You’ve said “I do” in your white dress, church wedding. You’ve strolled barefoot down a makeshift, sandy aisle toward the person of your dreams.
You’ve eaten the cake, sipped the champagne, put on the ring, or plodded off in your horse-drawn carriage. Maybe you’ve said the words in your backyard, on the courthouse steps, or in a grocery store.
No matter how you marked the occasion, you’re married. You’ve found “the one” and promised your life to the person who makes you happy. You’ve sealed your love, promised to walk through this crazy thing called life hand-in-hand. Now it’s just time for wedded bliss. You see a life of morning kisses, flirtatious conversations, and romantic getaways in your future.
The first year of marriage is marked by magical moments and blissful images. It’s a time of discovery, of connection, and of the fuzzy feelings of new love.
Still, the first year is also often filled with hurdles and challenges unique to those first twelve months.
Here are ten tips to keep the champagne feelings from wearing off before you’ve dug your fork into the frozen wedding cake on the first anniversary. Not married yet? Even better—these are things you can work on before saying “I do” to make the first year of marriage stronger yet.
From holiday traditions to weekly routines, you probably come from families with slight differences. Melding together two sets of traditions can be challenging and fight-inducing. Our first Christmas created upheavals because we were both used to two diverse sets of holiday traditions.
Realize that as a married couple, you now have to create your own traditions. These can certainly be modeled after pieces from each family. However, agreeing to create traditions unique to your marriage and family can alleviate the pressures that come from the tug-of-war that can ensue in year one.
The first year will set the tone for your marriage and will give you resolve to weather the tough moments that are up ahead. These are the moments you will reminisce about, will talk about, will laugh about. Document everything. Take pictures of your first pumpkin carving, your first dinner you host, your first grocery store trip together, everything. Document the big moments, but take pictures of the small moments too. We created a scrapbook of our first year and will sometimes get it out to reflect on that first year. Having the pictures from the blissful first year can spark some of the magical feelings later.
Our lives are busy and noisy. Set aside one evening a week to be technology-free, even if it’s just for a few hours. This allows you to really focus on each other and builds depth to your connection. Taking a few hours to focus solely on each other helps continue the relationship-building process you pursued during dating. It ensures you keep the feelings of “dating” each other alive and helps prevent you from feeling like the “game is won” because you’ve said those vows.
This might not work for every couple, but we found it worked well for us. By keeping the accounts we had before we got married, we’ve been able to maintain our sense of financial independence. We still keep each other informed about major financial decisions or purchases. However, we don’t have to check-in with each other about a $10 purchase or ask for permission for every dollar spent. Neither of us feels degraded or interrogated when it comes to money because we are able to maintain some autonomy with our separate checking accounts.
Just like we set aside tech-free time each week, we also set aside time to pursue our own interests. We take a few hours a week to spend time with our friends and enjoy our individual hobbies. Maintaining your identity in marriage can be a challenge and, if not done correctly, can lead to resentment and feelings of being lost. By scheduling time apart, we are more appreciative of our relationship and have found our bond to be strengthened.
In year one, we focused on our long-term goals and how we would achieve them. It’s important to not be nearsighted in the first year. It’s easy for love to blind you to your long-term goals. The blissful feelings can lead to impulsive spending and big short-term splurges. By making sure you’re on the same financial page for the long haul, you can avoid major conflicts down the road.
No matter how much you try to preserve your individuality, marriage does merge your lives together. Why not make the most of it? Create a bucket list of things you want to do together as a couple. Keep the list somewhere you can reference it. Make the list long so you’ll have exciting new things to try for years to come. This will keep those first year feelings lingering long after the first anniversary. Five years after our wedding, we’re still working on our joint bucket list.
We kept a jar with slips of paper nearby in our room. When something exciting, big or small, happened to us, we’d write it down. One year later, we went through the jar to reflect on all of the moments that happened. Some of them were big moments, but some of them were little, silly moments too. It’s important to remember your first year isn’t just good because of the big moments. The small, day-to-day living moments can be just as special.
Our biggest fights in our first year were over chores and dividing responsibilities. It wasn’t until the end of our first year we actually compromised on a chore system that worked for us. I wish we’d have talked about the details of our household responsibilities in week one. This would have helped us avoid many conflicts and made sure we were working as a team. Talk about your individual expectations for chores, plans to split the work, and ways to keep checks and balances in the system.
Don’t define your first year by the impossible standards society sometimes deems acceptable. The first year isn’t always a fairytale stroll through an enchanted forest of love. The first year will be filled with rosy moments—but also difficult ones. There will be times your romantic evening ends in a screaming fight with tear-stained cheeks and abandoned dinner. There will be times when you’ll wonder if promising forever was wise, or if you can really live with his dirty socks on the floor for the next however many decades. There will be times the champagne glow does fade, and your romantic first dance will feel like an imagined moment.
This is normal.
No marriage is perfect, even in the first year. Your first year doesn’t have to be inundated with candles, roses, and expensive gifts to be special. Focus on enjoying the small moments. Savor in the cups of coffee on your deck together, the Netflix binge-watching nights, the lazy Sunday mornings in bed talking about random things. If, in the first year, you can find a mutual respect for the small, normal moments together, you’ll carry the fairytale-like feelings of the first year into year 2, year 10, and year 50.