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If I had to be honest, marriage wasn’t what I expected. Now don’t get me wrong, there was a lot about it I loved, but it was much more challenging than I ever imagined. My husband, Greg and I, became “stuck” pretty fast when it came to working through our differences and handling conflict (just like our premarital assessment had predicted and we never in a million years thought it could possibly be accurate).

And then the day came. I wasn’t feeling so great and decided to take a pregnancy test. The dark purple “plus” was something we never expected to see! Not this soon anyway. Exactly one year and one month after saying “I do” we learned we were going to have our first baby! We were in total and complete shock! I felt too young to become a mom!

However, knowing that our marriage relationship was far from being where we desired it to be, we realized our wake-up call had come. We knew it was time to grow up and get some help if we were going to be the type of parents we had always dreamt of being. We knew things had to change–we had to learn how to handle communication and conflict in a more civil manner. It meant being vulnerable and seeking out the help of a marriage counselor and a mentor couple to walk through these roadblocks with us. Our marriage was about to change and so were we—in more ways than we ever imagined.

As the months passed (and my belly continued to grow), we met weekly with our counselor. We devoured anything we could find on marriage. Slowly, we began to change individually and then we began to see a very slow and steady difference in our marriage. Before we knew it, the day came and I called Greg from the hospital, where I’d just finished my last shift as a labor and delivery nurse, to let him know that I was feeling some contractions. Little did I know that a mere forty-eight hours later we would be at the same hospital holding our beautiful baby girl. The minute I held her—I knew that I wanted to provide the very best for her. And that included loving her daddy and continuing to work on our marriage relationship.

As we became parents to beautiful little Taylor (who is now turning 20 years old) we experienced many types of changes– sleepless nights, managing the new “baby” schedule—but one of the greatest changes came in our marriage. We had successfully navigated our first of many difficult seasons in our “story” together. We in fact, began to see that our little family was “pretty good together” and as we now approach our twenty- second wedding anniversary we love to help other couples work through the peaks and valleys of their marriage.

Hello Darling—this is marriage! If you are currently in a more challenging season of your marriage, like we were early on in our relationship, here are a few things that we learned:

Recognize that you will go through different seasons in your marriage.

Even through the difficult seasons, there is always something to learn about yourself, your spouse, and your marriage.

Don’t go at it alone!

Seek the help of a licensed professional counselor and/or a mentor couple. Seek out friends who will stand with you during challenging times and will encourage you towards your marriage—not away from it. You can call 1-800-A-FAMILY to get a referral for a counselor in your area.

Show up in your marriage as a healthy individual.

Two healthy individuals make up a healthy marriage. This means that you must make sure you are well cared for emotionally, physically, spiritually and intellectually. This includes getting enough sleep, eating well, learning to manage your emotions, and making sure you are continuing to grow spiritually and intellectually.

Make sure to look back and reminisce!

Looking back and remembering what “your story” entails can have a powerful, positive influence on your marriage. It’s amazing to recognize that “you’re pretty good together!”

If you would like to talk to someone, you can call Focus on the Family 1-800-A-FAMILYto get connected with a counselor for one free session. They will then refer you to a counselor in your area.After working through several of the more difficult seasons, I can promise you one thing—fighting for your marriage and family is worth it. Keep your eyes open for the blessing on the other side.

Erin Smalley is the mom to three girls, ages 6, 16, and 19, and one son, age 12. Erin was a labor and delivery nurse and then returned to school to earn a Master’s in Clinical Psychology. Although Erin thought she had sent her last child off to kindergarten, she and her husband, Greg, were blessed with their youngest child through the gift of adoption. She works very part-time at Focus on the Family in the Marriage and Family Division, while attempting to balance life at home with four kids. She has co-authored three books, her favorite being,Grown-Up Girlfriends—Real Friends in the Real World. You can reach Erin

What things do you do to make your marriage a priority?