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The Hardest Parts Of Marriage (And How To Overcome Them)

Marriage is nothing if not an adventure. Here's how to navigate the toughest times.
marriage is hard
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Bryan Forbes
by Bryan Forbes
Updated Jul 23, 2020

The most beautiful experiences in life always seem to feature some challenges. We all know that marriage is hard. There's something undeniably profound about two people committing themselves to the other, isn't there? And at the same time, there are endless testimonies from married folk about the hardships of this commitment. What exactly is it about marriage that makes it so difficult? What are the hardest parts of being married?

There's probably not just a one-answer-fits-all here; instead of trying to provide that, here are three of the hardest parts of marriage. Also included are some tips for how to overcome them.

Marriage Shows You Your Limitations

Did you know that you have limitations and that there's a stopping point to all the things you can accomplish and get done? For most people, that stopping point comes a lot sooner than they suspect. Believe it or not, there are many people who, in practice, are unaware of the fact that they are limited; that there are things they simply can't do.

No one, of course, would ever admit this. If given a test with one question that read, "do you have limitations?", 99% of people would answer "yes." So, there's something paradoxical going on here: people confess to knowing that they have limitations, but when face to face with one of their limitations, they crumble. Or, worse, they explode.

In marriage, you and your spouse are ideally working together to bring about your goals, dreams, and hopes. In any collaborative process, you will be faced with your limitations—it's inevitable. And this begins to illuminate why being shown your limitations is one of the hardest parts of marriage. It's one thing to confront your limitations alone, it's another to do it in the presence of someone else every single day.

Being aware and responsive to your limitations is a true sign of humility. Humility is demanding; it takes a lot. This is why being shown your limitations is so challenging. 

Marriage Reminds You That You're Not Always In Control

Related to the hardship about limitations is the discovery one makes in a marriage that they're not always in control. Part of why people enjoy non-married life so much is because their sense that they have full control remains intact. In marriage, this illusion of control becomes most prominent.

Singledom, on the other hand, means that you reign over your kingdom; you have total say over what you do, when you do it, and how much you'll spend in the process. Not so in marriage. Marriage is perhaps best described as two kingdoms coming together (or colliding—whichever is a better fit for you). It's what happens when two individuals with complete say over their lives enter into a "partnership of say," so to speak. The result? A release of full control.

To be clear, it's not that in marriage you go from having the control to being controlled. It's that you move from having the control to having less control. You have less control because now more than ever your decisions directly impact another and so deserve the input of that other.

But why does this mean that marriage is hard? Because nothing is scarier in life than feeling out of control. Losing control, no matter the amount, tends to generate some vertigo. For some, this sacrifice of control may feel so costly that the marital enterprise will either be avoided, exited after entered, or drained of all its beauty due to the demand of one person having all the control.

Marriage Triggers Your Deepest Wounds

Almost always at the bottom of the story of your anger, sadness or fear is a past wound. In a sizable amount of cases, the wound owes to an early childhood experience. It's easy to miss that this is happening, however, because of the difference between primary and secondary emotions. 

One example of a secondary emotion would be anger. Anger often surfaces so quickly that the primary emotion gets missed.

Some examples of primary emotions, especially in connection with anger, are sadness, shame and feeling hurt. You can see why anger would arise so quickly after these emotions, right? Who likes being sad, feeling shamed, or experiencing hurt? No one. Generally speaking, anger is the signpost that an earlier scar has been tapped, that one of your deepest wounds has been triggered. If you're married or have been in a very close relationship before, then you know that this is close to unavoidable—eventually, someone will get one of their earliest wounds rubbed up against. It's not a fun experience, sometimes happening by accident, sometimes not. 

It's not exactly precise, however, to say that marriage triggers your deepest wounds. It's what marriage gives rise to that triggers your deepest wounds: close-knit relationship with another human. 

Marriage can be the most intimate, vulnerable, and the deepest relationship you'll ever enjoy. In the process, your deepest wounds, scars, and traumas tend to move to the surface, perfectly placed for being triggered. It's just what happens when you share life with someone. 

Close proximity to another opens you up to being triggered, but this is no reason to avoid marriage (or deep friendship). Avoidance is the temptation, not the solution.

Get To Know Yourself

This is another way of saying, develop self-awareness. Core to every flourishing marriage is a commitment to the hard work of getting to know who you are—learning your triggers, understanding your wounds, and discovering how these experiences make up who you are. Relationships where this self-knowledge project is missing, on the other hand, don't tend to fare very well.

How might you start the project of getting to know yourself? There are a variety of things you can do. Therapy is a wonderful place to start. The weekly process of diving into your psychology and emotions with a trained professional has the benefit of helping you safely navigate the most delicate parts of yourself. Disclaimer: it's not an easy task, but it's well worth it.

Alternatively, you might start simply by inviting your spouse and close friends into authentic conversations about how you're doing. This may sound overly simplistic, but it gets you acquainted with what it's like, to be honest about your inner life. If you'd like to overcome the hardest parts of marriage (or prep for them in advance), beginning the work of excavating your inner world should be at the top of your priority list. 

Looking for tips on building a flourishing marriage and the tools to make it work? Newlywed's Toolkit is the one-stop-shop for couples building their life together.

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