First-Year-Woes: 3 Tips for a Thriving New Marriage

“Real love . . .involves an act of the will and requires discipline, and it recognizes the need for personal growth.” — Gary Chapman

“The first year is always the hardest”

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that line over the last year and a half, I would be able to take my husband out on a really hot date.

But the trouble here, is that while I was told it would be hard, people rarely departed any sage advice on how to survive the first year of marriage.

Or, if people did give me advice, it felt watered down and lifeless. That’s not to say the advice wasn’t true or heartfelt, it’s just to say it’s difficult to really give meaningful and actionable advice when you’ve been out of the first-year struggle for a long time.

Like, I know communication is important, Karen, but how am I supposed to communicate with this guy when I also feel like strangling him?

Which is why I’m writing this. I just wrapped up my first year and a half of marriage and the struggle is still fresh in my mind.

Perceived Loss of Freedom

Naively, I thought that marriage would be the same as being in a committed relationship. What could possibly change in my life when marriage is simply a piece of paper the government has with our names on it?

Well, I can tell you wholeheartedly, a signed marriage certificate and “I-do’s” can change your life, a lot.

For me, it was the sudden perceived lack of freedom that changed — I could no longer quickly and easily walk away from my relationship. Marriage meant it would be a lot more complicated and difficult to leave, and that felt overwhelming.

Instead of viewing my marriage as a partnership that I could thrive in, I saw it as something that was strangling my autonomy, I was losing myself.

But the most important thing I ended up realizing after a year and a half is that yes, I did lose myself, but it is in favor of someone so much better.

Losing Myself, Finding Someone Better

“The various scenes in your life may demand you to be someone you never intended to be” — Benjamin P. Hardy

In order to grow, we must first lose the person we are. Which, I can attest, is terrifying, especially in the face of a new marriage and all the expectations and baggage that comes with it.

I expect most people struggle with this feeling of losing themselves in their marriages, which can be incredibly detrimental to your relationship. We aggressively dig our heels in like a pissed off donkey and refuse to let our partners and marriage change us.

My biggest hang up over the last year and half has been this idea that I’m losing myself, my character, my autonomy in my marriage. I didn’t recognize the woman with the ring.

I lost my identity and perceived it as a horrible thing.

What I didn’t realize is that yes, you are supposed to lose your identity.

The person you were when you were single, or simply in a long-term relationship, can’t exist within a thriving marriage.

That person can’t exist in a marriage because the game changes once you sign that piece of paper. When you say “I do” you’re emotionally and mentally giving your life to someone else, you’re committing to being there through the good and the bad, until death.

When I was just in a relationship with my now-husband, I still had a way out. I could still choose a life for myself without having to consider him. If it got too hard, I didn’t have to work on it, I could just bail. I don’t see it like that anymore.

I wasn’t allowed to be selfish anymore.

I had to face losing myself by seeing things from my husbands perspective, I had to lose myself in order to make my marriage work. I couldn’t just say, well this too difficult, the grass is probably greener in Bermuda.

Losing myself has been the most terrifying part of my first year and half of marriage. But it’s only now, after losing and starting to find myself again within the context of being a married woman, that I realize why it’s necessary.

So with that, I have a few tips on what helped me survive the first year and half of my marriage without either suffocating my husband in his sleep, or packing up my shoes and pillow and heading for the door.

1. Little Gratitude Nuggets (#vomitstick with me)

“A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not” — Seneca

The whole gratitude thing works, and here’s why: when you have to decide on one thing that your partner has done that day that you love, it takes you out of the “me vs. them” mentality and forces you to see your partner in a new and positive light.

I would get stuck constantly on why and how my husband was making my life difficult, and how being with him was forcing me to lose myself and take me away from my goals.

But this practice allowed me to reframe our daily life. It changed my negative thought pattern of “why did I get married” to “my husband is actually amazing and I’m lucky to have him”.

If you want to take it a step further, I recommend telling your partner your daily gratitude nugget. Never underestimate the power of making your partner feel special — if anything it teaches your partner how to be a good husband or wife (lead by example).

2. Write It Out

“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other” — Martin Luther King Jr.

Communication has been the most difficult aspect of my marriage. When you’re single or in a long term relationship sometimes its easy to feel like you don’t have to explain where you’re coming from, or — even more difficult — have empathy for where someone else is coming from.

One thing that has really helped my marriage is writing down whatever important thing I need to say, then giving it to my husband.

When I have a point I need to make without emotional drama, I’ll write an email, sit with it for a couple hours, then send it off if I feel like it needs to get read.

For people who struggle with expressing themselves, or has a partner who has a hard time listening and empathizing, this is a great first step in building a foundation of healthy communication.

It also allows you to vent, and sometimes that emotional-shitstorm-email doesn’t even need to be sent over, you just need to get it out of your head. Does email feel too formal? I know couples that write to each other in a journal as well.

3. Make Time for Self-Reliance

“Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow” — Kahlil Gibran

Marriage is a struggle many times because you’re no longer allowed to choose selfishly, you must think in terms of how your choices are going to affect another person.

If it’s a choice between my immediate personal happiness or being a good person for someone else, culture says to choose #1. This mindset is damaging to marriages.

But that’s not to say you shouldn’t make time and decisions that support your self-reliance and autonomy. Yes, marriage means sometimes sacrificing yourself and your goals for the bigger picture of your partnership, but that doesn’t mean you should abandon yourself all together.

Make time to feel self-reliant, do things that increase your independence and help to develop you as a single entity. Whatever makes you feel like a strong, independent person, do that, while making sure it’s not harming or pushing your spouse away.

Marriage isn’t an either/or situation (either I choose to be married and lose myself, or I choose to be single chasing my dreams), but many times we feel that it is.

For a long time I only saw the sacrifices I was making and how that was affecting my independence. In my stubbornness I didn’t realize that it was essential to my personal health, and that of my marriage, to foster my self reliance and independence, I just had to do it in a new way that included the bigger picture of my marriage.

If the last year and a half has taught me anything, it’s that in order to make headway and positive progress in my personal life and my marriage, I had to force myself to be creative and to innovate.

Lose yourself in your marriage, allow yourself the room to grow as a husband or wife, and you’ll surely come out of that first year feeling stronger than ever.

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