People often say that the first year of marriage is the hardest, and that can be true. It can also be an amazing time of discovery and wonder as two people join their lives together in so many ways. What we found in the first year of our marriage was that our relationship grew stronger and deeper, and we enjoyed living our lives together every day... while at the same time life got much more complicated and we faced new challenges and difficulties that we didn't expect, yet those things only brought us closer together and made us more committed to each other. The important thing is the foundation of the marriage, because if that's weak then challenges can harm instead of strengthen. Here is some of what we have learned.

1. Trust. A marriage must be built on faith and trust in God and each other. Without faith and trust in God a marriage will only be for the enjoyment of the couple, and if they aren't enjoying themselves then it falls apart. When God is put first the marriage becomes a way to please Him, and it has a purpose greater than just making life more enjoyable. Without faith and trust in each other there is no security in the relationship, and if one spouse feels insecure they may seek comfort in someone else, and the unity is broken.

2. Commitment. Without commitment there is no marriage, because it's a covenant, an agreement and a vow to love the other person no matter what, to always be united in every way as much as possible, to never leave or give up. Our commitment to God and to each other has made it possible to go through every challenge we have faced so far, knowing that we're in this together.

3. Sacrifice. Marriage is a wonderful blessing, but sometimes it also means giving up plans or goals that you may have had because you're starting a whole new life together. Because you're spending more time together it means you don't have as much time to do what you used to do. When you're single you get to plan your days and weeks however you like, but in marriage it's important to put your spouse ahead of yourself and be willing at least to give up certain things in order to make the other person happy. The marriage is more important than individual desires that come and go. Now there are new goals and plans that you make together, and that's even better.

4. Generosity. Even though you give up certain things when you get married you gain so much more, and you now have someone to give your life to. Marriages often fail because each person is trying to get what they want from the other, when it's supposed to be about giving everything you are and everything you have to make your beloved feel treasured and cared for. Marriage is about giving. Be generous with your time, your affection, helping out around the house, whatever your spouse desires. You are responsible to provide for the needs of each other, and when you really want to it's even sweeter.

5. Thankfulness. We always remember that God brought us together and has blessed us with a happy marriage, and we appreciate each other so much that it's hard to find a reason to be angry or upset. It's easy to get wrapped up in what you don't have, but when you appreciate the simple things it makes life so much sweeter. We have so much to be thankful for, every day together is such a blessing, and this is just the beginning.

6. Joyful attitude. Dating is fun, engagement is exciting, and the wedding day is a dream come true. Then begins the joy of marriage. The difference is that it's not just a part of your life like dating was, it's every day, all the time, and it can be challenging, or at least not always exciting. That's why it's important to be positive and to have a joyful attitude toward your spouse. When I get home from work my wife is always excited to see me, and I'm overjoyed to finally be in her arms again. No matter what we do together we enjoy it because being together makes us joyful.

7. Honest communication. Secrets can make even a good marriage shaky, but when you talk about everything honestly it can create a deeper connection and trust. At the same time we must not judge too quickly or criticize, because that can cause the other person to close up and not communicate. When you're both on the same page it makes the relationship so much more relaxed and stress free. Communication is easier when the other ingredients are there, like trust, commitment, thankfulness, forgiveness, etc.

8. Forgiveness. When you do make mistakes, and everybody does, it's important to be honest about it and confess it to your spouse. If you refuse to change something you know is wrong then forgiveness can't happen until you admit that it's wrong and turn from it. Always be willing to forgive when your spouse comes with an open heart, seeking reconciliation. Don't bring up things from the past that have already been dealt with, don't keep a record of pain and hurt. Be willing to change, forgive and move on.

9. Unity. It's important to remember that you are no longer individual people with separate lives, and you can't be selfish. Marriage is two people leaving their single lives behind and making a commitment to each other, and we must put each other first, ahead of our own desires, ahead of extended family, ahead of friends. We don't cut off any relationships with other people, but when there are decisions to make we must be willing to make them as a couple, in agreement together. It's important to keep other people in your life, but don't let them pull you away from each other or come between you.

10. Love. It must come first and it must last until the end. Love encompasses everything else. Love means giving everything, being willing to die. Even if you don't actually die for your spouse you must be willing to give up everything else to provide, protect and defend. Love is about going on walks, sweet kisses and enjoying time with each other, but it's also about doing the dishes, taking out the trash and driving to the store in the middle of the night for cough medicine. When the sun is shining and things are good, love makes life sweeter... when you can't sleep because something is wrong, love holds life together.

The 10 things listed here are all about love, and there is no greater love than what God has given us in Jesus Christ. Marriage is meant to be a picture of how we are to live our lives in relationship to Him, a relationship built on trust, commitment, sacrifice, generosity, thankfulness, joyfulness, honesty, forgiveness (from God), unity and love. Even if we seem to have a great marriage it's all for nothing if our relationship with God is broken or if the reason for our marriage is selfish. When God brings two people together in marriage and He is the foundation... it's the best thing in the world.

If you would like to learn more about what makes a good marriage I encourage you to explore these sites:

Focus on the Family

Family Life

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