For many couples, there is no moment more magical than their wedding day. After months of planning and prepping and errands and tastings, everything comes together for the perfect celebratory event…
But then, real life kicks in. No matter how wonderful your Big Day was, marriage comes with its own set of challenges. Not every couple is ready for the shift that occurs once the wedding planning dies down. We surveyed dozens of therapists, couples counselors, and relationship experts to identify how couples could best support each other in the first year of marriage. Here’s what they had to say.
Dr. Fran Walfish
Extend grace for the minor annoyances. Can we just be honest? People do stuff that gets on our nerves at times. That’s true of all of us — even with the people we love most — maybe even especially with the people we love the most. Great couples have learned not to let those little things distract from the major things — like love and commitment.
People naturally settle into married life after an eventful year of wedding celebrations, but while couples refocus on their careers and create new priorities, it can feel as though their relationship has fallen to the back burner. Be weary of this shift in dynamic! This sense of comfort can quickly turn into laziness in love. Couples should put just as much effort into their marriage as they did when they were just dating. The term “date your mate,” exists for a reason!
To have a happy, successful marriage in the long-term, aim for a daily dose of undivided attention, physical affection, such as hugging and kissing, and verbal praise, such as complimenting your partner. Couples can also make the most of these moments by practicing gratitude for each other, which has been shown to increase relationship satisfaction and feelings of love.
Try expressing appreciation for one thoughtful thing your partner did for you that day. Maybe it was a simple, “I miss you” text during the workday, or a home cooked meal. Creating a daily routine around gratitude will quickly become a favorite time of the day where you feel more connected and intimate.
Steven J. Hanley
First, focus on being better, not being right. Most marriages go through an adjustment period the first year, especially if you haven’t lived together before. Many couples get caught up in who is at “fault” when problems arise and lose sight of the shared goal of creating a long happy life together. That takes collaboration and a willingness to let go of being “right.”
Paddle in the same direction. Marriage is like being in a rowboat with your spouse. If you are not paddling in the same direction as your spouse your marriage is bound to just go in circles. It is not always clear which way our spouse is paddling. That requires open dialogue and communication. So, check in with one another from time to time.
Dr. Jane Greer
Offer to help your partner and ask him/her how you can contribute to household responsibilities. Say things like “Is there anything else I can do? Do you need me to make these calls? Can I pick up any food/groceries for you?
The best way to support your partner in your first year of marriage is to put them first. We are naturally selfish people—oh, the number of times I’ve had to stop myself from eating the center-cut brownie before he could get to it!—but a marriage works best when you have your partner’s best interests in mind and they have yours.
I think the only way a marriage can last is with a team mentality: fully believing that what is best for your partner is ultimately best for you too. Sure, you may have to take turns on whose career takes priority or picking whose office you’ll live closest to, but at the end of the day, having a partner in life who you know has your back no matter what is an incredibly precious gift. When we consistently put ourselves first, thinking of our marriage as two opposing teams, that’s where the trouble comes in. People say you shouldn’t be best friends with your spouse, but I say, go ahead, be one another’s BFF, because ultimately, your spouse is the one person who is definitely, absolutely going to be with you forever.
Erica R. Turner
Practice being vulnerable. Love is about sharing joy and fun, but the connection deepens so much more when you can share the hard stuff too–disappointments, sadness, regrets. Embrace the security that comes from fully seeing and knowing one another.
If a couple wants to support each other, they can start practicing gratitude now. Tell each other what they love about the other and what they are grateful for. Then if things begin to change, they can gently remind each other of what they found so delightful in the beginning.
More importantly than at any point in the marriage, in that first year, exhibit patience. This is different than being patient. Exhibiting patience means making sure your spouse knows, sees and hears that you understand whatever they (or you as a couple) are going through. Being patient is taking a deep breath and holding back from whatever initial act of frustration hits you. An example of exhibiting patience is saying, “There was another potential snowstorm that we’re just too darn strong to let bury us” and giving them a kiss and a smile. It’s very important to both partners in that first year that they do not see little arguments or bumps in the road as being damaging and marriage ending from the perspective of their spouse.
Dr. Paulette Kouffman Sherman
Make sure to compliment each other. Research says you need 5 positives for every negative to keep your relationship strong. Listen to your partner’s requests and try your best to do them. Learn to compromise where there are big differences. Find creative ways to meet in the middle. Remember to still laugh and have fun and be romantic. Don’t take the other for granted. Having a weekly date night after marriage tends to make marriages last longer and be stronger. Money is one of the top things couples fight about. Create a system that works for you both or seek help around it so you are on the same page and have an agreed upon plan.
Tina B. Tessina
It’s easy to feel romantic when you live separately and date each other, because every moment spent together is special. From the moment you begin to live together, such romantic moments are no longer automatic. Instead, much of your time together is spent on more mundane things: doing laundry, washing dishes, paying bills, or going to work. Although this can be new, exciting and fun at first, as soon as the initial newness of living together wears off, such everyday things cease to feel exciting and romantic, and you may find yourself feeling worried that your partner no longer cares as much or is as excited to be with you. Here are four simple steps to create a successful marriage:
1. Talk frequently and honestly to each other about your frustrations, about sex, about anger, about disappointment, about your appreciation of each other, about the meaning of life, about everything.
2. Strive to work together to solve anything that comes up — be a team, a partnership. Don’t get stuck on who’s right or wrong. Focus on what will solve the problem.
3. Keep your connection going through communication, sex, affection, understanding and concern for each other.
4. Have a sense of humor, give the benefit of the doubt, care about each other.
Perhaps the biggest change in the first year of marriage is that though the couple has now made a commitment to each other, they start to take each other for granted. So, it’s very important that they continue to do the little things they did pre-marriage that sent the message: “You matter.” These include showing respect, appreciation and prioritizing the relationship.
One of the things NOT to do is attempt to change the person. Accept who he or she is. Additionally, encourage who they are and what they are doing. SO, if there is a new job or a challenge, as an example, be a cheerleader. Communicate, communicate, communicate – talk about your days, gossip (research shows couples who gossip together are closer), and discuss your feelings (including sex).
No matter how busy and complicated your lives become, be sure to build into every week some “Sweetheart Time” — a time in which you talk about your feelings and wants and dreams and in which you do some of the things you enjoyed doing when you were dating. Never forget that you want to remain Sweethearts.
There is no magic formula to ensure the perfect marriage, but listening to wisdom from the experts can certainly help couples appreciate each other and treat each other with kindness and respect. As E.E. Cummings famously said: “Love is the whole and more than all”. As newlyweds, you are starting life’s greatest adventure together.
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