“Get married,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said. “Marriage will solve all of your problems and you’ll never be sad a day in your life again because you’re so deliriously happy and in love,” they said.
Umm, maybe not.
They say the first year of marriage is the hardest, and let me tell you: they aren’t lying. While marriage is a wonderful covenant that you make with your best friend, it’s a heck of a lot of work.
Yesterday, December 17, my husband Seth and I celebrated our one year marriage anniversary. In some ways, I can’t believe that the year has gone by so fast, but in others, I can’t believe it’s only been one year.
We got engaged in November 2015 after two years of dating — he’d just graduated college that previous May and I was about to graduate the next month in December. We had plans to move three hours away to Houston where we both had jobs lined up, and we’d take a year to plan our wedding while living with his parents, rent-free. Basically, things were going just right.
However, as I’m sure you’ve heard, life doesn’t always go the way you planned. Mere days after moving, our jobs in Houston fell through quite suddenly, and we were left really scared for what came next. Luckily, after two months of looking, Seth was able to find a job in the town that we’d just left, so we moved back and in with my mom.
Fast forward to December 2016: we both had stable jobs, some money saved up, and a nice little apartment lined up for us to live in after we got married. We did things “the right way” and waited until marriage to officially live together without living with one of our families. We just thought that was the way that it should be done, and we scoffed at people who did otherwise. Side note: I’ve changed my opinion on this, but that’s a topic for another day.
December 18, 2016, the day after I got married, was really the first official day of my adulthood. I was 24 years old and it was my first day living away from my mom. That may sound weird to some people, but I’d commuted to class when I was in college and there was never really a good reason to move out until I got married. So not only was I dealing with that adjustment, but I also had to deal with the fact that my boyfriend — err, husband — was now the one that I lived with and went to for everything. I didn’t know how to live with a man — and I definitely was not prepared for how gross they are.
Needless to say, graduating from college, moving three times, struggling for five months to find a job, getting married, and living on my own for the first time took its toll on me. Keep in mind that this was all before our marriage really got started. I had no idea how many more adjustments I’d have to make and just how many life lessons I had yet to learn. But I know I’m so much wiser and stronger now because of them.
Other Relationships in Your Life Will Change
One of the things that I don’t think many people realize before getting married is how much their other relationships will change. I personally didn’t feel any differently about any of my relationships, but people definitely felt differently about me.
I began to feel like I was no longer a single unit who could do whatever I wanted. When going out with my girlfriends, they’d wonder if Seth was coming or staying home, and more often than not, double dates became the thing to do with other couples. We ended up gaining a lot of married friends (who are awesome, by the way).
I began to feel differently around my mom: we continued our tradition of having lunch together frequently, but it just wasn’t quite the same. I felt more independent and more like an adult, but not really in a good way. I felt like I couldn’t ask her for the same emotional support as I could before I got married. Seth had become the one who was supposed to instantaneously understand all of my problems and emotional needs the second after we said “I do.”
What I’ve learned from all this is that your friends and family begin to treat you differently because they’re trying to adjust to the “new you” just like you are, and they are trying to respect your new relationship status with your spouse. And I’ve come to realize that just because you’ve got the rings and the marriage license, you don’t automatically understand everything there is to know about your spouse — that’s what the marriage part is for! Be patient with each other.
Learn Your Love Languages
Most everyone has probably at least heard of the notorious five love languages: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. These personal “languages” are no joke; we all have a primary love language and that determines how we give and receive love.
Learning my and Seth’s love languages — which are completely different, by the way — was so eye-opening for us because we were able to understand why the other was getting upset. For example, my primary love language is words of affirmation, so I’d get upset and feel unloved when Seth didn’t get it. Similarly, I would use words of affirmation to show Seth love because that’s how I receive it, but it didn’t do the trick because that’s not his love language.
Read Gary Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts, to learn more.
Learn to Compromise & Pick Your Battles
“Compromise is something that’s kind of in between. It’s like halfway happy.” -Jim Hopper, Stranger Things
Chances are, before you got married, you were accustomed to getting your own way, especially if you lived alone. But when you get married, this has got to change if you want your marriage to be successful. You and your spouse are melding your lives together, and there’s going to be some tension and a few arguments when you don’t agree on what time you like to go to bed or how you want the pantry to be organized.
With some minor decisions, one person is bound to care way more than the other (ME!) and so it’s usually easy enough for the other person to just give in because it’s not worth an argument. But sometimes there are bigger issues at hand: if you want to both work full time or how much money you need to have in the bank to feel secure. When it comes to these kinds of issues, one person really shouldn’t be giving in and so a compromise should be made — and sometimes this means there will be an argument and you might feel “halfway happy,” but that’s what marriage is all about.
Keep Your Own Identities
I’ve seen a lot of couples who slowly isolate themselves from their friends, start to give up on their hobbies, and only do things with each other. It’s certainly easy to do, but I’ve learned that it’s so important to keep your own identity apart from your spouse or else you might lose track of the world around you.
Like us, you may have even had a unity candle ceremony at your wedding. Traditionally, the bride and groom use their candles to light the middle one and then extinguish their individual candles to symbolize that they are are not individuals and have become one. I’m a big fan of symbolism, and so I decided that I wanted us to each light the unity candle, but leave out individual candles burning to represent the fact that we are still individual people, as well as being a married couple. This was a personal preference and I don’t think it really matters what you do in your ceremony, (if you even have a unity candle) but I do think that keeping those metaphorical candles burning in your marriage is something that is very important.
This could look like one of you going to a friend’s house while the other does their own thing at home, or one of you who loves reading joining a book club while the other plays video games. Obviously, this varies based on your personalities, but the idea is that you have your own friends and hobbies and things that you enjoy, as well as having all of those things together as a couple.
Seek Peace Instead of Happiness
I’ve saved the best for last. This is something that Seth and I learned in pre-marital counseling, and it really resonated with me. After getting married, everyone assumed I was deliriously happy and that all my problems magically disappeared. That’s obviously unrealistic, but people love to live vicariously through others.
After getting married, I didn’t feel any differently: I still had my same insecurities and anxieties. I’m an excited, enthusiastic, and passionate person, but I’m not the happy-go-lucky, easy-going type. I have problems and struggles just like everyone else, and marriage isn’t going to fix that. But unfortunately, other people go into marriage thinking that it will.
When people asked me if I was happy, I started to feel guilty for not being on Cloud Nine all the time. What was wrong with me? What was wrong with our marriage? The answer is: nothing! This is real life and there are always going to be good times mixed in with bad. But I’ve come to realize that happiness is fleeting and so we should not strive to seek a permanent state of happiness because that’s futile. Instead, seeking peace in the here and now and accepting the moments of happiness as they come is much more realistic, and you will find that your day-to-day life is less consumed with the pressure of that elusive happiness.
I’m certainly no marriage expert, but I do believe that the first year of marriage is the hardest, but it’s also the one in which you learn the most. I’m thinking about writing some more marriage-related posts, so let me know if you’d be interested in seeing that in the future!