It’s not anyone’s fault, really. But if you are an adult human with a pulse and an active Facebook account, then you know that marriage has been presented to all of us as the perfect happy ending. The problem is — once you get married, life goes on, and many times, that bumpy new married life is not at all what you expected it to be.
I’ve only been married for five years and some change (with two kids added to the mix), and I solemnly swear this much is true: Getting married is great, being married is sometimes OK and sometimes great and staying married is harder than you think.
But remember, this is the not-so-pleasant reality that most of us are unwilling to talk about — especially on our Facebook feed — which makes these entirely common bumps in a new marriage entirely overwhelming if you think they are only happening to you. In fact, our social media culture has been blamed for causing marital problems for this reason. It’s OK to sarcastically complain about your kids and even share divisive political views on Facebook but talking about the less-shiny parts of marriage is still considered taboo. Keeping-up-with-the-married-Joneses can lead many couples to post sappy Facebook statuses that only put pressure on a marriage, without addressing the everyday problems we all face.
If your first year of marriage is not at all what you thought it would be, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Like a fine wine, marriage can get better with each passing year when you set your sights back on reality and learn how to handle the challenges coming your way. From relationship experts and married couples who made it through the early days, here are some of the most common hurdles you can expect in your first year of wedded bliss:
This is one I had to learn the hard way after starting my own happy union — I had everything I wanted, a great husband and great kids, and I still wasn’t completely fulfilled. I was the only one responsible for my happiness, and I had some work to do. “Your symbiotic significant other can’t be everything to you — or you to him. This is sometimes a big disappointment, but it’s also a great truth to accept sooner rather than later,” says April Masini, relationship expert at AskApril.com. “You shouldn’t lean on your spouse to fix all your problems. Spending every night together may seem romantic at first, but the reality is that most long-term marriages that are successful incorporate a pie chart where a significant proportion of the time is spent with good friends without a spouse, as well as time together without others.”
Yet another new marriage reality I have come to know all too well — spending too much time with anyone, even the most perfect Prince Charming type, can make you realize that familiarity breeds at least a little bit of contempt. Married for a little over a year, Katie Powell Bell knows just where I’m coming from. She explains, “When you say ‘I do,’ you know logically that not every day will be a fairytale, but it’s still hard on the ‘off’ days when you’re tired and just all-around getting on each other’s nerves. The beautiful thing is that even on the days when we don’t necessarily like each other, we also know we love each other, and we make it through the off days just fine!”
Ah, again we encounter the Fake-book front that most newlyweds are guilty of. Annmarie Kelly, a speaker, teacher and victory strategist, has been married for a “long time” and keeps things fresh by renewing her vows every five years. The biggest problem she sees among the newly married is that most frequently women embrace a “glorious” attitude that doesn’t match reality. “You want everything to be as perfect as you dreamed it, and it just isn't — but then you try to make it fit some set of expectations — and you both have a different set of them. You smile and say it's great when, in your gut, you're not feeling it,” she says. “I'm a solid believer in creating a vision and a plan... and talking about both of those until you get on the same page.”
Consider in-laws the wedding gift that keeps on giving, for better or for worse. For most newly married couples, there will be at least one (if not more) fight about these new “bonus” members of the family. Masini explains, “You have the fight where one of you has to choose between parents and your new spouse. This is inevitable, and it isn’t always a full-on fight, but in some ways, it’s easier when it is, rather than a long-standing, festering ‘issue’ in the relationship. Unless the two of you choose each other as number one, your in-laws will become a wedge that splits you apart. Choose early and often — but choose each other.”
Agreeing to live in a house with another person for the rest of your life is a big change, to put it mildly. Kelly says that thinking about exactly how life is going to shift can help couples to adapt and minimize all-too-common loneliness and disappointment. “If he's used to hanging with the guys, or she's used to spending time with her girls or her sisters, what happens? A lot of newlyweds are expecting the togetherness of wedded bliss and instead they get living-together loneliness,” says Kelly.
Without the right expectations and good communication, a new marriage can indeed make you lonely, but on the flipside, it can also leave you craving your personal space. As Dr. Nikki Martinez, psychologist and licensed clinical professional counselor, explains, the idea of marrying your best friend that has become the norm in our culture can leave many couples feeling pressured to “always want to be together.” She says, “You will want hours, if not days, to yourself sometimes! That is OK! As human beings, we need an equal amount of independence and togetherness, and you are not a bad person for wanting what is natural.”
Even with the most agreeable pairing, there will still come times when you and your spouse get along like oil and water. In those first years, much of this friction can come from what feels like an unequal partnership. Many times during a marriage, things will be 80/20 or 70/30 instead of 50/50, says Martinez, and understanding and expecting this give-and-take can diffuse many an unnecessary fight. “Sometimes you have to carry the weight, and sometimes they will. That is what love and commitment is. You need to do some reflection if you resent it, if you get upset at the other person because you are not communicating your needs during the times you need more help,” Martinez advises.
Just like snagging a big promotion or saving up for your dream vacation doesn’t happen by itself, having a successful and happy marriage takes some actual work. For Bell, her greatest marital revelation came when she realized that you still have put forth effort and work on your relationship every single day. As Bell explains, this regular maintenance could be enough to keep even the rockiest relationship running smoothly, “A happy marriage doesn’t just happen, and no matter how tired we are, we still make time for each other. Sure, there’s laundry to be done and that report for work to turn in and a workout to hopefully make, but we have learned it’s most important to make time for time spent together as a couple.”
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