They say the first year of marriage is the hardest. But many engaged couples and newlyweds find this sentiment to be a bit perplexing. Maybe you’ve been together with your partner for close to a decade and feel that you’ve ironed out many of your differences and perhaps have even been living together harmoniously for the last several years. Or maybe you and your partner have only been together a year or so and are so deeply in love that you’ve never even fought—not once! How could an exchange of your vows and a legal commitment change things up so much?
According to certified professional life coach, Joelle Brant, the first year of marriage can be hard even if you have been together for a while or not at all, because marriage is still a huge life change. “Many times a person is not their ‘true self’ before marriage, so when this happens the other person may not know how to handle the changes,” she says. “Learning to be with each other even more can be and adjustment, and if they cannot openly discuss how certain things make them feel it can cause larger issues or concerns.”
Here’s a look at some of the unique challenges the first year of marriage can bring into a relationship and what you can do to navigate the shift in dynamic.
You're no longer dating.
When you first met your spouse, you were in the category of “dating,” which not only meant that you went on dates, but it meant that you were courting each other. This often changes once a couple has been together for a while, especially after marriage. The solution? Never stop dating. “Continue to do the things you did that made your person fall for you in the first place and keep up on the newer quirks they enjoy about you,” says Jacob Kountz, associate marriage and family therapist at Kern Wellness Counseling. “Do your best to reminisce the beginnings of your relationship, continue date nights, and keep communication open constantly.”
You expect more from each other.
Now that you’re married, you may knowingly, or unknowingly, expect more from your significant other—and vica versa. “Who is expected to handle household duties? Who takes care of paying the bills? Who does what, where, when and why?” says Kountz. “Some of these questions may have obvious answers depending on your interests, strengths and upbringing, but this may not be as apparent to your partner.” He recommends sitting down with your spouse and going over each other’s strengths, weaknesses and expectations to gain a better grasp of what each of you expects.
You have another person to care for.
You most likely cared for your partner before you were legally wed, but marriage makes this feel more like an official duty. “Though marriage is defined as the joining of two people, it’s important to take care of yourself, too, as burnout can occur which can negatively affect your marriage,” Kountz explains. “Continue to place focus on the relationship, but if you don’t continue to take care of yourself in that process, by doing things that make you feel good, such as exercising and seeing your friends, the relationship could suffer.”
Your expenses become joined.
Especially if you’ve been living together, you probably already share some expenses, but marriage take things to a whole new level. You may be joining your bank accounts and even paying taxes together. “Values around spending and saving often don’t line up, and anything you haven’t already discussed and ironed out is likely to become a big issue in your first year of marriage (and beyond),” says Amy McManus, LMFT, relationship therapist and owner of Thrive Therapy, Inc. in Los Angeles.
It’s harder to avoid disagreements.
Up to this point, you may have been able to avoid talking about tough topics where you don’t agree, but McManus explains that it’s much harder to avoid them once you are married. “If you do manage to avoid them, resentment is sure to build as you each become more and more frustrated over things that are left unsaid,” she says. One thing she always recommends to her clients is to learn how to discuss topics when they strongly disagree with their spouse. “Some things can be decided by a compromise, but many things have to be an all-or-nothing choice, like whether or not to have children,” she says. “It is important to have a system in place for discussing topics on which you have different values or opinions, so that you each know you are heard and understood, even if you never actually do agree.”
You’re merging your two families.
Before you were married, your family was “your” family and your partner’s was “theirs”. Now that you’re married, however, your two different families have blended into one. “If not explicitly discussed previously, couple’s have to learn how to integrate different facets of each other’s family style and dynamics into their own unique style, as the couple is essentially forming their own, new family unit,” explains Rachel Smith, LMFT Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Sex Therapist. “In the first year, couples also determine how to share their time between families, while also learning to establish boundaries with their families.”
Pregnancy and children change things.
One study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that 70 percent of couples who had a baby within the first year of marriage reported a decrease in marital satisfaction and stability. Smith explains that this often occurs due to the fact that children require a significant amount of energy and attention that was once given towards the other partner in a relationship. “Couples often lose sight of each other’s needs because all of their time and efforts are going to their children rather than the relationship itself,” she says. “Being a parent also brings out different parts of yourself and there often needs to be a shift in roles and rules within the family (and at each stage of the child’s life) that most newlyweds were not prepared for.”