Once you’ve said your “I dos,” you might think you’ll be basking in that easy, breezy newlywed glow for the foreseeable future. But in reality, just because you’re in the honeymoon phase doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing.
Many of the changes that arise when you join two lives together can create some choppy waters, from your family dynamics to your finances.
“Almost every person imagines they’ll be a great spouse one day, but once the rings are on and the wedding cake turns stale, reality sets in — marriage just isn’t as easy as we thought,” marriage and family therapist Becky Whetstone told HuffPost. “With the combining of family, friendships, belongings and money, pitfalls and booby traps abound.”
We asked relationship therapists to share the common fights couples tend to have during the first year of marriage and how to navigate these contentious issues.
It’s easy to take the sexual chemistry you and your partner shared during the early days of your relationship for granted. So you might think maintaining a hot-and-heavy sex life will continue to be effortless. But the truth is, many couples experience a dip in their sex lives during the first year of marriage, said Kurt Smith, a therapist who specializes in counselling men.
“It’s not uncommon after the wedding for the sexual passion to die down and one or both partners to become unhappy with their sex life,” Smith said. “With these couples, I explore the desires of each [partner]. Just starting a constructive dialogue is huge around the topic of sex.”
A dwindling sex life can create physical and emotional distance between the couple, particularly if one partner is making advances that are frequently rejected, while the other feels ashamed that they can’t satisfy their partner’s sexual needs.
If you have noticed a falloff in your sex life, don’t fret, as this is rather common. But do try to have a conversation about these changes sooner rather than later, sex therapist Kimberly Resnick Anderson previously told HuffPost.
“Couples collude in silence,” she said. “They decide it is easier to have no sex at all than to deal with the hurt feelings and unpredictable emotions, such as guilt or anger. Intervening before the problem takes on a life of its own is key.”
By the time you get married, you should be on the same page about whether or not you want children (here’s a list of other important conversations you should have before you walk down the aisle). But you may not have hammered out the precise details of how and when you’re going to start a family.
“Whether it’s when to have their first child, how many they’ll have or how close together, the subject of having kids can be rich with strife,” Smith said. “It’s pretty typical for one spouse to have a ‘clock is ticking’ mentality, while the other either want to enjoy life as a couple before becoming a family or has a career or financial goals they want to reach first.”
The experience of planning and celebrating a wedding can shift one or both partners’ preferred timelines for big decisions, such as having kids or buying a house, said marriage and family therapist Spencer Northey.
“Reeling from the sticker shock of the wedding may push things back for one person, whereas the other person may want to speed things up after talking with lots of friends and family,” she said. “It may be important to take some time and space from the wedding and live your lives together for a few months to a year before exploring any changes to your plans.”
Establish healthy boundaries with your friends and family early on to avoid bigger issues down the road.
Whether it’s friends dropping by the house unannounced, your in-laws asking prying questions about why you’re not pregnant yet or your spouse’s inability to make a decision without consulting their parents first, unhealthy boundaries with loved ones can put a strain on your marriage.
“One of the big issues in young marriages is that our bodies are grown up, but emotionally we haven’t fully launched into adulthood,” Whetstone said. “Adults are capable of setting solid boundaries with family and friends. They put their spouse and marriage first. The fights we see are ones in which one partner values what their family or friends need over their spouse’s needs.”
And while it’s important to maintain close relationships with friends and relatives after you get married, regularly prioritizing others over your spouse will inevitably lead to discord in the relationship.
“You have to be attentive to your spouse’s wants and needs on a daily basis, and they need to do the same for you,” Whetstone said. “When it comes to friendship and family boundaries, we’re going to encourage spouses to grow up and lean on their spouse as their primary person, over and above everyone else.”
Figuring out how to divvy up household labour (like folding the laundry, cleaning the kitchen, making dinner and doing the dishes) in a way that works for both partners can be tricky to navigate for newlyweds, but is essential for the health of the relationship. In fact, a 2016 Pew Research survey found that 56% of married U.S. adults say sharing household chores is “very important” to a successful marriage.
And when the lion’s share of these responsibilities unfairly falls on one partner’s shoulders, resentment can build, leading to frustrated outbursts and arguments.
In heterosexual partnerships, women are still often the ones to shoulder the burden of household chores, but that isn’t always the case, Smith said. And even in same-sex marriages, where traditional gender norms may not play as big of a role, couples still fight about keeping a tidy home.
“It isn’t always the guys leaving their dirty socks and underwear on the floor and their new bride having to pick them up,” Smith said. “Regularly, men complain to me that their wife won’t clean up after herself either, such as leaving dirty dishes laying around or piles of laundry on the sofa. We discuss and agree upon cleanliness standards, which is very important so that a household standard can be agreed upon that both can follow.”
Navigating the holidays during your first year as newlyweds can be fraught. Neither of you wants to give up this special time with your families or break long-standing traditions, but ultimately, sacrifices have to be made. And managing your relatives’ disappointment or hurt feelings makes it all the more stressful.
“Often, couples are guilted and pressured by their [individual] families, who lobby for the couple to choose them,” Whetstone said.
So what does Whetstone recommend to newlywed clients who are struggling with this very issue?
“I tell them that by marrying, they have created their own family, and that comes first and over and above the considerations of what their families want,” she said. “If both spouses hate to miss their own family event, I suggest they take turns, every other year at each family’s home, toss a coin, or stay home and create their own family tradition.”
Whether you lived together before the wedding or not, after the nuptials, there will likely be some new organizational projects for you two to tackle. Maybe it’s embarking on home renovations, redecorating a room or just making space for each other’s stuff (and that mountain of wedding presents). Regardless, creating a home system that works may involve some growing pains along the way.
“Many couples who pride themselves in getting along well may surprise themselves getting so angry over furniture and decor,” Northey said.
In her sessions, Northey also encourages couples to figure out their deeper goals for building a happy home together.
“I encourage couples to go beyond a debate about aesthetics and functionality, and talk about what their vision and attachment to certain items means for them,” she said. “What is special about this item you just have to keep? Is there enough representation of both of you in the space? Once each person feels heard and considered it may be easier to figure out how to best honour each person’s things and ideas for their home.”
Money is a notoriously thorny subject for couples — especially for newlyweds who may just be starting to combine finances, looking to buy a home or thinking about starting a family.
“While dating, or even if you’ve been living together, it can be easy to hide your finances,” Smith said. “Once married, most partners discover the truth about things like the true amount of debt their spouse has, or learn about money habits that may go against their own.”
Money matters may appear to be practical concerns, but there’s often a lot of emotional baggage tied up in them, which makes them difficult to discuss.
In his sessions, Smith said he works with the couples on “honesty, transparency and expressing feelings about [money] before working on developing a plan on how they will move forward with their new financial life together.”