10 Things I Learned in Our First Year of Marriage
Life has been really hard this last year, but thankfully my marriage hasn’t. A lot of people say the first year is the hardest, but I feel like the earlier stages can also be easier in some ways, when the excitement of doing life with your best friend is still fresh and before things become more complicated with kids. I’m not saying it’s a breeze – it certainly requires plenty of patience and putting your spouse first. I’ve just found that in my experience, most of my stresses have come from other sources and my marriage has been a place of acceptance and encouragement.
Marriage is a beautiful covenant designed by God, but accessing the full potential of your marriage involves reflecting on where the two of you are now and how you can continue to grow together in the years to come. These are some lessons my first year brought me:
- Teamwork Makes the Dreamwork. One of my favorite things about marriage so far is the teamwork we have in order to run a successful household. In a premarital class, Chad and I did this fun little exercise where we each had a list of about 20 ‘chores,’ such as handling finances, yard work, grocery shopping, taking out the trash, etc. We had to go through each one and mark whether our mom or dad was in charge of that specific chore growing up, as well as which one of us would be responsible for that chore in our own marriage. Afterwards we compared lists and discussed any differences. Funny enough, for the most part Chad and I had marked that we would share the tasks. And this has actually been true so far in our marriage. We both take out the trash, we both do the laundry, we both clean. We do have roles that one of has has specifically taken responsibility for, but we still work as a team. For example, Chad is in charge of most of the outdoor stuff like mowing and landscaping. But if he needs help? You bet I’m gonna put on some gloves and grab a shovel. Similarly, I’ve taken on most of the grocery shopping and cooking, but if I’m busy then Chad will brave the crowds at Meijer, make a meal, trim the chicken or cut up some veggies. We’ll fold laundry together while watching The Office, I’ll vacuum the living room while he mops the kitchen, you get the point. Working as a team WORKS and neither of us feels like we’re doing all the work or like we’re on our own.
- Assume the Best in Each Other. In every situation, look at your spouse from the perspective that they love you. For example, if Chad does something that hurts me or makes me feel unimportant, I need to give him the benefit of the doubt. Assume that he didn’t know that it hurt me. Then we can talk about it in a civil manner, working from the knowledge that he loves me, not that he’s against me and wants to hurt me. Or sometimes I come home from work to find dirty dishes everywhere, and right when I’m about to get all bent out of shape I remember Chad still had to water the lawn after a 12 hour shift, and he was probably so exhausted he didn’t even think about it. It’s not like he’s thinking Oh, Al can just do these later.
- We’re Not Mind Readers. You can’t expect your spouse to know what you’re thinking all the time. Similar to the previous point, maybe they don’t know something is bothering you and if you just expect them to figure it out while you give them the cold shoulder you’re just going to let the bitterness grow. Chad only knows what I do and say, not what I’m thinking or how I feel. Unless I tell him. I know he loves me but sometimes I have to help him know how to love me. That’s why communication is so important in relationships. We can be generically respectful to each other, but at times we need actions that are tailored to our needs and emotions, and the only way for them to know that is to tell them.
- Talk about the MOOLA $$ Money can be such a stressor in marriages if it’s handled poorly, so it’s really important to both be on the same page. Chad and I work the same job and make the same wages, but Chad is in charge of paying the bills and managing our finances. However, we made our budget together, we’re transparent with each other about spending and we have frequent discussions about what we want to do with our income. Even if only one of us was ‘the breadwinner,’ it would still be our money and we would still decide how to use it together.
- Believe in Each Other’s Dreams. This is something Chad is so amazing at. He’s always been so supportive of things I want to try my hand at and will do whatever he can to help. Take this blog for example! I’d been toying around with the idea of starting a blog for some time now but kept going back and forth on whether I would be any good at it. Chad could tell that I really wanted to but that I just didn’t entirely believe in myself. So he set deadlines for me, has helped take pictures for me and proofreads all my posts – all voluntarily! Believing in your spouse shows that you believe in them, and sometimes that’s just the motivation they need to go after their dreams.
- Date Night Like You Mean it. You need date night. Or date day. Sometimes it can be tricky when I’m on night shift and Chad’s on day shift. And even though we live with each other and are with each other a good amount, it’s so important to have that designated time together. Whether it’s curling up on the couch with wine and a redbox movie, going for a hike or dressing up and going out to a fancy shmancy dinner, make a date and protect it. Spontaneity is fun too, and I love when Chad comes home and tells me to get my shoes on because we’re going somewhere, but sometimes planning is necessary to ensure that it happens.
- Learn What’s Okay and What Isn’t. Sometimes we’ll be out with friends and one of us will say something jokingly that either hurts or embarrasses the other and won’t even realize it, or we’ll start talking about something we didn’t know was supposed to be a secret. It’s important to tell each other when these things happen so we can each get a feel for what’s okay and what’s off-limits so you can make sure you’re treating them with the respect they need.
- One Bad Day at a Time. If your day was subpar and you find out your spouse’s day just absolutely sucked, let them have the bad day. It may even make you feel better trying to cheer them up. If you’ve just had the worst day, let your spouse know you need to vent or cry or eat ice cream so they can support you. If you both really did just have utterly terrible days (which happens), go ahead and have a dual wallow party! But then do something healthy together like go for a walk or even just watch a movie you know will make you laugh.
- Be Vulnerable With Each Other. Before we got married I thought I was comfortable around Chad, so after we were married I was surprised how much more comfortable I felt. It wasn’t automatic, but rather came from each of us showing the other that they are allowed to be completely themselves. I have broken down many a time in front of Chad, (blotchy red face, choking on my own tears, like really ugly crying if you can picture it) admitting my shortcomings and my deepest fears, all the while feeling pathetic and ashamed. Sometimes I feel like if he had known what he knows now he wouldn’t have wanted to marry me. And you know what he does? He tells me he would’ve married me a thousand times over and reminds me of my strengths and all the reasons he loves me. When we let ourselves be vulnerable and allow the other person to do the same, we create an even stronger bond between the two of us.
- Recognize Each Other. If you see your spouse doing something awesome or you appreciate something they did, TELL THEM. Every once in awhile just let them know how proud you are of them. Chad and I started doing something at night before bed where we each say “I love you because…” and we come up with a new reason each time, usually specific for that day. It’s a great way to show each other that we recognize each other’s efforts, sacrifices and talents.
These are just some of the many things I learned in my first year of marriage and only a small fraction of what I’m going to learn throughout the rest of it. I hope to continue to intentionally reflect on our relationship so that we can access it’s full potential and keep growing together. Whether you’re thinking of getting married or you’ve been married for years, I hope you were able to get something out of this list!
Feel free to share any tips or fun traditions you’ve created in your own marriage or relationship!