are many shifts of various types. How should we handle transitions in marriage?

How to Handle Transitions in Marriage for Newlyweds | Grace Upon Grace Today

Purpose, Value, Needs, and Time

Too often, one spouse will jump on an opportunity or possibility without consulting the other. This happens often with newlyweds, because we easily remember what it was like to be single! Instead of making life-changing decisions without your spouse, sit down together and discuss four things: purpose, value, needs, and time. You can even download my discussion guide for a handy way to talk about upcoming life transitions with your spouse!

Reconnect, Reconnect, Reconnect

Embark on the transition, and reconnect along the way! My in-laws told us that marriage is a series of consistent two degree shifts. We are not automatically aligned to our spouses every day. It takes regular, small times of reconnecting to get back on track. I once heard a pastor say that you should strive to spend an hour a day, a morning/evening a week, a day a month, and a weekend a year with just your spouse and no distractions. His encouragement was to start small and build up.

In transitional periods, we often lose the seemingly “automatic” connection that we had before. For example, during the school year, my husband and I go to sleep and wake up around the same time. We work together, so we ride together in the car. We have certain times that we can reconnect without really working on it. However, now it’s summertime. We have separate part-time jobs. We go to bed at different times. All of a sudden, the transition has made our reconnecting more difficult.

In order to handle the transition well, we must find a time and space to reconnect. Maybe that’s becoming more serious about a structured dinner time every night (no phones allowed!). Or reading our devotional book before I go to bed, and then once I’m asleep, he goes back to a sports game or TV show. It could be cuddling on the couch for ten minutes after your kids are finally in bed. Squeeze that reconnection into your new schedule somewhere, because you will feel far away from each other if you don’t.

The difficult (yet beautiful) thing about reconnecting is that every day might look different. New baby? Your sleep schedule will definitely be thrown off. Changing shifts at work? He might have to leave the house before you’re awake. Occasionally, reconnecting looks like doing something for your spouse when you can’t actually be with your spouse.

When You Can’t Be There

A traveling husband or a new mom may not be able to “be” there physically for their spouse the way they might want to. Instead, reconnect by doing something special for your spouse. My husband is planning to be out of town later this summer visiting his aging grandfather. We can still connect with a FaceTime date, a handwritten note tucked into his suitcase, or a “good morning” text on a busy day. When I am working longer than he is, he might put away the clean dishes from the dishwasher or make the bed if I’ve forgotten it. Those little things really add up, especially if we have less time to reconnect in person.

Communicate the Essentials

Everyone knows that practical communication is important. I’m talking about the “working” side of a marriage here: I’m running errands at this time, can you pick up the kids here, and what are we eating for dinner? When there are transitions in marriage, it is important to discuss them together, and figure out how they work within the schedule and routines you are familiar with.

For this, I love the Cozi App. I have a personal planner that I keep with me (and a chalkboard calendar in kitchen), but I realized that when summer hit and my husband and I started our separate part time jobs that we would need something to keep us organized. Cozi came to the rescue. With one calendar divided by color for each family member, it is easy to see who needs to do what each day and week. There’s also a grocery list and to-do list that is accessible by anyone in the family (just like a calendar), so it’s easy to send your husband to the store for you! I am not an affiliate for Cozi; I just enjoy sharing the app with others.

Obviously, using a neat app has not replaced face to face communication, but it has made it easier for us to stay on top of life transitions. We feel more connected just by knowing what time the other person will be home or where he or she is working today. My brother-in-law and his wife use a giant calendar on their refrigerator. My mom has her calendar printed out and sitting on her desk. Do what works for you and your husband.

Do Not Compare

Finally, do not allow envy to sneak into your heart. Nothing will put a damper on your marriage like comparing your transitional periods to another couple’s transitions. When you start comparing (“Why is my husband not finished with school yet?” or “How do her kids already sleep through the night?” or “How did they already buy a new house?”), you will feel empty and lacking. Instead, focus on what you do have. Focus on the values and the rewards of this stage where you find yourself right now. There is a purpose here in this transition.

 

P.S. Did your get your free Transitions in Marriage discussion guide? It’s not too late!

What transition are you currently facing in your marriage?

Lessons from Two Months in the Peach/Peanut State

Sometimes I still can’t believe I live in the peach state (which should, technically, be called the peanut state, but that’s another whole post).

Anyway, I have lived here for almost two and a half months now, and I am settling into my new normal: Work, church, small group, sleep, eat, work… Serving in kids’ Sunday school every other week… Leftovers, date night, laundry… It’s a little repetitive and a whole lot of busyness, but I learning how to settle in well.

I dreamed about being here for several months. However, now that I’m here, I feel a bit disappointed that, somehow,  it isn’t exactly like I dreamed. I’m adjusting to a new living arrangement (with sweet but new roommates), a new work environment (enjoyable but challenging), and a fairly long commute in metro traffic. At the same time, I’m adjusting to a new extended “family,” new friends, a shifting relationship with members of my family, a longer distance to my family, and a much shorter distance to my boyfriend.

We went from living three and half hours from each other to working literally around the corner from the each other. As in, down the hall and around the corner. Imagine that. We see each other single day, at least three times a day, but usually around 87, since he pops in my classroom around five times each planning period, much to my combined delight and annoyance. 🙂

Here’s the kicker: I moved expecting everything to just work out. I moved expecting a seamless, simple transition where life would be ten thousand times better. I moved expecting, in a sense, all my problems to go away.

Here, I still have problems. Different problems for the most part, although I’m sure a few of the same problems crossed over the state line with me. The problems are a little more grown-up, but nonetheless real and emotional and concerning. I may even have fewer “problems,” per say, but there are still things I’m working through and dealing with and adapting to.

I realized today that I moved without giving grace to myself. Or, for that matter, the people who were with me during the process. In those few moments surrounding the move, I packed up a lot of emotions and concerns that I have harbored against others. I withheld grace from myself and from those closest to me because my heart was (and is still) processing those emotions. Instead of trusting God with my loneliness and brokenness and doubt, I wrestled in my heart, and I had nothing left to give myself or those around me.

At my core, I am fragile. And though I like to proclaim my stoic strength as a woman of stability, I am one of those crispy little leaves, withering in the autumn wind, letting go of the tree I called home.

The first chapter of the Gospel of John says that Jesus took on flesh and blood and “made his home among us” (Jn. 1:14, NLT). He came here to the filthy, messed-up earth and pitched his tent and lived with humans. Why? Because we need him.

We are fragile, broken, dirty, messed-up. Yet he comes into our lives. He intersects our paths where we are mostly desperately in need. He comes alongside us and ministers to us in our places of darkness and loneliness.

Picking up and moving for the seventh or eighth time in six years is challenging. No wonder the little girl inside me is lonely. But Jesus came. He came to the Jewish people, in need of a Messiah. And he comes to me, in need of a Messiah, a Savior, a King, a Father.

I realized my fragility because I saw my need. Yesterday, my boyfriend of one year and three months wrapped his arms around me and told me he had me. He told me he would hold me. He told me he was there. That’s the same thing that God does. And you know what? It makes me angry. Forgiveness makes me angry. My boyfriend is rarely mad at me because he has a heart of forgiveness, and it makes me so confused that I end up getting angry. I am used to anger. I am used to frustration. I understand it because I have received it and dished it out. But God doesn’t harbor anger against me. He doesn’t withhold grace because he is frustrated. 

His mercies are new every morning.

When I think I’m solid and stable, like I thought I was during the moving process and as I settled in, I expect everything to be peachy. I expect to do all the things I had planned and be prepared for all the things I had expected to be prepared for. I thought that by now, I would have homemade-from-scratch baked goods for every social event and birthday cards two days early for every birthday and a perfectly organized social calendar and good relationships with everyone possible.

But I’m not solid and stable. My God is, and I rest on his unchanging grace, but I’m not. By two months in, I’m supposed to have a place to live, a job, and a couple ways to get to work. I’m supposed to have met a couple people at church and had dinner with a couple friends. I’m supposed to have a shelf in the fridge and a section in the cabinet and a favorite grocery store. But I’m not supposed to have everything figured out.

I must give myself the grace to still be learning.

I think I approached this stage of my life adventure the same way I approached my summer as a camp counselor or my semester student teaching in Thailand. Both of those were high-energy, short-lived experiences. They required investing a lot upfront for a fast payoff. I also got by with learning less and speeding more.

However, this part of life is going to be one of slower growth and deeper progress. I am not going to survive this entire school year, or the next one, or the next five without pacing myself. Will Reagan sings about climbing the mountain in front of him with his hands wide open, leaning not on his own understanding. This is that kind of mountain. I am investing here. I am investing into relationships. I am investing into this school. I am investing into this curriculum.

I am preparing for a future with not one, but two. And later on down the road, three and four and more. I have to pace myself so that I have more to give then.

One of the best ways to pace yourself is to take Kaley Thompson‘s advice and “fill it to the brim.” Sleep well, eat well, pray well, and study the Word well. Get counseling, take a day of R&R, invest into relationships that pour into you, and depend on God. Running through life without so much as a coffee break will not fill your bucket to the brim.

So, what I have I learned from two months in the peach state? What have I learned from one year and three months of dating?

  • Give grace to yourself and others.
  • Be open to receiving grace. It is God’s love that gives this grace.
  • Pace yourself to avoid spiritual and emotional burnout.
  • And finally, I have so much more to learn.

Isn’t that always true, though? I have been learning grace since 2013, and I still have no idea what it actually means. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe in my weakness and fragility, I can be used by the God of the universe. Maybe God’s light can shine through my brokenness into the lives of others. What a humbling thought.

Love is Kind

In the summer of 2013, I worked at a summer camp for girls in the mountains of northeast Alabama. It was an incredible experience and I did many things I considered impossible for me, such as lead a troop of 11-14 year olds, teach six year olds how to knit, or work a ropes course.

I struggled with many of the ropes course tasks because, for one, my hand-eye coordination is not as high as some people’s. I never was good at kickball or basketball or football or P.E. in general, for that matter. Another reason is that while heights are thrilling for me mentally and emotionally, my muscles tend to shut down that high up. My hands would get all sweaty and my fingers would lock up. My arms would go numb. My legs would stop holding me up. It was nasty. Needless to say, they eventually resigned me to the on-ground positions, like belaying climbers up a rock wall or helping little girls off the V-swing. Sometimes I got up in the air on break times just to keep on top of my game, which was always fun.

Of course, even though I was usually assigned to the ground, I had to be trained on all the elements, even the up high ones. This mean hours of training, running the same elements multiple times as both a facilitator and a participant, which always led to uncomfortable wedgies. On one of these days, one of the trainers (a girl named Ali), remarked on my ability to stay calm and patient during the stressful parts. She said, “You’re really patient with yourself.” I think back to that experience quite a bit, and I resonate with her words. That experience was how ropes taught me patience. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that patience is the first characteristic of love in 1 Corinthians chapter 13.

This morning at church, it hit me that I am in the midst of learning the second characteristic from that passage: love is kind.

If you’re like me, you may have had a difficult experience (or several) in your formative years or even since then that has affected how you view yourself. Many times we don’t acknowledge or deal with these experiences – we just know that we are affected in some way, even if we don’t know how. Other times, a counselor, a traumatic event, or a faithful community brings these issues to light and we have to work them out in God’s timing. I once worked with a lady whose uncle told her she had ugly knees and since then she has always worn pants, even decades later. It may be a slightly humorous example, but it was extremely painful for this woman nonetheless.

Often, a situation has affected us for years. Maybe divorce; death of a loved one; abusive elder, peer, or romantic interest; absent parent; constant bullying; lifelong and/or mishandled medical condition; mental illness in ourselves or those around us; unfaithful friend; moving many times as a young child… There are any number of issues, and each person responds to these issues in a different way. A cross-country move may be a traumatic event in one child’s life, while his or her sibling may enjoy the move and make new friends easily. It doesn’t matter what the situation is… What matters is how it affects us. When we struggle with issues today, we may not realize that they are often directly linked to a difficult situation from earlier.

Personally, I struggle with negative self talk. There are a variety of places it could have come from, and I believe it was a combination of all of them. To deal with this struggle, I sought out the only thing I could that made it seem better… Accolades. I figured out by high school that I could take on responsibilities and lead or co-lead something and enter my writing pieces into contests and make A’s in all my classes, and I could run off those accolades like gas in a car. When I felt my self-esteem dropping, I would just remember that my teachers and peers (no more P.E. classes by this point, thankfully) and parents thought I was smart and good at what I did, and I would reign that negative self talk back in. Yeah, sometimes it got to me, and fluctuating teenage hormones did not help a bit, but I was able to be in control enough to be a happy and busy person. I was constantly busy. In college, it was the same way: busyness, good grades, ministry of various types, part-time job, leading and co-leading, staying up late and waking up early. Listen: There is nothing wrong with any of those things. Those are very good things. But when we use them to gain the approval of others, we are neglecting the God who has already given us His approval. I lived on the accolades and approval of others. I also lived for the feelings of success when I accomplished something – sometimes not as pride in a job well done, but as a more haughty, looking-down-on-people-who-couldn’t-do-it pride. Of course, I would have never said that back then, but I began to realize that’s the way it was when I got into the “real world” and people were not constantly giving me accolades and approval. Professors loved me in college, but my boss in the “real world” thought I was okay. And there’s nothing wrong with that… With time, I will get better at what I do, but I’m still learning. It’s okay that I’m okay. Unfortunately, I didn’t see it that way at the beginning of this “real world” adventure.

When the feelings of not measuring up and not meeting standards took its toll on me (from new my job, my new dating relationship, my new living arrangement… see a new pattern here?), I let that negative self talk have its way. It was not pretty. I’ll just sum it up by saying that almost a week ago, I had a horrible night. I was crying nonstop, I couldn’t sleep, my stomach ached, and I could not stop the demeaning thoughts. If it wasn’t spiritual warfare, it was pretty darn close. I couldn’t pray, I couldn’t remember or read Scripture, and I couldn’t calm down enough to think rationally. The negative thoughts had had their way with me. I had listened to them for months now and I could not take it any longer.

But grace found me and I eventually fell asleep. A few good talks with godly people, worship music, and a restful breakfast date with God later, and I am doing much better.

The point I’m making is that I have a propensity for negative self talk and low self-esteem due partially to difficult experiences when I was younger and partially to being a hormonal young woman in multiple new situations at the same time. Regardless, I was faced with the reality that I wasn’t loving myself when I let that negative self-talk into my head. Love is kind, and I was not being kind to myself. When Paul talks about taking every thought captive, he means more than staying away from sexually impure thoughts – he also means avoiding thoughts that put yourself down. You are a child of the Most High God, created in his image to do the good things he has prepared in advance for you to do. Why would you ever put yourself down? Later, in Philippians 4:8, Paul urges us to “fix your thoughts” on things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Can you focus on those things while at the same time telling yourself that you are worthless and inadequate over and over again? Can you focus on true, lovely, and honorable things while dismissing your God-given gifts and dwelling on your human weaknesses? Can you focus on right and excellent things while ignoring God’s strength and staying in a place of self-deprecation?

As Christians, we are called to love, and I believe that this command extends even to ourselves. How can we love others if we don’t love ourselves? It’s a difficult balance to find, as we don’t want to become inflated and prideful, either. However, I believe that a positive understanding of God’s sacrifice and grace for us combined with an appropriate conceptual grasp of our teeny-tiny but nevertheless significant roles in his grand plan will help us to find that balance.

In fact, as C.S. Lewis wrote: “Humility is not thinking less of ourselves. It is thinking of ourselves less.” Self-hatred and self-pride are both examples of selfishness, as they are both thinking of ourselves more often than thinking of others.

There is a beautiful place in the middle there where we are at peace with our identities in Christ and we can humbly love others without hidden agendas. It may take an entire lifetime to get to a point of consistently walking in that place. In the mean time, we must deal with our own difficult memories and painful issues in order to love ourselves well. And we must keep loving others, and extending to them the same things we are extending to ourselves, especially when it is difficult.

Love is patient, love is kind… I wonder what God will show me next? (Read 1 Corinthians 13 to find out!)


 

P.S. Let me just stick a postscript in right here… Even as I’m learning about this incredibly important aspect of agape love, I’m realizing that I very often treat those around me with a lack of kindness, even people I claim to love. Why is it so easy to treat those close to us (family, significant others, close friends) with the least love? For this, I apologize, and want to remind those closest to me that this is a learning process for all of us. Thank you for your forgiveness and acceptance, even when my words, thoughts, and actions do not convey love.