Is the First Year of Marriage the Hardest?

A good friend who is getting married this year asked me this the other day. Johnny and I have a lot of dear friends getting married this year and weddings have been a big topic, but this is may be the best (and hardest) question anyone has asked me, and it gave me pause. Has it been hard?

Granted we’re about two months shy of our one year anniversary, but we’re nearly there. That also means I don’t have any years past the first to compare to, but I can still answer the question, “Has this first year of marriage been difficult?”

So here’s what I said to her: No, to a large degree, it really hasn’t been much different than when we were dating. But let me qualify that a bit. Johnny and I lived together for more than a year before we got engaged (sorry if that makes any family members blush that I wrote that on the Internet!), then we had a 10-month engagement, and during that time did a lot of adjusting to sharing our lives together. Our intentions when we moved in were never to “try out” the idea of something more long-term, but rather about knowing where we were headed and simply both not being ready for wedding bells. That’s not right for everyone, but it made sense for us.

By the time we did say “I do,” we had been together for more than four years and knew a lot about each other, our personal and shared goals, and frankly, what makes the other one tick, as well as our vices.

Again, living together, or dating four years before marriage isn’t a reality for everyone for a variety of reasons, but I do think at least discussing some heavy topics before walking down the aisle is very important. Sometimes these things don’t naturally come up, so I encourage you to sit down and talk through them with your significant other.

So what did we learn that can ease that first-year-of-marriage pressure?

(Caveat – I’m NOT suggesting we have it all figured out, because trust me, we don’t!)

What’s mine is ours.
Let’s start with sharing things, particularly finances, because it’s no secret that it’s the number one thing couples fight about and a major cause of divorce. When you’re single, your money is your luxury, or problem, depending on the situation; and when you’re married, that all changes. Any spending habits, money, debt, etc. all become shared. I don’t care who makes more money or who has more bills. Stop thinking about it in terms of “my money,” it’s now “ours.” (This applies to real property as well.)

And here’s the thing – you probably BOTH have room for improvement when it comes to how you spend and save. For example, I tend to spend more money on one item, and Johnny tends to spend more on a bunch of small things. They both add up, and we have been working to find balance to meet the goals we’ve set out for ourselves as a couple.

After reading many articles or books from experts like Suze Orman, Dave Ramsey (and family – his daughter, Rachel, also has some great materials out there) or The Points Guy, we’ve also talked to friends and family about what works best for them. From that information, we sat down and figured out what works best for us. Or at least we have a plan, and are always working to improve.

We also created a combined Mint account while we were engaged, prior to marriage and combined bank accounts, to try to budget our spending and better understand our separate and combined habits. Nothing was a secret, and we tried to not punish or shame the other one when we didn’t agree on spending, but rather understand personal preferences and find compromise.

This is a work in progress. We do not have it all figured out and we’ve had some changes, such as job/salary and a mortgage, that challenge us to make adjustments. The point is, we are intentional about our finances and are trying to find ways to spend/save together, the way we want, as well as leaving room for personal purchases.

I’m not an expert in this category, so I suggest doing what we did – looking to the experts and other couples you trust for different suggestions to find your own solutions. But it’s important to discuss money before marriage.

Be extra mindful of compromise, especially when it comes to sharing living space.
Relationships are compromise – no brainer, right? Wait until you move in together, whether it’s before or after the wedding. Even if you are spending every night together at one or the other’s place, it is not the same as sharing ownership.

I’ve talked to many friends who assumed their significant other wouldn’t care about the décor in their home. I was also guilty of this, and quickly learned how wrong I was. So were most of the mentioned friends. This was hard for Johnny and me at first, and honestly, I think it was largely due to both of us not wanting to give up some control over our own space.

After we got past the initial shock that the other one may not like one of our own prized items, we’ve actually enjoyed picking out furniture together. Now that we’ve established more of a shared style, he has lost some interest in being involved in every decision, so long as I keep him in mind. Each of us have found small spaces where we can add more of our own style, while being mindful of big areas like the living room or master bedroom, for shared decision-making.

Your significant other may not care after all (and that applies to men and women) and this may not even be a topic to discuss, but don’t assume that’s the case. You might need to dial your own style down a bit, and find ways to incorporate both of your things into your new shared space.

Discuss personal and shared goals.
This one is huge. Too often, people assume that some things are going to automatically change or happen after a wedding. Everyone has their own experiences and family examples, and tend to enter relationships with those learned interactions in mind. But you can’t assume the other person is on the same page.

You may be on different pages about how soon to have kids, or even if you want to have kids. One person may assume that they, or the other person, will stop working once kids are in the picture. Your job may require a lot of travel, and while that may be ok for your relationship now, how does that impact the future? Do you want to live in the suburbs or the city? How important is it to live close to family? Would you be willing to move for the right opportunity?

A lot of this is tied to money in some way, so I echo that’s the number one most important thing to have some handle on. For example, children cost money, and daycare + living costs for several children may be more expensive than one spouse’s salary, but that person may want to continue working regardless. What are some compromises?

Many things will change for the two of you over time as life takes its course, but it’s important to discuss it now, to understand where you each stand on the subjects.

A dear friend of mine once said that with the right girl, he would be happy living in a tent in the middle of nowhere. Hopefully, that’s also how you feel about your significant other, but there are realities to face to ensure you both are happy as individuals, and a couple.

Life can be hard.
Getting married doesn’t equate to automatic bliss. Loved ones will get sick, or pass away, or get divorced. People lose jobs, or change jobs, or go through major changes at work. Some of these things may even all happen in the first year of marriage. I’ve seen it happen to others, and we’ve been through a spattering of these things in our first year.

But guess what? Life is challenging no matter what. It throws you curve balls and you have highs and lows. Single, married or otherwise, these things are part of life. The beauty of a significant other is having your own personal team to cheer each other on and pick each other up. One person may be going through a particularly challenging moment while the other is experiencing some awesome success. Together, you have to wade through it, and celebrate or cry on each other’s shoulder, depending on the moment, and it may change quickly.

Continue to date.
I know this is one of those things all couples tell you. But it’s so true. Find ways to keep the romance alive, no matter what life throws you. It doesn’t have to be expensive or extravagant.

This is especially important leading up to, and right after a wedding. We put so much pressure on ourselves to have the perfect wedding, and it’s a lot of work, but the point is the marriage. Keep your focus on your relationship and the meaning of the marriage.

People talk about the honeymoon phase, and you should have stars in your eyes, but you may have been together for a longtime, or experiencing some hard time(s) in your lives, or simply adjusting to living together, if that’s new to you. These distractions can become your priority, rather than your relationship. Take time to do the things that caused you to fall in love in the first place. Go on a trip, cook dinner together and turn off all electronics, go for a walk – just be purposeful about your interactions!

Everything doesn’t have to be a big event.
Planning a wedding is a ton of work. You likely will spend anywhere from six months to a year planning, and it can be overwhelming. After, you’re most likely going on a honeymoon. And then it’s over. This event you have thought about since you were a little girl, has come and gone. You’re so excited to be married, but now what?

It’s normal to feel happy that the wedding happened, but also sad it’s over. You may find yourself looking for the next big event – buying a house, getting a pet, planning another trip, having kids, or some combination of all of those things. But this is life and sometimes it’s mundane, and that’s ok.

After the wedding, I found myself terribly sad it was over and looking for the next big thing for us. I had to reel it in and find perspective. We have our whole lives in front of us now and we don’t need to be in a hurry.

Instead, have your friends over for dinner and use those fun wedding gifts. Get back into the gym to keep that awesome wedding body you worked so hard for, take on a new project at work, or pick up a new hobby. I promise you’ll feel like you have some newfound spare time now that you aren’t planning a wedding!

 

Finally, I want to echo that Johnny and I don’t have this all figured out. We also have wonderful families and friends who support us, and provide some great examples. There are challenges and there are things we disagree on, and neither one of us expect that to change. Instead, it’s about taking things day by day and continuing to work our relationship to make it work for us.

3 Comments

  1. Great advice ! Very well said. You have a lot of insight !!

  2. Kristen Marusa

    GREAT advice & insight, Jessica! I really enjoyed reading through this, as I prepare for my wedding in July! Engagement is an interesting time…so much anticipation, yet so stressful & busy. But as special as the wedding will be, you’re so right, it’s the marriage we are really preparing for! 🙂 Hope you’re doing well!

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