What Makes Marriage Hard? These 5 Things (Among Others)

I wrote this post three years ago. For some reason—maybe it’s the fact that my husband and I are now approaching one decade together—it’s been on my mind lately. I was hungry to re-read it and see if I still feel the same way. Good news—I do! I took the chance to fill it in a bit more and bring it back up to the front. Thanks so much for being here! I hope you enjoy it.

“Marriage is hard.”

I had heard that statement all my life.

But I suppose because I was young and my head was full of qualities that I just knew I’d find in a spouse, I never thought to ask more about what makes marriage “hard.” Subconsciously, I probably even believed that the type of guy I would catch would never make it that hard.

In reality, marriage can be incredibly difficult no matter how great the guy or how prepared you think you are. It takes a lot to meld two lives—two different personalities, from two different backgrounds, equipped with entirely different ways of dealing with conflict and seeing the world.

If I could go back and give my twenty-year-old self a heart to heart (if only!), here is what I’d tell her makes marriage challenging: 

5 Things that Make Marriage Hard (But Worth It) | "While 'sameness' sounds downright dreamy sometimes—it's in navigating our differences that we learn what real love is."

1. Overcoming Expectations Based on Family Experience

The relationships you observed and experienced your whole life in your own family are likely very different from what your soon-to-be spouse experienced. Ryan and I laugh now at how similar we thought our families were before we married. We both come from tight-knit families of six. Our dads are quiet leaders in the home; our moms work in education. Our families share the same faith and values. But beneath those things, there are a million things that make our families significantly different. From gender roles to parenting philosophies to attitudes toward money and so much more—those roots shaped us as individuals.

2. Settling into Roles

Getting comfortable and settling into roles is GREAT with the roles that work for you as a couple. He is the night owl who hangs out with the wide-eyed newborn while she catches a few hours of sleep before taking over. He makes lunches while she gets the kids dressed. She walks the line of pessimism while he (the diehard optimist) helps her see the silver lining.

However, settling into roles can be disappointing if certain roles leave one or both partners wanting. She needs to vent; he thinks problems feel smaller if you don’t dwell on them. She hears every sound the kids make at night; he could sleep through an earthquake. (In fact, my husband has!) She wants more sharing of household work; he is spent from working all day. Once roles become comfortable and familiar, it can take superhuman effort to change.

3. Forming Habits 

Even the smallest of your spouse’s habits can get under your skin and fester if you let it. Marriage is as much about choosing what habits you can live with as it is choosing which habits to ask your spouse to work on. (And even more than that, it’s about confronting your own habits!)

4. Keeping Marriage Private vs. Needing a Sounding Board 

I was always advised to keep marriage matters private. I heard things like, “Be careful! If you complain about your spouse to your mom, she’ll think less of him.” And, “If you want to build your husband up, you should never say anything bad about him.” There is truth in these statements: Of course I want to build my husband up! And of course I don’t want my mom to dislike him! But I found myself very isolated as a newlywed trying to navigate marriage struggles that I felt unprepared for.

I NEED to talk my problems through, and for the first time in my life, I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone. A few years into my marriage, I began cautiously opening up to a friend. I did my best to paint my husband fairly but honestly and was liberal in admitting my own flaws. Her understanding and encouragement gave me a tremendous boost, and things began looking up. I felt so much lighter knowing I was not alone in my marital struggles. My husband and I were normal! Totally imperfect, but normal! I just hadn’t known it before, because most people around me were quiet.

Sometimes a trusted friend can be a fantastic sounding board. Other times, a neutral, professional sounding board is even better! Several sessions of counseling after our second baby was born did us a world of good.

5. Accepting that Love Changes with Time

I love my husband differently—more completely—than the day we were married because we have been through some highs and lows together. We have gone to sleep unhappy and trudged through days feeling unconnected. But we forgive and reconnect and love each other more. It’s not the shinny-new-penny type of love and euphoria that we shared on our wedding day, and I admit that I sometimes miss that. But it’s a richer love, because it is based on more shared experience than it was day we said “I do.”

As Terryl Givens said, “Love is found in the face of difference, not sameness.” 

While sameness sounds downright dreamy when his way of parenting differs with mine or when his way of showing me love is falling right outside my line of sight—it’s in navigating our differences that we learn what real love is.

5 Things that Make Marriage Hard (But Worth It) | "While 'sameness' sounds downright dreamy sometimes—it's in navigating our differences that we learn what real love is."

I’d love to hear—Do these things resonate with your marriage experience?

Off the top of your head, what would you say is one of the things that has most surprised and challenged you about marriage?

Related Post: Our Love Story (And Maybe Yours Too)

Photos courtesy of the talented Tyler Branch

  • Becky K
    April 25, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    A thoughtful and heartfelt post. I once read a Purpose Driven Life devotion that said (and I’m sure I’m paraphrasing), “Marriage is God’s laboratory for learning to love an imperfect person the way Jesus loves us.” I have kept that phrase stored in my head and heart through many years now. I was 27 when I got married and had known my husband more than two years, and I assure you I was just as clueless as you describe at age 21! Marriage is a lifelong learning experience, and there are no shortcuts to wisdom. But that’s half the fun, right?

  • Vindie
    April 25, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    I can’t get enough of your posts! I feel like you voice so much of what I am thinking and going through! Your posts help bring things into focus for me and I so appreciate your honesty and experience. I feel the same way about marriage (and love) and am glad I’m not alone in that!

  • Ashley
    April 25, 2012 at 11:20 pm

    Great post, Erica! All so true! They should have some kind of class you have to take before you get married or something :0)
    And I love that photo! So beautiful!

  • Shelley @ Calypso in the Country
    April 26, 2012 at 2:26 am

    Hi Erica,
    I always enjoy your insights. I agree that marriage/love is always changing. We go through so much personally that it makes sense that it would be reflected in our relationships. We didn’t get married until we were 31 but it doesn’t mean we were more educated in the field of marriage. I think it is so important to pay attention to the little things before they get blown out of proportion and become big things. I tend to let that happen when I don’t want to deal with something! I guess we are all just learning as we go along!

    • Erica {let why lead}
      April 26, 2012 at 2:53 pm

      Thanks, Shelley! Yep, learning as we go is what keeps life dynamic. 🙂

  • Sarah
    April 26, 2012 at 3:50 am

    I love reading your posts Erica…you are a talented writer 🙂 Your honestly is so genuine!

  • Flor @ Life in Progress
    April 26, 2012 at 4:43 am

    loved your post and agree with every single thing you’ve written.
    can’t wait to read through the rest of your posts 🙂

    • Erica {let why lead}
      April 26, 2012 at 2:54 pm

      Thank you, Flor, for stopping by! Your blog is lovely and your style adorable!

  • Ashleigh
    April 26, 2012 at 6:08 am

    Your list captures everything I’ve learned during the past few months, and phrases it so much more eloquently. You’re such a brilliant writer!

  • courtney
    April 26, 2012 at 4:45 pm

    Something that was (and still is!) difficult for us to figuring out how to actually live with someone else. This is a lot like what you said about habits. One thing I realized that was difficult early on is that, living with roommates/friends, it’s so much easier to brush off things that bug you. If they don’t do their fair share in cleaning, or if they say something a little thoughtless, it’s no big deal. But when you live with someone with whom all your emotions are entwined, it’s easy to take everything personally. But living with someone means those little things are all bound to happen nearly every day. I had to realize that Sam never meant to hurt my feelings (ha! that sounds horrible.) but that I was being oversensitive. It is HARD to live with someone you love– especially when it’s a boy. 🙂 It takes a lot of humility.

  • Leslie A
    April 26, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    You make such great points! I wasn’t prepared for all that marriage held either…but 24 years later our relationship is stronger than ever. I especially agree with your #4 – it is a point I don’t think people often think about. We need to talk with discretion, but it does help so much to be able to talk things over with our moms, sisters, or a close friend. It makes me feel so much less alone! Another thing that has been so beneficial to our marriage is being willing to forgive when we are hurt by the other person AND being willing to humbly apologize when we mess up.

    Thanks so much for visiting my blog today. I appreciate it!

  • Jennie
    April 27, 2012 at 1:31 am

    Wow! Our situations seem so similar. I got married my junior year of college (at 21), our engagement was only 3 months long, and while we had been friends for quite a while, there was a serious learning curve about how to be more than friends.

    I totally agree with all of your points. Our quirky story that has become more of a metaphor over the years is that we had to use different blankets our first year of marriage. It was a new situation for both of us getting used to sharing a bed and we were not prepared to share a blanket. We needed that time to adjust from being alone to being together all the time, even asleep. And now we use the same blanket just fine. 🙂

    • Jennie
      April 27, 2012 at 1:33 am

      Also, that’s the Salt Lake Temple. Where you married there? That’s pretty much right across the street from where we live. We love downtown Salt Lake!

      • Erica {let why lead}
        April 27, 2012 at 2:23 am

        Yep! That’s us in the picture! Seriously, that blanket analogy is PERFECT! Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment!

  • Janelle-A Story of Grace
    April 28, 2012 at 1:34 am

    In my marriage, learning my husband’s love language has been super important. And he opening up and telling me what he needs from me. I’m so blessed to call him mine.


  • Richella @ Imparting Grace
    May 1, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    Let me tell you, THIS girl knew nothing about marriage before she jumped in! But over the course of 27 years, I’ve learned a lot–much of it learned the hard way. Truthfully, some of the lessons have been VERY hard. But they’ve all been worth it.

    This is a wonderful post, and I salute you for your honesty. Marriage IS hard–but it IS worth it, isn’t it? God bless your family!

    • Erica {let why lead}
      May 1, 2012 at 6:12 pm

      Thanks, Richella! I’m grateful for your honesty too! I really think admitting that marriage has been hard should not be so taboo, so I really appreciate it! And yes, it has been SO worth it for us! Nothing is more beautiful than family.

  • me
    May 2, 2012 at 1:47 am

    I grew up without a father in the home so any thing my husband did was good, and over the years he has gotten better and better.

  • J
    April 19, 2013 at 8:11 pm

    Great post, Erica! I actually just found your blog while searching info on Blurb books, then noticed your family pic on the side…I think we were in the same married ward in Provo for a while (behind the Provo Temple). Anyway. Love your writing style! And the points you list here! I imagine that pretty much all couples (at least LDS ones) have this learning curve after they marry…especially since we all seem to date/marry quickly. 🙂

  • Emily @ Love, Pasta and a Tool Belt
    February 13, 2014 at 2:19 am

    I really enjoyed reading this! Thanks for sharing. #SITSBlogging

    • Erica - Let Why Lead
      February 13, 2014 at 2:21 am

      Happy to! Thanks, Emily! Hopping over to your blog right now – you KNOW the combo of love, pasta and a tool belt is too much to resist… 🙂

  • Liz
    March 24, 2015 at 6:27 am

    Oh friend, how much I love this. I think these are definitely some of the biggest hurdles to overcome. My husband and I are extremely closely-aligned with our values, but yes, our parents had differing roles from one another. My husband’s parents ran a business together. My mom worked nights as a nurse, so my dad played a major role in our lives and did more than most dads did at that time, and when my mom was home during the day, she had to spend part of her time sleeping. My mom always gave to others, and sometimes spent more to do so, and I have also fallen into that practice. My husband is a strict “money” keeper. So, so much give-and-take. And keeping it private and personal is always the best idea. Love this!

    • Erica Layne
      March 24, 2015 at 8:28 am

      I loved all of your examples, Liz! The roles we saw our parents play really do shape us.

      You have a great day!

  • Mary @ Giving Up on Perfect
    March 24, 2015 at 8:13 am

    One thing Mark and I have talked about a lot is realizing that what we believe are true facts are often just opinions that our parents drilled into us (whether on purpose or not). So when we come to a point where we disagree because we KNOW THE TRUTH about something, we really need to take a step back and consider that the facts we’re basing our argument on might just be our parents’ opinion.

    • Erica Layne
      March 24, 2015 at 8:27 am

      Exactly! That’s what I was trying to get at with #1, but I like your way of saying it much better! Those opinions / viewpoints become so indelibly a part of us that they really do feel like truth. Love that way of putting it.

      I’ll be over later to link up, btw! 🙂

  • Nina
    March 24, 2015 at 9:25 am

    Very true indeed! Probably one of the hardest parts of marriage for me is remembering not make assumptions, like assuming he must know what I’m feeling without me having to say anything.

    What I appreciate and have learned is critical is communication. Emotions bottled up are no good, and we have gotten stronger because we communicate with each other.

    It also makes it easy that we have the same values about pretty much everything, from parenting to money to the environment to food, etc.

  • tove stakkestad
    March 26, 2015 at 6:47 pm

    I loved your point about talking to a friend – honestly and openly. THAT more than anything has saved my sanity (and marriage) – so see that we are perfectly NORMAL!

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  • Stacy
    May 30, 2016 at 1:30 pm

    We’ve just celebrated 29 years of marriage and everything you said is so true. I thought I knew how hard it would be. I thought it would get easier. I thought we’d have it all figured out by now. NOTHING has challenged me and deepened my faith like learning how to love and respect my husband. Thanks for writing transparently and truthfully.

    • Erica Layne
      May 31, 2016 at 9:12 am

      Beautiful, Stacy. I love learning from women who have more years of marriage than I do. (We’re at 10 1/2 now.) And I’m glad your experience has been similar to mine, it sounds like, in many ways.

      All the best to you!

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