People warned us that the first year of marriage is the hardest.

I kept waiting and bracing myself for it to happen, whatever it was.  Life, finances, lifestyle and personality magnified in marriage, I presumed.  But it never came.

Our first year was rich and sweet. After dating for six years, the long-awaited marriage was wonderful. That first year being together was enough.  Long bike rides on warm spring days, breakfasts late in the morning on our days off, walks down 12th Avenue in the summer around sunset.  Sure, we had our share of silly, newlywed tiffs with a few legitimate arguments mixed in. But we never experienced anything that we couldn’t resolve, and the warned rude awakening was nonexistent.

The it crept upon us, slowly and without warning.  As the newly wedded bliss faded, we began to impose our expectations on each other, not all at once but subtly, over time.  We harbored resentment when needs went unmet and began imposing shaming tactics. We’d guilt trip each other into complying with our own selfish motives.

We had a list of what we wanted from the other from small to bigger things.  I wanted him to offer to help with the dishes. He wanted me to quit striving for perfection.  I wanted him to take out the trash and put his clean clothes in their respective drawers. He wanted me to stop saying yes often so we could have a little more margin in life.  He wanted me to value kind words as highly as I valued honesty.  We wanted to dance in sync with one another.  We wanted sex just to keep happening without initiation, without asking.  We wanted all this from one another and kept a running list, adding items one by one. 

We argued more but still not an alarming amount.  We had long conversations and walked away with things on a different list, our own personal improvement list. We started keeping score–not intentionally. It just kind of happened as did other unhealthy patterns and ways of interacting.  We stockpiled examples of times when the other screwed up. We carried on and on and things grew worse and worse.  Even when we weren’t in conflict, the weight of expectation and the lack of grace left us beaten and worn. The constant scorekeeping had sucked us dry.

We weren’t enough.  He wasn’t enough.  I wasn’t enough.  He wasn’t enough for me.  I wasn’t enough for him.

We potentiated that gnawing voice in each other’s heads.  Rather than creating a home that was a refuge from the degrading voices in the world, we joined in and justified every word. We were exhausted, and we were quietly killing each other.

The trying harder mentality is woven into society. It’s what we’re trained to do from a young age.  Try a little harder next time. But grace is the antithesis of trying harder. Grace has never been about trying harder.

So we quit trying harder in our marriage.  He quit trying harder, and I quit trying harder. When we quit running, striving, and trying so hard. We found a space flooded with grace. Our home became a refuge.  It became a place we could enter without fear. Our home became a place of trust, where we could rely on each other and breathe life into one another’s souls.

Expectations are a reality in marriage.

Disagreement and arguments are inevitable.

Forgiveness is like pulling teeth.

But without grace we would all suffocate, we’d never survive.

So we set down our improvement lists. Because the lists, even when they’re all checked off are never enough.

Grace is the only thing that is enough.