Taking the First Year “Off”

This month my husband and I will celebrate a milestone—anniversary number one, a year that has been rich with new beginnings and filled with “firsts,” getting married, becoming homeowners, moving to another state, launching new careers, and embarking on this crazy, beautiful, blessed journey together!

Before we got married, Zach and I realized that the relationship we would cultivate in our first year of marriage would, in many ways, set the pattern for years to come. We also knew that marriage, along with a new location, home, and jobs, would introduce the biggest transition of our lives, and we wanted to set aside time to settle in. We wanted to be intentional about growing and learning together, especially in our first year of marriage.

A Strong Foundation
It turns out that setting aside the first year of marriage is actually an ancient biblical standard. Deuteronomy 24:5 says, “If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.” That’s like a year-long honeymoon! And most wives would welcome the idea of our husbands devoting a whole year to our happiness!

Since this is a law from the old covenant, it is no longer binding for believers living under the new covenant of grace. And I am not advocating for newlyweds to quit their jobs or decline all other commitments. Neither am I advocating that young couples shut out the rest of the world; I think it’s healthy and necessary to maintain other relationships. I also realize that some couples get married and dive right into ministry, or a military commitment may separate them in the early years of marriage. We all have unique situations to which God has called us. But the underlying principle evident in this verse, that still holds wisdom for today, is that God wants His people to establish a strong foundation for their marriage, right from the start.

The Balancing Act
For Zach and I, this meant that our first year would be dedicated first to each other, and it also meant that we would have to learn how to say no sometimes to other opportunities and commitments.

There are many things my husband and I do together, such as eating meals, renovating our quirky, old house, growing our vegetable garden, and going out on regular date nights. We also spend time together with other people, hosting dinners in our home, visiting Zach’s family who live in the same neighborhood, getting together with our small group of other young married couples, and exercising with friends at the park.

But all these things combined fill up our evenings and weekends pretty quickly, and both Zach and I have had to prioritize and make some sacrifices so that we can protect our time together.

Zach, a soccer fanatic , voluntarily gave up several part-time coaching opportunities because coaching means evening and weekend games which would significantly cut into our time together. And while I want him to pursue his dreams and support him, we both recognized that there will be other opportunities. The timing just wasn’t right.

As for me, I have volunteered in some kind of local ministry since high school, and I wanted to plug into ministry somewhere. I work from home as a writer and book publicist, and while I have a ministry with words, I missed face-to-face, relational ministry.

But when I met with a youth group leader to learn more about how I could serve, I found out that youth group meets twice a week: once for large group, and once for small groups. My heart sank. I loved everything I was hearing about the youth group and I was excited about getting to know the students, but our church is 25 minutes away, and now my time would be required not once, but twice a week.

In the end I decided that, practically, it just wouldn’t work for me to be a youth group leader, given the two nights a week plus driving time it required. But I was disappointed. I felt tension between engaging and serving in ministry and investing in our marriage. And I felt guilty that I was not actively using my gifts of discipleship and mentoring; I felt that since I had gotten married, these passions were just sitting on the shelf.

Building Your Marriage Takes Time
It has taken me nearly this whole year to realize this is a false dichotomy. I don’t have to feel guilty for wanting to strengthen my marriage. I can give myself the permission to say no to opportunities, even really good opportunities, for the sake of spending time with my husband. There are many seasons in life, and I can choose to dedicate this one to starting marriage right!

Additionally, I’ve learned that marriage is ministry! If ministry is selfless serving purposed in moving others toward Christ, then marriage is one of the greatest ministries a person can give. Ephesians 5:22-23 emphasizes the spiritual responsibility a husband and wife have toward each other. Not only does marriage reflect Christ’s love for the church as the couple rehearses the drama of salvation in their own relationship, but the husband and wife are entrusted with the task of helping each other in their process of sanctification. This passage references the oneness of a husband and wife and says in verse 29, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.”

What I’ve learned, reflecting on this first year of marriage, is that nourishing and cherishing takes time. It takes time, and creativity, to learn about and care for each other. But time is a limited resource, so I have to choose how I’m going to spend it. On one hand, it takes no time at all to neglect my husband. On the other, nurturing our relationship is time and energy intensive, requiring me to make the intentional decision to put my husband first. Looking back on our year together, I can say firsthand that it was worth the investment.


Stephanie S. Smith is a twentysomething writer, editor, blogger and independent book publicist addicted to print and pixels. After graduating from Moody Bible Institute with a degree in Communications and Women’s Ministry, she now runs her business, (In)dialogue Communications, from her home in Upstate New York where she lives with her husband. She blogs at www.stephindialogue.com, about embodied faith, creative life, and millennial culture, and you can follow her on Twitter @stephindialogue.

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