Focus on the Family

Taking the First Year Off

Cutting back during the first year should serve as a unique contribution to the happiness of your spouse.

Not Going to War

My wife and I spent the first year off of war. Yeah, you read that right, war. No, I’m not talking about marital conflict. I’m talking about taking up arms and defending your country. That’s what Israelite men did their first year of marriage; they didn’t go to war:

“If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married” (Deut. 24:5).

In light of this text and others (Gen. 2:24; Ecc. 4:6; Eph. 5:21; 1 Peter 3:7), I recommend following the principle of taking a “year off” of various vocational and social responsibilities in order to pursue the happiness of your spouse. Lodged between verses dealing with divorce and finances, Deut. 24:5 offers a principle that, if applied, can help establish good, spouse-honoring patterns for marriage.

It should go without saying that the command in Deut. 24:5 is no longer binding for new covenant Christians; we are neither under the Law, nor obligated for war. However, the wisdom of a husband taking a year off of what would otherwise occupy most of his time, in order to devote it to the happiness of his wife, seems undeniable.

No doubt wives will readily agree.

This command was issued in a culture where women worked at home and husbands worked outside the home and for the nation. It was the husband who went to war and was regularly exposed to “extra duties.” Today, it’s sometimes the other way around. Whether it’s the husband, wife or both who spend a lot of time away from the home and are prone to take on additional responsibilities, the wisdom of Deut. 24:5 is still relevant.

Before explaining how we might apply such a radical principle, a word of warning. I’m leery whenever I recommend this principle because there’s a tendency to focus on the first half of the verse without corresponding emphasis on the second half — all year off and no happiness for the spouse.

Alternatively, couples can be easily lured into isolation from others and society. If we aren’t careful, this principle can become a license for selfishness or be legalized into a mark of the “super-spiritual.” Only by looking to Christ for our significance can we bypass fleeting happiness and passing praise.

A Happy Spouse

Cutting back during the first year shouldn’t be reduced to legalism or license, but should serve as a unique contribution to the happiness of your spouse. In Deuteronomy, the word for happiness means “to cause to rejoice or to gladden.” The idea is that we commit ourselves to the deepest joy of our spouse. This might include such things as making a special effort to give gifts, go on dates, enjoy romantic nights and take regular afternoon walks.

We cannot, however, satisfy our spouse’s eternal capacity for joy. Only God can do that. Therefore, the ultimate way to pursue the joy of your spouse should be through encouraging him or her to know and enjoy all that God is for them in Jesus. This can be fostered through conversation, prayer, shared reading and reflection, joint worship and ministry, and spiritual retreat.

Bear in mind that these kinds of practices will differ in frequency and depth depending on the couple. Don’t set the bar too high for spiritual intimacy the first year; you’re just getting started.

Pursuing your spouse’s greatest joy will also include silent sacrifice, putting their needs before your own. Paying for a plane ticket to let your wife go home to see her family or giving your husband a weekend to go to a conference with the guys are ways of serving one another by inconveniencing yourself.

My Year Off

So how did my wife and I put this principle into practice? I applied the war/duty category to the most demanding areas of my life — work, school and ministry. For others it may be career-related responsibilities or social commitments. Remember, the reason for taking time off is to focus on the happiness of your spouse, so it makes sense to cut out the things that would draw you away from intentionally seeking your spouse’s happiness.

I took a job that wasn’t very demanding, for example, requiring only 40 hours a week. I didn’t travel much. As for hobbies and church related activities, I chose to spend less time reading and in ministry. Sure, we still read and ministered, but we often chose to do so with one another. We were both discipling others, for example, but did so together. Our disciples would come over to the house at the same time, but met in different rooms. This freed up more time in the day for one another.

We were careful not to over-commit ourselves to things that would distract us from developing our relationship during that first year. As a result, I didn’t focus on seminars or apply to seminaries. I backed away from some ministry duties and encouraged others to take on those responsibilities. All in all we tried to spend a lot of time together.

The Blessed Inefficiencies of Love

In addition to making time to intentionally know and enjoy your spouse, there are some additional benefits to embracing the “year off” principle. Suspending a year of extra responsibilities can serve as a helpful corrective to our culture’s spiritually and maritally corrosive orientation to time.

Time isn’t money and efficiency isn’t the highest virtue — love is — and love can be very inefficient. A few weeks ago we got a babysitter and took an entire weekend to ourselves. This weekend occurred just before I left for an overseas trip on Sunday night. I returned on Friday to preach my first Easter sermon. Over the next two weeks I had to finalize a master’s thesis, fly to Texas for an interview, defend my thesis and prepare another sermon. Oh, and there was my other part-time job.

I could have really used that weekend away to work on my thesis or sermon. From a productive standpoint it was a pretty inefficient weekend. But efficiency isn’t my highest virtue. Well, at least I strive for it not to be.

In choosing to take that time off, my wife and I had one of the most intimate, fun, and insightful times we’ve had in a while. By taking a step back from vocational and social responsibilities at work, church, and/or school, we were able to spend more time knowing and loving one another. In turn, that led to a greater relational intimacy and understanding, which fueled our marriage for the future.

Looking back, Robie and I are extremely glad I didn’t go to war. Although we could have parceled things out better, we had a blast. From Saturday breakfasts to awkward devotional times, it was a wonderfully inefficient time. One that was, from a Kingdom perspective, a very beneficial and love-laden year.

Dynamic CTA Template Below

Focus on the Family Plugged In logo

Entertainment Reviews Your Family Can Trust

Plugged In shines a light on the world of popular entertainment while giving families the essential tools they need to understand, navigate, and impact the culture in which they live. Let us help your family make wise and informed choices about movies, TV shows, music, video games, and more!
Close up of a young, pensive Asian woman listening to someone talking to her on her phone

Talk to a Counselor

If you need further guidance and encouragement, we have a staff of licensed, professional counselors who offer a one-time complimentary consultation from a Christian perspective. They can also refer you to counselors in your area for ongoing assistance.
Reach a counselor toll-free at 1-855-771-HELP (4357).

Understand How to Respect and Love Your Son Well

"Why doesn’t my son listen to me?" Have you ever asked yourself that? The truth is, how you view your son and talk to him has a significant effect on how he thinks and acts. That’s why we want to help you. We’ve created a free five-part video series called “Recognizing Your Son’s Need for Respect” that will help you understand how showing respect, rather than shaming and badgering, will serve to motivate and guide your son.

Focus on Parenting Podcast

Mom or dad, could you use some encouragement and support? Put your ear buds in for this Christian parenting podcast and get practical, faith-based inspiration through all stages of parenting. Hosted by Dr. Danny Huerta, in every 8 to 15 minute episode, you’ll hear parenting experts share Biblical truths, effective parenting techniques, and useful resources that will help you feel equipped as a mom or dad in today’s culture.
Parenting a strong-willed child resource promotion

Learn How to Speak Your Strong-Willed Child's Language

In this free 6-part video series, Cynthia Tobias, author of many popular parenting books including You Can’t Make Me, explains why your strong-willed child thinks in certain ways and gives you effective tools you can use when communicating with him or her. Start today!

Journey with Jesus!

This holiday season, take a journey to Galilee and discover what it was like to walk with Jesus! Get your copy for today for FREE with a donation of any amount!

Get Equipped With the Truth So
You Can Bring Light to the Lies

Abortion is not an easy subject to talk about. You want to defend the truth, to expose the realities so easily confused during these times. Yet, it is so easy to tense up, to get nervous, to get so concerned with wanting to say the “right thing” that you end up saying nothing at all. If you feel at a loss when these conversations come up, this video series, “8 Lies About Abortion,” can help equip you with the truth, and the confidence to engage in the discussion.

About the Author

Read More About:

You May Also Like

First Years of Marriage

6 Things About Marriage I Wish I’d Known Sooner

Ladies, do you find yourself being snarky to your husband way too often? I’ve done that and worse. If I could go back and sit down with my newly married self, here’s what I would tell her.

First Years of Marriage

Al and Lisa Robertson Share Wisdom for Young Couples

Al and Lisa Robertson, of A&E’s hit television show “Duck Dynasty,” share words of wisdom with newly married couples trying to build a solid relationship amid the responsibilities of building a career, buying a home and starting a family.