It’s the morning after your wedding and you glance at your dress hung with pride over the hotel closet and still have all the butterflies and bliss from the night before. Did Uncle Mark really wrap his tie around his forehead while doing the worm? And why did your cousin Tina try to crowd surf when the song “Shout” came on? After eating 12 pancakes, 2 blueberry muffins and 3 omelets because your wedding diet is now over, you and your new husband head out to your honeymoon. You love introducing yourself as “Mrs. So-and-So” at the hotel check in and you text your friends to tell them how weird it is to call yourself a wife.
After two weeks in the Caribbean and weighing a good 10 pounds heavier, there you are freshly tanned and sitting on the couch with your new husband. Back to life, back to realityyyy. You realize that you may have a new last name, but not much has really changed. Many say that the first year of marriage can be one of the hardest years, so here are a few ideas of what newlyweds can do during their first year as Mr. and Mrs. to set up a strong foundation for their future.
- Talk about how you would like to spend the holidays. Some newlyweds have never spent a holiday together until their first year of marriage. It was just easier not having to hear their parents complain about which holiday they would be missing out on. Many people also have a sense of loss and sadness when having to give up a holiday with their side of the family. Talking about which holidays will be celebrated with each side of the family in advance is importance because it is a good way to set up expectations, practice the art of compromise and start setting boundaries with in laws. No one likes to give up a holiday with their own family, but no one said marriage was easy either.
- Discuss the type traditions and rituals of connection are you hoping to keep in your marriage. This is essential to set in motion now because it will become more difficult if you decide to have children who want your attention 24/7 later. Some things to ask yourself and discuss with your spouse are questions such as: Are you hoping to take yearly vacations as a couple and/or family? How often do you want a date night? Do you want to eat dinner together every night? Do you put your phones away when having quality time? Is there something you want to do together every Christmas that was a part of your childhood tradition? Rituals of connection keep a closeness and bond maintained within a relationship and it is easy to start to let those moments slide after being with someone long term. Here is a link to more ideas for rituals of connection from The Gottman Institute.
- Learn how to talk about money. Most couples fight about finances and sex. We will save the sex part for a different post, you know when it is happening less frequently after your first year (hehe). We all have our own stories about money passed onto us from our childhood and it is important to understand that you and your partner were raised in households with different philosophies about spending and saving money. You and your spouse need to talk about whether or not you are going to combine all of your income. This is usually the easiest and less stressful route to take in a marriage, especially once you have kids. You and your partner then need to discuss who is going to be in charge of the budget and pay the bills. In my experience as a couples therapist, if you can learn to communicate about a shared pot of money you can communicate about anything. If you decide not to go this route, set up a plan about how you are going to pay bills, save, invest and spend. Lay out all of your debt out on the table- the cars, school loans, credit cards, etc and have an honest conversation about how you plan on getting rid of it. This is where I reference good ole Dave Ramsey! If you don’t know his financial strategies, get to know him and do it fast. Paying off your debt now will set you up for an exciting future in which you are in control of your money and it will reduce many arguments down the line about finances.
- Learn how to resolve conflict. Fighting in a marriage is inevitable. It can be healthy to hash out your difference from time to time, but you need to learn how to fight effectively. When using The Gottman Method, we learn to teach our couples to resolve conflict within 24 hours of the fight at a time when both partners are calm and able to have a productive conversation. We also teach couples how to remove The Four Horseman from their conflicts, which are know as “criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.” When these communication styles show up, they are high predictors of divorce. Couples can learn how to correct these types of dysfunctional ways of speaking to each other, but you usually need a third party to help you recognize them and hold you accountable for changing them.
- Discuss expectations around housework. Believe it or not, many couples who have been in long term relationships find themselves fighting over and over again about household chores. We call this a perpetual issue, and there is usually a deeper meaning attached to a conflict like this other than who takes out the garbage or cleans the toilet. Like finances, we have stories about who should be doing what around the house and these expectations were demonstrated to us by our families of origin. It is important to talk to your partner about your expectations and desires around housework and make the necessary compromises with each other so you both feel supported and understood.