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This year, we celebrate 30 years of marriage. Along the way, we’ve made plenty of mistakes—mistakes that we hope other married couples can learn from.

Knowing what we do now, if we could go back in time to our first year of marriage, these are some things we would definitely not recommend:

1. Don’t Pray with One Another Everyday

In the early days of our marriage, I (Rob) really neglected my spiritual care of Amy. Sure, we prayed before meals and if we were in a crisis, but I was so busy serving in church and focused on ministry that I wasn’t proactively praying with her daily. And this resulted in her feeling spiritually lonely over time.

It’s ironic that we were trying to do these ‘high level’ spiritual things— when we weren’t even doing the basic thing of just praying together.

We read and completed some marriage devotionals that people had given us, but looking back, it’s ironic that we were trying to do these ‘high level’ spiritual things— when we weren’t even doing the basic thing of just praying together.

It wasn’t until we were 13 years into our marriage that the Lord opened my eyes, and I began to take my role as spiritual leader of my family seriously. So, I’d encourage husbands (as well as wives) to “devote [themselves] to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2). Be intentional in praying with your wife, even if it’s just for 15 seconds, or a minute or two, to commune with the Lord together as one flesh.

2. Don’t Set Aside Date Nights

We were pretty much busy all the time when we got married. I (Rob) was finishing graduate school and working as a part-time youth pastor (although we all know there’s really no such thing as a ‘part-time’ youth pastor), while Amy was juggling waitressing and a graduate programme internship.

And because both of us were extroverts and involved in ministry, we had some serious boundary issues. There were a lot of people who always wanted our attention, which meant that we failed to give each other our attention.

Even though we knew what every good marriage book said—to be intentional in dating one another—we subconsciously thought that our marriage was better than that, and that we didn’t have to follow such a ‘basic’ rule.

In hindsight, though, our failure to prioritise time for each other affected our relationship in more ways than one—which is why today we encourage our own kids to start that pattern of setting a regular date night with their spouses from the very first year.

3. Don’t Have People Speak Into Your Marriage

It’s common for many of us to go through premarital counseling in church, but once the wedding vows have been said and the rings exchanged, it can feel like we’re sort of on our own.

And yet, the early years of marriage are precisely when many of us need marital counseling. As newlyweds, we tend to require a lot more input at a time when we are almost instantly on output from the day we say ‘I do’. For us, this meant having more people around us speaking wisdom into our lives—after all, Proverbs speaks repeatedly of the value of listening to wise counsel (11:14, 12:15, 27:17).

If your church doesn’t have an ongoing marital counseling programme, ask the Lord to lead you to older, wise married couples. It doesn’t have to be a formal, monthly meeting, but a regular catchup over a meal when you can share your lives, hear their advice and learn from their experiences, and pray for one another.

4. Always Overpromise, But Under-Deliver

As a youth pastor and graduate school student, I (Rob) was pulled in a lot of different directions early on in our marriage. I loved my job and serving in church.

This was a good thing, but it sometimes got me into trouble with Amy. I remember one thing I did poorly in the early years was managing boundaries around my work, and communicating my daily schedule to Amy.

I wanted to please her—and said what I thought would please her—but I rarely kept my word and failed to draw enough boundaries around work.

She would ask: “What time are you coming home today?” and I’d reply: “Around 5:30 p.m., I think.” Many times, however, I’d call her at say 4 p.m. and say: “Oh I’m sorry, I don’t think I can make it.” She’d reply: “Well, what time are you coming home?” and I’d say: “I’m not sure . . . I’ll call you later.”

I’d have some appointment that ran late or be rushing a deadline—and if that happens every now and then that’s understandable, but it was happening so consistently that it became a problem, particularly when kids came along.

I think there’s a reason why a special rule for newlywed men was instituted in Deuteronomy 24:5: “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.”

Looking back, I should’ve paid more attention to bringing happiness to Amy in our early years of marriage. I wanted to please her—and said what I thought would please her—but I rarely kept my word and failed to draw enough boundaries around work.

If I could go back in time, I’d use Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:37 as a frame of reference: to simply say “yes” or “no”, and to keep my word to the best of my ability.

5. Forget Your Parents and In-Laws

One thing I (Amy) regret and am still working on—even today—is better communication with extended family. When we first got married, we moved to a place that was far from Rob’s family, and which was closer to my family.

As a result, my family was a part of our everyday lives, but my in-laws were sort of neglected. Even though I love my in-laws, it simply wasn’t on our radar to check in on them frequently—especially in the early years of parenthood.

Now that my kids are older and moving out, I can tell you that it can be so hard to say goodbye to your kids when they grow up and leave the nest—you’ve poured your hearts and invested your very lives into them all these years, and they’ve moved into the next phase of their lives—and all of a sudden, it’s goodbye.

So, I really wish we had set a habit of weekly communication with our extended family, just to let them know that how important they are to us. I think we caused a lot of hurt because we were so busy and didn’t prioritise those relationships.

Of course, there are couples who have the opposite problem and are in an enmeshed relationship with their parents—one that’s so closely connected that their parents’ needs become their own, and they’re not leaving and cleaving properly.

As husband and wife, I’d encourage you to keep talking to one another about how you’re establishing your own home, while staying connected to your extended family in a healthy, loving, and appropriate way.

6. Only Remember the Bad Stuff

When I (Amy) was growing up, my parents would regale us with how much fun their marriage was, and how they had the best time as husband and wife. Of course, I now know that they faced a lot of struggles too, but what I remember hearing from them was the good stuff in their marriage—and I respected them for that.

In my own marriage with Rob, I’ve learnt that the enemy can often attack me by tempting me to dwell on the things we’ve should’ve done better in. I then focus on all the negatives and to erase the positives of our life together, and that can become a trap of sorts.

Remember all the joys and fun that come with being married, and make sure those are what’s stamped in your memory—not the struggles and arguments.

We recently did an anniversary trip back to the place we had our honeymoon, and I really appreciated it because it helped to reignite the positive memories of our relationship.

So I’d tell couples today: remember all the joys and fun that come with being married, and make sure those are what’s stamped in your memory—not the struggles and arguments. Yes, it’s good to reflect and assess what went wrong so we can do better, but don’t wallow in the ‘woulda’s, coulda’s, shoulda’s’.

Instead, let’s endeavour to count the things we can be thankful for in our marriage, “giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus” (Ephesians 5:20).

This article was adapted from a podcast on the Visionary Family Podcast.
Adapted with permission.
Dr. Rob Rienow’s most important ministry is loving his wife Amy and partnering with her to help their seven children love God. He is the founder of Visionary Family Ministries, where he encourages families around the world to follow Jesus. He is also the host of the Family Vision podcast.
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