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Is Marriage Really As Hard As People Say?

Is marriage really as hard as people say it is? Read this post on why I think marriage is a lot like a three legged race.
I'm Stephanie May Wilson!

I'm an author and podcaster and my specialty is helping women navigate big decisions, life transitions — creating lives they love.

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Several years ago, I was invited to a post-grad women’s night a friend of mine was hosting. It was a panel, she told me, a group of women several years older than us and several stages ahead of us in life. “It’s going to be amazing,” she told me, “A Q&A with women who have been where we are, and we can ask them anything!”

I was in.

As you can imagine, most of us were there to talk about boys. We wanted any tips, advice, wisdom, or insight they could give us on dating, engagement, and marriage. We wanted to know everything.

Sadly, I don’t remember any of their advice. I only remember the discouraged face of one of the panelists as she warned us seriously, marriage is hard.

My heart broke a little when she said that. I looked at the faces around the room — hopeful women in relationships, and several just a few months away from their own weddings. Everyone looked crestfallen.

What that woman actually said was, “Marriage is hard.” But what her face said was “It’s all a lie. All of it. Lower your expectations now before they’re shattered like mine were.”

“Marriage is hard.” It seems like the common refrain among married people. Is it just me that has experienced that? It seems like the married are trying to talk the unmarried out of it. “It’s hard, it’s a lot of work,” they report back. There’s no mention of the perpetual slumber parties it looks like from the outside.

And so I’ve always wondered about this. What is it exactly that makes marriage so hard?

Everyone’s experiences are different, and everyone’s circumstances are unique, but this is the very best way I can think to explain the hard part of marriage from where I stand, 365 days in.

Marriage is like a three legged race.

(Stick with me here…)

Have you ever run a three legged race? I hope so because they usually happen at events filled with family, and heaping plates of potato salad, or at summer camp which is just the best.

You tie your legs together, with the glee of the strangeness and silliness of the thing, and then you take your first hobbley steps together. Right, then left, wait, that doesn’t work. Outside leg or inside leg? And at first it’s fun.

But then someone yells “Go” and you’re off. You’re moving at a much faster pace now, which is when it starts to get hard. You try to take charge, right as your partner does. “Outside leg,” you shout, right as he yells, “inside!” which considering the logistics of having your legs tied together probably lands you in a heap.

“Let’s try this again” you might say as you awkwardly try to stand up together, reconsidering, if just for a second, if this was really such a fun idea after all.

The tricky thing about three legged races is how much they force you to work together. They make it physically impossible to be independent. You can’t accomplish your goal if you’re not communicating and working as a team. You have to talk to each other, coordinate your every step.

You have to agree, someone has to take charge, and then the other person has to follow their lead. You have to move at the same pace, and you can’t rush ahead even if you feel like the other person is slowing you down.

From what we've experienced this last year, this is the very best way I can describe marriage.

When you get married, you’re committing to run the race together. You’re tying yourselves together, committing to share your finances, your home, and even your bed. It’s intimate stuff! And now, both newbies at being tied to another person, you’re off. You’re charged with the task of tackling life together.

Sometimes this is easy, and often it’s fun. But there’s also an inherent awkwardness about it as you’re figuring out how to work together.

There are about a thousand things to trip over, and opportunities to bump into each other and hurt each other’s feelings.

You have two people’s bills and debt and finances to manage. You have two people’s stuff to shove into a closet that didn’t magically get bigger when you got married. You have two people’s daily habits and preferences, and you have two people with the ability to be in bad moods, and get Hangry at any given moment (Hangry is SUCH a thing at our house. The Wilsons should constantly travel with Cliff Bars at the ready).

And if that's not tricky enough, then sometimes life turns up the heat even more.

Since we started dating, Carl and I have been through the cancer diagnosis of one of our closest family members, we lost another family member in a tragic, unexpected way. We lost two jobs each, moved to a new city, started two new businesses, and bought a house. There are very few major life upheavals we haven’t survived together thus far.

Now all of a sudden you're not just walking with your legs tied together, navigating the awkwardness of the thing. Now you’re running, leaping over obstacles, ducking and dodging and rolling, and doing it all together.
But that's the thing: More than marriage being hard, in this last year, life has been hard.

We've suffered losses this year, navigated transitions, and found ourselves so far beyond our comfort zones, we weren't sure if we still knew how to swim.

But as we paddled out there, taking in water and getting tossed by the waves, we were wrapped in the comfort of knowing we weren't out there alone.

Yes, marriage (from my limited purview) can be really hard. But it's also really worth it, and that's the thing I feel like I don't hear enough.

My life is better because Carl’s in it. It’s more complicated, sometimes. But it’s better.

We’re smarter together, funnier together, holier together. He’s weak where I’m strong, and he’s a total ninja at the areas of life that I can’t seem to figure out. We make each other better — we sharpen each other, challenge each other, and teach each other.

It’s better because I live with my best friend, because my favorite person on the planet is in this life with me.

He’s walking with me, and leading the way, and pushing me from behind when I’m sure I just can’t do it anymore.

He knows me better than I know myself, he believes in me when I just can’t, and he loves me endlessly even at my weirdest, my quirkiest, and my worst.

We don't have it all figured out, not even close. We trip and fall daily as we learn how to work together, and some days would be so much easier if our legs weren't inextricably linked.

But we also know that the good things in life aren't always the easiest, and that the best things are usually things we have to put a little sweat into. Marriage, so far, has been no different.

A beautiful, holy thing happens when two people decide to tie their legs together. The sum becomes greater than its parts. They become better, and are able to make the world better.

And lots of times, it really does feel like an awesome perpetual slumber party.

P.S. While we're on the subject, here is a blog post and a podcast episode I think you'll really like:

Blog post: The Truth About Being A Newlywed (That Nobody Wants To Admit Out Loud)

Podcast episode: Girls Night #129: Our Best Marriage Advice for Newlyweds

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Is marriage really as hard as people say it is? Read this post on why I think marriage is a lot like a three legged race.

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  1. elizabeth says:

    I love this! I have quite a few friends who say marriage is HARD. and when I got married, Bruce and I were expecting it to just be terribly hard because that is all we were warned. But it wasn’t. And as one year went by, and then two, I was wondering if we were doing it wrong 😉 – we were still having fun! Yes, we had crappy things happen in our lives and yes we had silly fights and frustrations – but we still laughed, and hugged, and cried hard. And shared all those burdens together – of the outside world and of our own sins. This article is so beautiful because I can totally relate. Bruce and I are now really careful with our advice. We tell people to marry their friend – it will make everything so much easier. We tell them to marry someone you enjoy being around and have at least a couple shared activities that you can default to together for FUN! And we encourage them – even no roommate situation is perfect, or family – there will be things that feel heavy and hard but marry someone who will help you turn to the Lord and help you laugh.

  2. Yes yes yes yes yes!!!! I LOVE this analogy! I found myself smiling happily the whole way through this post, as it completely resonates with me. 395 days in, I get this question all the time, too! (Happy 1 Year, by the way!) Before marriage, + even still, I loved asking women a few stages ahead of me for input + advice just like this. It breaks my heart to only hear the defeated sadness in the voices of some ladies I look up to when it comes to marriage. How sad that “hard” is the first (+ often only) adjective so many can think of when describing something so beautiful + fun! This honestly is the perfect way to describe marriage as it encapsulates the joy, the hilarity, + the fun, while also addressing the strange newness, lack of coordination, + difficulty of mastering something we’ve never done before! Thank you for writing this! I’ll be sharing this analogy with friends + family for sure – not to mention, of course, sharing your post! Love your heart, girl! Keep it up!


  3. Caroline Ann says:

    This was so incredibly encouraging!
    I’m about to get married in 7 weeks, and I feel like I constantly have people telling me this.
    As it is, the last year has been hard and we have had to navigate through tricky waters in a different way, learning to depend on Him in a whole new way, and learning to work, pray, life, and cry together through it, rather than on our own. And as we are about to do that permanently, it can be so disheartening to have wise people look at you with a mixture of their own sadness, and pity for you, and tell you how much harder life is about to get forever.
    Not that this life was meant to be easy, as Christ so often does take us out of our comfort zones to refine us and make us look more like Him… But even though that refinement process is often hard, I wouldn’t define walking with Him as hard when there IS so much joy, peace, love, and grace in the process. And I pray that marriage will be the same way.
    So thank you for sharing! I stumbled across your blog a month or so ago and have enjoyed reading your pThe timing was beyond perfect. 🙂

    • Caroline Ann says:

      Well darn, unfinished thoughts, and not being able to delete things are I guess what I get for commenting from my phone. To finish what I was saying though, I have enjoyed reading your blog posts as they have come up in my newsfeed on Facebook, and tonight was just beyond perfect. So thank you!

      Caroline Ann

  4. Jen says:

    My young hopeful engaged friend posted this and I have to say thank you to you for pointing out that people like me sound negative. I’m 5010 days into my marriage and 7202 days into my relationship. I usually say marriage is hard as a warning because the journey is long and you need endurance. Even when I’ve said it’s hard (and you can see me candidly saying it in my blog on WordPress: myjourneyoutoftheratrace), I never meant to say it isn’t worth it. I really just want my friends and readers to analyze deeply who they are stepping into the union with and make sure they can run that three legged race the entire time together. Believe me, there are days all of us question if we can endure it any longer. You might run into that feeling as well some day.

    It sounds like you have been through a lot in the first year. And as silly as it might sound, Hangry is definitely a good thing to identify early on! 🙂 Some days a fight will go on for hours and all the sudden you realize, it started because of hanger and miscommunication. That’s it – so simple. But the longer we’re married, the more we forget these things and the harder it is to recognize the root because resentment happens and builds over little things and very big things.

    Hence why many of us say it’s really really hard. But many many days, it’s worth it. Keep speaking candidly – we need to hear it. Take care.

  5. […] Ouch. My young, hopeful/semi-afraid, engaged friend just shared this blog about marriage from the pe… […]

  6. Katie says:

    Such a good analogy! Thank you for finding a way to be honest and encouraging, when it’s easy to separate the two!

  7. Greer oharah says:

    Yes! This is what needs to be said about marriage. I got a lot of the “marriage is not going to be as magical as you think it is” advice before getting married 2 years ago. And subconsciously waited for a while to see it turn out that way. But it hasn’t. Sure it’s hard, and sometimes awkward (your analogy was perfect) but it’s so good and it’s so worth it. This is the message that needs to be said. Thanks so much!

  8. JulIe schwab says:

    I’m happy to report that 35 years into our marriage my husband and I are still very happily married! Yes, there have been many struggles and hard times, and there will continue to be. However, through the years we have become each other’s best friend! We have so much in common, but our differences make us unique. We have to work at our marriage EVERY DAY (even when we don’t feel like it)! It’s so worth it, though, and with each other’s (and God’s) support, it’s ’til death do us part’!

  9. It’s better because I live with my best friend, because my favorite person on the planet is in this life with me.
    That line says it all! Yes! And I do wish more people shared the joy of marriage! It can be hard but that isn’t what I would sum it up with!

  10. Shaina says:

    I really loved your 3-legged race analogy. I have been married for 8 years, and that is just a perfect way to describe it. Marriage is hard, but so worth it. Thank you for sharing your story. <3

  11. So accurately said and the three-legged race analogy is on point! Even a few years into marriage, I was so encouraged reading. People warned me of the same, saying marriage is really hard. I braced for it and waited, and sure its been incredibly challenging at points, but like you honed in on, ITS WORTH IT ALL!
    Part of the journey I’ve found has been learning to hold the two aspects in balance, the hard stuff and the amazing stuff, and whether its in the valley or on a mountain top, to say ‘this is totally worth it.’
    Thanks for sharing truth so honestly, we all need to hear more of it!

  12. Alexis says:

    I was just brought to tears reading this. What a beautiful description. As I look at marriage from the outside, and am so hopeful to one day marry my best friend, these are incredibly encouraging (yet realistic!) words to hear. Thanks for sharing your perspective!!

  13. JuLie says:

    The 3-legged race is a fabulous anology!
    We have been married 14 years have four kids and although there have been trying seasons/moments. Being married is so much fun and one of the best things in life! Have lots of dates and open communication. It is a beautiful ride! Congratulations to you! You are in a super fun season of marriage!
    Side note (our first year was our hardest)

  14. ABigail says:

    Thank you for sharing!! I am so glad I found this article! I am currently looking towards the season of marriage and it has been difficult to process through how difficult it is. I know it will not be perfect but I am excited! This article really puts into perspective the joy and difficulty looking from the outside in! Thank you!

  15. I love this analogy! I speak to sororities and when I get the question about dating an unbeliever I use the 3 legged race analogy too. Only I have myself sit on the grown and encourage them to run.
    I love how you used it to describe marriage too. So so well said.

  16. Keri McCue says:

    During Josh and I’s 8 month engagement, we heard some okay advice, a few little nuggets of great advice, and whole heaping barrow full of really crappy advice haha It was so sadly eye opening to other people’s marriages. It was depressing the amount of people that have a negative view of marriage. I had one person ask me how being engaged was and after my very enthusiastic, joyful reply she said, “Well just wait until you’re married and the honeymoon phase is over. Things will get real and then you’ll wonder what you got yourself into.” Ummmm, thanks? Seriously though we had a TON of “advice” like that. One lady told me to not get in the habit of cooking for him every night. She said that her and her husband eat separately because she got tired of cooking food she didn’t like. It’s so sad. Yes, marriage can be hard…but it’s hard in that it work. It takes two people giving 100% to their spouse, putting their spouse before them (which in today’s culture is considered bad! We have to look out for ourselves right?) Marriage is learning how selfish you are and actively and intentionally trying to change that. Marriage is hard in the best kind of way! Loving your site and all your wise words!!!

  17. julia says:

    LOVE this – thank you. My fiancé and I have been having this conversation the last few months. I have been really stressed about how HARD marriage will be, especially in the first year, and not quite knowing how to prepare. I feel like all you hear is horror stories without any real guidance on what to expect or how to prepare other than “it’ll be HARD” – this was a great picture. Thanks!

  18. Stacie says:

    Oh my gracious, Stephanie, this is something I truly needed to hear. I just got married about 2 months ago and wow, it’s like you were me writing 🙂 the whole hangry thing…YESSSSS! I love it girl! I’ve JUST started my blog and you are so inspiring!

  19. Angela says:

    If you haven’t already done a post on this (I just stumbled across your website yesterday) I would love for you to write something like this about adulthood. The older I get, the more I hear older adults talking about how hard and busy life is and that you’ll never have time for anything because that’s just life. It reminds me of what people were saying to you about marriage, which I have unfortunately heard a lot. At one point, I questioned what the point of getting married was if it always turns out bad. Thank you for this post!

  20. I’m so glad you posted this – I was also warned over and over..and over… that marriage would be hard to the point that I was almost scared to get married because I felt like it for sure meant we would be fighting constantly.
    I’ve been married seven months now and things are still just fine! Sure we’ve had a few quips but nothing like I was expecting. God has been walking us faithfully closer to Him and each other and I’m so excited for the rest of our lives together!

  21. Ann says:

    Thank you for this post. Life is hard in general we live in a sin cursed world but with God in our relationships he will help us endure. I am looking forward to marrying my best friend some day. If we draw closer to God he will draw closer to us and then we will be able love our family better. Yes I’m terrified at marriage but with God by my side I can do anything and it is going to be amazing being married to my best friend. I cant wait! Thanks for telling us it can be wonderful too along with the hard parts too!

  22. Lori says:

    As someone who is getting married soon I just want to say how much I appreciate this post ! I have been discouraged a lot about people saying it is hard and I have seen firsthand how it is hard for many people I know. But it’s just nice to hear something positive like this . I’m excited to get married and I want to focus on the good aspects while being realistic .

  23. Lorena Rivera says:

    Love this post so much! After being divorced for 5 years, It truly gives me so much hope and joy to know and read your post it’s possible to find that kind of love, the one that God designed for us in its perfect moment, and that my experience and marriage doesn’t represent all my relationships but help me to learn to lean and trust more in God and his perfect plan for my life.

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