Navigating the First Year of Marriage
The first year of marriage is often referred to as the “honeymoon phase,” and it is certainly a time of much joy, discovery and excitement as a couple begins a new chapter of their lives together. That said, the first year is also a period of big changes and adjustments, which can often result in conflict. Conflict is inevitable, and it is actually healthy for couples when resolved properly; when issues are left unresolved, however, the results can be disastrous. Read on to hear about some common issues that arise during the first year. Licensed marriage counselors and local married couples give some advice on how to surmount these obstacles and build a strong foundation for your marriage.
Tip #1: Don’t expect the first year—or marriage in general—to be easy
One of the biggest mistakes couples make when getting married is having unrealistic expectations; if you expect that nothing will go wrong, even the smallest argument will seem monumental. “Expect the first year to be difficult,” says Anthony Centore, Ph.D., founder and CEO of Thriveworks Counseling and Life Coaching. “If you expect your first year to be easy, you’ll only get more frustrated, and you’ll begin to wonder if something is ‘wrong’ with you or your marriage. If you expect it to be hard, at least you’ll know you’re not off track.”
Weddings, though beautiful and symbolic, can sometimes play into the fairy tale notion of “happily ever after” and make the less romantic reality of marriage more difficult to accept. Jonathan and Sandra Fries of Lynchburg have been married for a little over eight years, and Sandra advises couples to keep this difference in mind. “Marriage isn’t easy; it’s stressful,” she says. “Don’t forget that the marriage is more stressful than the wedding.”
She adds that a sense of humor can go a long way when dealing with this stress: “You can’t take yourselves too seriously. You have to learn to laugh at yourselves.”
Tip #2: Be willing to compromise on just about everything
My husband Bryan and I, who have been married for almost three years, both have wonderful families who love to celebrate holidays and other occasions together. Because my family lives in a different part of the state, however, it isn’t always possible to attend both families’ festivities for a particular occasion. As such, we have compromised by alternating which holiday we spend with each family every year.
According to Centore, deciding how to fairly divide your time between families is only one of myriad compromises you will have to make as a couple. “New couples are compromising on everything: from what friends to keep to how to spend money and free time, from the décor of the house to the temperature of the house,” says Centore. “There is a lot of change, and there are a lot of compromises and trade-offs.”
If you approach compromise as a positive thing that benefits both you and your spouse, your marriage will be off to a much better start.
Tip #3: Put your spouse first, especially during a conflict
The notion of compromise is directly linked to the notion of putting your spouse first; in both cases, you take a step back from your perspective and consider your spouse’s perspective before speaking or taking action. This process is especially important—and especially difficult—in the midst of conflict. “It is very easy to have emotional and relational connection during the great times, but it is much more challenging to have it during the difficult times,” says Chuck Rodgers, a licensed professional counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist at Wyndhurst Counseling Center.
According to Rodgers, there are four distinct steps to properly resolving a conflict. “The first step is to ‘turn toward,’” he says.
“When there’s conflict, somebody has got to begin to turn toward the other person in order to begin a facilitation of repair. Secondly, you’ve got to give your concerns, but you have to give them in a way that can be heard by the other person. Third, you have to receive the other person’s influence. When one spouse complains about the other spouse, they are right. You must sit with open hands and receive the influence of the other person without defense. Finally, each piece of this has to be wrapped up with a wonderful nurturing attitude. It cannot be done with contempt.”
Tip #4: Spend quality time together
Of course, marriage isn’t just about compromise and conflict; it’s also—and especially—about being connected and having fun! The best way to connect with your spouse and nurture your marriage is to spend quality time together.
Price and Beverly Blair of Lynchburg have been married for 13 years, and according to Beverly, doing a variety of things together that first year was beneficial for several reasons. “I think one of the biggest challenges Price and I faced during our first year of marriage was moving to a new city, Boston, and simultaneously learning to live in a completely new environment while also learning to live together,” she says. “We learned to do a lot of things together, like studying, cooking, grocery shopping and chores, so we had more time together. We lived on a tight budget, which forced us to find fun free activities in the city, like libraries and free concerts and museum events. But we also made sure to splurge once a month—maybe a Red Sox game or dinner out at a nice restaurant. The balance was so important and brought us closer together.”
In fact, according to Rodgers, there is a magic number when it comes to quality time: five and a half hours per week. “When couples spend at least five and a half hours together per week they tend to do well,” he says. “If they spend less than five and a half hours together, they tend to struggle or not make it at all. There needs to be at least 20 minutes per day where the couple ‘debriefs’ their day. There need to be spontaneous times and planned times as well. It’s rather simple in concept, but it takes some real intentionality. It’s also really, really worth it.”
Tip #5: Remember that you aren’t perfect… and that is perfectly OK
Above all, don’t be too hard on yourself, your spouse and your marriage. All married couples experience turbulence, and no two couples will steer their way through it in the same exact way. “Have patience with your spouse and with yourself,” says Centore.
“Realize that neither of you are perfect, and neither of you are going to be perfect to the other.”
As long as you love each other through the good times and the not-so-good times, that is perfectly OK.
By Emily Hedrick