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Newlywed Diary Part III: The “Secret” to a Good Marriage

I don’t actually have the secret to a good marriage. For someone who has only been married for 4 months, I’ve only just begun to figure this mystery out. I’ve been asked, “how’s marriage?” enough times that I usually come up with a different answer each time. But there is one “secret” that I’ve learned recently that I think will be consistent lesson to apply to marriage, work, and life. That observation is: change is slow, but change also compounds.

I first noticed this when I was trying to describe how I’ve been feeling to my friends who would ask about the past couple months. On the one hand, it seemed like time was flying by. “The weeks are melting by! I can’t believe we’ve been married 4 months already!” As newlyweds, we felt a lot of pressure (perhaps from ourselves) to “constantly be improving” or to have things “figured out.” Four months didn’t feel like long enough of a time to make huge strides in our relationship.

On the other hand, it felt like time passed very slowly. “I can’t believe we’ve only been married 4 months.” Compared to our engagement season, married life was wildly different. We saw and understood so much more of the other person. It surprised us to realize it only been a couple months—not that long in the grand scheme of things, considering we did long-distance for a year and a half.

So what was going on? Why was our sense of time so warped since getting married?

Change Is Slow

It takes a long time to form habits. It takes an even longer time to break them.

One reason time felt short was because we realized that change is slow. We aspired to be have a stable and functional marriage right out of the gate, but I can assure you that that does not just happen. (“We love Jesus and we both promised to love each other above all else, so… we should be good, right?” Not quite.) It takes a lot of time, intentionality, and especially repeated forgiveness in order to see transformational change.

When we talked to other married couples about this, they would just laugh. “There’ll be some things in the marriage you’ll never quite figure out. We’re 20 years in and still learning.”

Change takes time. In God’s wisdom, marriage is one of those relationships where you’re forced to confront, over and over again, the ugliness inside yourself that you could otherwise ignore on your own. You see each other daily. You have no choice but to try and work things out. And some habits die hard. 80% of our conflicts so far have probably situated around the same two or three recurring issues. They’re never really “solved”—just a little less bad each time.

For the kind of life change that two broken humans living together need in order to be reconciled to each other, four months is not a long time at all.

Change Compounds On Itself

On the flip side, the other reality of marriage is that all of a sudden, we went from seeing each other every couple of days (or couple of weeks, or months even when we were long-distance) to living together every single day. Almost all of our waking and non-working hours would be spent together.

There is something about consistency and routine over a long period of time that seems imperceptible day-to-day, but has huge change over time. This slow but steady progress we made as a married couple reminded me of something I’ve heard of called the “1% Principle,” which is a neat math illustration that shows the power of compounding positive change (or negative change).

The 1% Principle illustrates that 1%, compounded daily over a year, has enormous returns: 1.01365 = 37.8!

Conversely, the opposite effect is even more drastic: 0.99365 = 0.03.

Let’s say we are able to improve our communication in marriage by just “1%” every day. Multiply that by itself for 365 days, and this 1% Principle boasts that we’ll be almost 38 times better than how we started!

Needless to say, real life is not like math. But the principle still holds. As we traversed through our day-to-day rhythms, we were slowly building up small changes and tweaks in our behavior that began compounding on each other over time. We learned to communicate clearly our own desires in a decision rather than try to assume or guess what the other wanted. We started changing the way we gently phrased a request. We slowly became more comfortable expressing frustration or hurt with each other. And on top of that, our daily routines just started getting more comfortable.

We’ve had lots of opportunities every single day for four months to practice working on a number of these relational issues. Looking back, four months can be a long stretch of time!

Marriage Is a Journey

Marriage is a journey. A difficult but fun one. Looking back over four months, we see there’s been a lot of fruit in the ways we learn—and fail—to love each other better. There have been lots of things to be grateful for. Lots of things to laugh about. Probably plenty more to fight about. Change is slow, but change continually compounds. At the end of the day, part of what we’ve been learning is not to worry too much and to just enjoy the process for what it is.

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