Don’t Ask Newlyweds This Question

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Everybody asked me, “How’s married life?” Everybody. For days and weeks and months after I got married, until other interesting things happened in my life (like illness and kindergarten), that question opened nearly every conversation.

And I hated it.

It seemed impossible to answer, because I hadn’t figured out what marriage meant practically. I didn’t know the relational difference between being committed to Erich before marriage and being committed to Erich after marriage. I was still me. He was still him. We still loved each other.

So I told people, “Marriage isn’t that different from being engaged” (except you get to cuddle at more random hours, except I didn’t tell people that, because, well, you know).

But most of all, more than the odd question itself, that question hit too close to home in a way people didn’t intend it to.

People intended “How’s married life?” to be an open invitation to gush about my happily ever after — a very kind thing to do. They said it with huge smiles on their faces, ready to rejoice with me.

And that’s why I hated it — because marriage, especially in the beginning, was not all rejoicing. I wanted an invitation to cry, to rant, to get help and advice, because I hated marriage for the first few months.

There were many factors, all boiling down to marriage being a bigger step I anticipated. It changed my identity, my name, and my prospects in hugely small ways. I moved away from my closest friends and family. I had nothing to do and nowhere to go all summer. I was going through extreme spiritual turmoil. Sex was hard, unpleasant, and charged with all kinds of guilt. I was depressed, anxious, and moody because of that and because (who knew?) I was dehydrated.

On top of that, I was always aware that I was a terrible wife, that my happily ever after was anything but, and that, probably, nobody else felt this way, and thus, obviously, I married the wrong man and would spend our old age sitting silently at restaurants on our anniversaries like all doomed couples do.

I felt like I couldn’t speak about my pain, my depression, and my grief, because marriage is supposed to be happy, because all the other newlyweds were raving about sex and marriage and their dreams coming true, because every kept asking me “How’s married life?” like it’s not a hard, heavy thing.

I suppose, then, that the question itself is not the problem — the context and the tone is. “How’s married life?” is not a casual conversation starter. It’s not always a sappy-happy question. It’s often a deeply personal, for-close-friends-only question.

So I don’t ask that question of newlyweds anymore, unless we have more than a few minutes to really talk and let our smiles down. Marriage is for better and for worse, even in the beginning, and I want to be sensitive to that.

But in case you’re wondering, yes, I love married life now that it’s a part of who I am and what I do, now that it’s home and family, now that it’s known and regular. There’s nobody else I’d rather avoid dishes with than Erich.

Did people ask this question of you? How did you feel about it?

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23 thoughts on “Don’t Ask Newlyweds This Question

  1. Laura Jinkins

    Ah… the older lady commenting again. ;)

    The first year we were married, I’m shocked the police weren’t called at least once or twice by our neighbors. Not that we were violent — but we were LOUD. We had lived independently of our parents and each other for almost four years before learning to live with another person. “What do you MEAN, you put the spoons bowl side down in the dishwasher!?!? Don’t you understand they won’t get clean that way?” “I don’t like my shirts to shrink in the dryer, so please hang them all to dry.” (Grumbling to the laundry because it takes longer to sort out the dry-ables from the hang-ables….) And then the awkward guilt thing you mentioned regarding “cuddling” — I give you huge props for having the courage to recognize that and take steps to overcome it. Don’t waste time thinking it will just “go away” — none of us know how long the good Lord has given us on this earth and you don’t want to waste a single minute of time with your beloved if there’s a solution for each challenge and conflict.

    Bless you, Mrs. Steger for your honesty. I think more of your readers will recognize themselves in your words and find encouragement in knowing they aren’t alone. Those who claim everything is “rainbows and unicorns” are probably not being honest with themselves.

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  2. Adele

    Nobody much asked me this because I had been living with my husband for two years before we got married, so after our honeymoon we returned to the same apartment and virtually nothing in our day-to-day lives changed. Thinking about it, I don’t think it would ever occur to me to ask this of anyone else either. It seems like an odd question to me.

    I do want to add here that sex is hard and unpleasant for many women at first, even women with an incredibly gentle, patient, loving partner. I wish there was a way that could be communicated to young women without sounding like I am anti-feminist or denying the sexuality of women or something. But maybe it wouldn’t even help. It sounds like you have gotten past that first really hard part and I am glad of that. In my experience it continues to get better and better even after you’re thinking it’s pretty darn great already, so you have that to look forward to. :-)

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  3. heather

    My first marriage was hard at the beginning for many of the same reason as yours. I dreaded the question too.
    The second time we had been living together for years so absolutely nothing changed. It was much better and happier.

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  4. Bethany

    On the other hand, even if married life IS good, I don’t exactly want to share all my happiest memories in the .5 seconds of small talk that is about to occur. Now people just ask me how pregnant life is, and I’m definitely rude enough to be completely honest. BUT, then I have to deal with the awkward silence afterwards, since that was the only polite subject I qualified for in a conversation. ;)

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  5. ChrisW

    I had this too. Lots of people asking and me really not knowing how to answer, especially because the sex wasn’t that great. It was awkward to tell the truth but the last thing I wanted to do was lie. It was three years and a round of therapy later before that changed.

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    • Bailey Steger

      That’s exactly how I feel. In fact, in some ways, I wanted to be completely honest about the hardship to raise awareness that it’s okay to have a tough transition into marriage.

      I suppose, then, that you’re not of the opinion that sex “just” gets better the longer you’re married (i.e., it’s not a natural thing for it to get better)?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Laura Jinkins

        Sex takes practice and will get better, but if a couple goes into it expecting it to be mind blowing movie sex, they are setting themselves up for defeat. What we read about in books, see in the movies, etc., isn’t real. Communication is key and the determination to not give up, and set aside ego (you each have to be able to say “that doesn’t work for me” without worrying about anger or rejection, and also to ask what you can give your spouse that they would enjoy)…. Hang in there — it will get better!

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      • ChrisW

        Absolutely not! I think the whole idea sex is instinctual is a myth used to justify sexual violence and infidelity. Meanwhile we have a culture that is so wrapped in body-negativity, we don’t even value the messages our bodies give us. We’re more inclined to believe they’re not working, than believe they’re a part of us and responding in a way that reflects our history, self-perception and our assessment of our surroundings. No one tells you about vulnerability- not in a way you can understand. Plus, no one in church ever tells you how sex should be play. Play as a concept is confined to things kids do, or things disturbed sex deviants do – it’s never framed as something mature Christians do, but I believe sex is prophetic play. I often talk about it being theatre. Plus add in the “Jesus will fix it” problem and people see sexual health professionals as seriously misguided soft-hearted people who spend their time helping sinners. Because all sexual health issues come from SIN. (Sarcasm). What makes me most angry about what my husband and I went through was JUST HOW EASY it would have been for him to shrug and move on and not mind that I was sexually unfulfilled. He relentlessly pursued my pleasure and in doing so got wrapped into all the uncertainty and pain I was facing. But he stuck with it. Seriously, I told him at one point I would be OK if he divorced me. He was furious- but not with me. I didn’t even realise what I was living under. I thought I was sexually informed and sex positive. Nope.

        Sorry, that’s a long comment. I wrote an open letter to an evangelical couple considering sex therapy – you might like it:
        http://www.workthegreymatter.com/to-the-evangelical-couple-considering-sex-therapy/

        I also wrote a very concise piece about having sex that lasts a lifetime, it’s one I’m quite proud of:
        http://www.workthegreymatter.com/key-lifelong-sex-get-right-advice/

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      • Bailey Steger

        Holy cow. This comment. I love this, particularly the idea of sex as play and how our bodies are connected to our past history, etc.

        Honestly, the idea of sex as play was like a light bulb for me. I think that’s why I struggle with it. The only ideas of sex that I brought to marriage were either suck it up and do it for the husband or become a sexy beast. I wasn’t comfortable with either. But the idea of play…there’s an innocence and a fun there that I’ve wanted to feel with my husband without having the word for it. Play. I like that. :)

        Liked by 1 person

  6. korie

    You know, I just answer honestly. I hate small talk and I hate fake and I hate chit chat. And I’ve realized that many, many other people feel the same exact way. I’m willing to be the person that sets the stage for open, deep communicate. It creates a culture of respect and honesty that’s needed in our culture. I don’t bear my soul right away, but I give some indication of how I truly feel, and if they indicate that they are respectful, understanding, and interested, I dive in. And encourage others to do the same.

    I experienced the same set of emotions when I had my son. People expected me to just loooove being a mom, and I didn’t, not at first. I loved the baby, but I didn’t love my life at that point. When I was honest, people opened up about their own struggles with colicky babes, sleep deprivation, and postpartum depression.

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    • Bailey Steger

      I really like how you’re maintaining a respectful boundary for your privacy while still not “putting up a front.” I’m trying to find that balance of being honest without exposing my heart to others who won’t be respectful to me.

      There were definitely times when I got, “What? Our marriage is going great! It’s the best thing ever! The first few weeks are aaaamaaazing!” in response to my hurt. Those sorts of responses definitely make me want to clam up. Nobody wants to be the rain cloud. :P

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  7. Allison Caylor

    It is refreshing to read such honesty, Bailey. I agree that this is only the question to ask if you have time and heart to sit down and really get to know the person you’re asking. Even though my first couple months of marriage were quite honestly the bomb, I didn’t want to be asked that. I am not an open person, and I wasn’t going to go around answering, “Oh, my heart’s just been crying out with joy at never being separated from him, and experiencing intimacy has been the biggest relief and enjoyment and changed my perspective on so many things, and there’s a bit of a struggle in that I can’t expect him to sit and talk about his feelings all the time, and he’s always jumping head-on into things that I need time to prepare for emotionally, but it’s definitely a for-the-rest-of-our-lives sort of relationship…”

    Thankfully, I had the easy answer to give — “Great, thank you” — but it really isn’t a small-talk question.

    I can’t agree enough with what someone said above about “playing.” That is the attitude to have. C.S. Lewis said, I think in The Four Loves, that anyone can be passionate, but it takes real lovers to be silly. And that’s so freeing, to realize that sex doesn’t have to be serious all the time. There are things that happen, like gas and squeaky mattresses, that either ruin your passionate moment or just emphasize how comfortable you can be laughing together. You’re not performing for anyone, not even your spouse. Just hang out, pursue what feels good, laugh together, and rest in the fact that you have the whole rest of your life to enjoy each other more and more. And it will be more and more.

    I do have one more thought, that’s touchy to speak on, but I think will be helpful. Paul gave us one of the best bits of marriage advice — in marriage, our bodies aren’t our own; don’t deny each other. Don’t say “not tonight, dear” to your husband without good reason. Not out of any Victorian traditional habits, but because you’re one flesh. Yes, there are definitely good reasons, but not “feeling like it” isn’t one of them. It can be a bit of a sacrifice at the moment, but you’ll reap the benefits later of having given your spouse (probably husband :D) such complete security in your acceptance of him. And not to be graphic, but it probably won’t be a sacrifice after a couple hugs.

    Last thought — “thank you” is a very powerful phrase in all aspects of marriage, but especially in intimacy. It expresses love, satisfaction, everything, and it does so much for each person’s heart.

    I’ve never written on this topic before, and I’ve hesitated a minute before doing so, but I do want to help/encourage any wives who are struggling with this. It is so worth learning about. :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bailey Steger

      Thank you for sharing your advice! I love your reiteration/further explanation of sex as play, that it’s not even a performance for your spouse.

      Regarding saying no, not tonight, I think for me, because I have so much baggage regarding sex, that “not feeling like it” is a good enough reason to say no, not tonight. Sometimes neither of us can explain why we don’t want to have sex, and we don’t push each other to if one of us just really, truly isn’t into it tonight. It’s such a tricky situation, because I totally get what you’re saying too, and I personally have to discern between whether I’m “not feeling it” in just an “ehhh, not really interested tonight” or a “no, I *really* don’t want this tonight” way.

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  8. Allison Caylor

    One more thought on not denying each other: Yes, there will be times (cough, third trimester) that you won’t “get” much (hippos aren’t that sexy). Just think of it as you giving to your husband in a huge, beautiful way. It’s a rare privilege. And there’ll be lots of times for you to receive as well as give. It’s worth some discomfort for the sake of your relationship. And I’m sure this works both ways.

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  9. anon_for_this_post

    I have been thinking and thinking about this post and particularly the part about how sex hasn’t always been great. I want to comment because a few years ago I started hearing that a lot of women (and men) who grew up in ‘purity culture’ experienced a host of problems once they started having sex (usually after marriage). I don’t want to make too much of a judgement about abstinence per se, or whether that’s always right or anything like that, and I don’t mean to criticize people who choose to wait until marriage. What I really object to is a lot of the baggage that usually goes along with that.

    When you train yourself literally from puberty that any sexual response *right now* is bad, even if you also believe that sex in marriage is good, the only automatic emotional response that your body and mind have is *this is bad*. Even if you cognitively know that sex in marriage is a gift, etc etc, it doesn’t connect on an emotional level. That doesn’t go away easily for most people. One truly awful book that my parents wanted me to read made the case that the fear response we experience in a car wreck is entirely produced by our mind: it is a trained response to the deceleration and other sensations produced during a car accident. IN THE SAME WAY, the authors wrote, we could train ourselves to experience fear and disgust at the thought of ‘illicit’ sex. This is an extreme and awful example but it is very appealing to a young on-fire-for-God person who truly wants to avoid sexual sin. “If your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out.” The immediate solution comes at a profound price down the road.

    Like you said, sometimes there is the stifling idea of being a ‘tiger in the bedroom’ after marriage, and in part that’s because of the purity-culture folks who want to share a more positive message and then start going around spouting enthusiastically about how “Christian women have the best and most satisfying sex lives of anyone”. Yes, a couple of folks came to my Christian university and announced this very thing, and happily went on about how sex in marriage was just so FABULOUS.

    That leaves out a lot of people. It leaves out and stigmatizes the 20 to 50% of women who experience painful sex, and the men and women who feel residual guilt and shame due to the conditioning mentioned above.

    I’ve been having sex with my partner for several years. I will be open about the distress that I have experienced due to sexual pain, because it is a lonely and shaming thing that can make you question your femininity and is really difficult to deal with. I have had a variety of nebulous physical and psychological issues that have contributed and it seems like we resolve one thing and then it is on to another. This is not just a momentary discomfort that you can always just move past. Sometimes it is, other times sex just hurts and we have to stop. I always hate to stop, even though my lovely and caring partner always says he would far rather not have sex than have it hurt me. It just feels so defeating on several levels–like why am I so broken that I can’t even have sex.

    I couldn’t believe it when a friend of mine said that she could barely even feel gynecological exams, because for me they were so painful that I was almost crying. It bothers me when people say things about how if women don’t enjoy sex or they don’t orgasm from intercourse that it’s just the guy’s fault, or that nobody really ‘needs’ lube.
    And yes, some or most of the time sex is really enjoyable and I truly haven’t regretted not waiting for marriage. But the unhappy parts are there too and I don’t know what the answer is. Hormonal therapy? Counseling? Who knows.
    I don’t like the idea of just doing it as one commenter suggested as a sacrificial act of love. I guess that works for some people but I think too often that gets really close to just performing or acquiescing to your partner. There have definitely been times when I just gritted my teeth and kept going, and in some ways that is actually easier for me than the unhappy and disappointing work of saying ‘I can’t do this right now’. But I think it is really risky to start associating sex with pain or sacrifice or just enduring, because I think then your brain makes that association very easily in the future. Sort of like the conditioning mentioned above…

    Anyways, I don’t know if much of this is really related to what you’re dealing with but I wish you all the best & you are absolutely not the only one dealing with these sorts of issues. Much love and support to you.

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    • Bailey Steger

      I completely relate to everything you’ve said. Waiting for sex isn’t the problem, but imbibing a negative view of sex *is.* It’s been so hard to root it out.

      I struggle with painful sex a lot, and feel the same way you do. Just gritting my teeth and doing it associates sex with pain and discomfort if I’m not careful. I’m not sure what the solution is, either! I’m kind of holding out that it magically gets better as more trust is built and I become more familiar with my body’s sexual responses and such.

      But ugh, isn’t it frustrating? And discouraging? I feel you. I never expected that wonderful thing I waited my whole life to have to be such an awful, stressful experience sometimes. :(

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  10. Aemi

    Hey, Bailey. :)

    I’ve been following your blog for a while now, but this post moved me the most because I identify with your struggles. After all your confident marriage advice, your openness here made me realize that you are just like me: a young woman trying to find who she is, and figure out this marriage thing, at the same time.
    When I married, I was immediately whisked three states and one time zone away from everything familiar. I had known my husband long distance for about eight months. The honeymoon was many shades of wonderful, and so were the first few weeks of marriage, but sex repeatedly left me disappointed. It’s true, it does NOT just “happen”. It takes education, and it takes communication. If you have not read the book “Intended for Pleasure” by Dr. Ed Wheat, read it. I’m serious. If you don’t feel like paying money for it, I will buy it for you. Internet research cannot compare to having a comprehensive, yet concise book that has so far taught us everything we needed to know, and from a Christian, woman-affirming perspective. It taught us exactly how sex works and why, and it taught us to be completely open with each other about what worked for each of us and what didn’t. It was about four months before we figured out how to get me satisfied consistently, but we finally hit a turning point, and my mind now associates sex with pleasure and delight.
    I echo the commenter above whole-heartedly- go to bed with your husband and PLAY! Recapture the innocent daydreams of your younger years. Try new things, new places, new times, in complete inhibition. Pray to God to rid your heart and mind of the guilt, and thank Him for every pleasure. And I also agree with my sister – don’t turn your husband down. His sex drive is a gift to you. Without it you probably would end up never having sex at all. Every time he asks is another opportunity to figure out how to satisfy you. Don’t cheat yourself. If you keep learning and keep experimenting, the guilt will fade and you’ll overcome pain, and your sex drive will increase until you won’t even want to turn him down.
    As for feeling lost and lonely as a new wife, let me just say I feel ya. You’ll figure it out.

    Even though our paths have diverged, I love you, Bailey. I wish you every happiness in your marriage and new life. :)

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