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The morning light playfully casts its shadows on my husband’s face. I ask myself, once again, in my half slumber, if this is really my life. My mornings are filled with “I love you’s” and kisses (morning breath and all) and an alarm set purposely to snooze so we can cozy up to each other before the real world starts knocking. I never pictured something so imperfect feeling so perfect. Our marriage has its flaws like any other relationship, but we’ve used them as reminders of our humanity and mile markers of where we can grow.

This first year of marriage has been a beautiful mess.

Filled with chaos calmed by Tyler’s deep voice and aptitude to forgive and apologize without hesitation, but also with humility. This has been a year of learning to do old things a new way, learning to let go and let loose, and learning even more so, how to love with a reckless abandon. How to love unconditionally even through some harsh conditions. We weathered the storm of my losing a parent and we also learned to be okay with not being able to be everything the other person needs. I needed my husband through that tragedy, but I also needed my best friends and my sisters to help me process what happened in a different way. 

This dreamy relationship of ours isn’t clouded by rose-colored glasses. We are very aware of the gift of newness and the romance it inspires and of the brokenness and falling short we have already done and will continue to do. It’s all a part of it. We have said things that hurt each other. We’ve stayed up late searching for resolutions to issues that we could have prevented if we had communicated our expectations sooner. 

If I’ve learned anything in my first year of marriage, it’s that marriage itself is a state of becoming.

It’s active, not passive. Our relationship as spouses doesn’t get the luxury of the title “Married” solving our problems, having the hard conversations magically disappear, or the sense of accomplishment you feel when you reach a finish line. Marriage is a state of becoming. Becoming closer, more honest (and more tactful), more humble, more loving, more forgiving, more adaptable, and more intentional. 

Our wedding day was the beginning of a public commitment, but we spent almost seven years curating and pruning the best parts of ourselves while revealing our weaknesses. Tyler’s way better at apologizing than I am and I’m better at communicating my feelings on a whim. We get to hold each other accountable—and if we don’t, we miss the potential for our relationship to flourish. It can be tempting to assume you know what your spouse is thinking and feeling on the basis of you knowing them better than anyone else knows them. If we live in a state of assumptions, we miss the chance to get to know each other more intimately. 

We aren’t off the hook now that we have some pretty circles around our fingers. If anything, it has never been more important to press in and run from the idea of getting comfortable. Your lifelong commitment is an active one. It’s not an “I do” to say I already did. 

I’ve learned marriage is a pursuit. Though we may be within a few walls, we still need to go out of our way for each other like we did when we had opposite schedules or were long distance. For us, that may look like sacrificing a night out with a friend if it’s the only night he and I could spend quality time together. Being married means considering each other first; plans don’t just affect you anymore—they affect both of you.

As humans, we are constantly changing, balancing on a tightrope of circumstances in flux—some we don’t have any control over (pandemic anyone?). I don’t fear the tightrope or my lack of balance sometimes because I know my spouse is my safety net. Tyler is there to catch me when I fall—not only there to, but wants to be there to catch me. In this state of becoming, we both are challenged to pursue each other. It looks like keeping our conversations real and curious, flirting just because, and being quick to admit when we’re wrong.

Takeaways: 

  • Marriage is a daily, active commitment to each other.
  • You have to pursue each other to have a worthwhile marriage.
  • Acknowledging you and your spouse’s humanity helps set realistic expectations.

Questions to ask each other:

  • How can we continue pursuing each other? What does that look like for us? (i.e., writing each other notes, texting each other during the day just because, planning a weekly date night, etc.)
  • Talk about each other’s strengths and weaknesses and how you can be a team.
  • Do we have a plan to handle conflict/hard situations? If so, revisit it. If not, come up with one.

Bonus blogs to help you prepare for your first year of marriage:

After you say “I do,” there’s a lot that changes and there are new things to get used to when it comes to friends and family. Add the holidays to a new marriage, and it’s easy to feel incredibly overwhelmed. It quickly becomes obvious that friends and family influence your relationship.

As a married couple, you’ll have a different dynamic when it comes to your friends and family because there is an added measure of checks and balances. Your marriage is the one friendship and ultimate relationship that should come first. It’s very important to wean off relationships that could potentially cause problems in your marriage. Now, you can’t just all-out ditch family because you don’t get along, but you can definitely set boundaries and determine how much time you will spend with those “problematic” members.

Here are 5 ways friends and family can influence your relationship with your spouse.

1. You are who you hang around:

Remember when every adult used to say this to you no matter who you were spending time with growing up? Well, it’s true. For better or for worse, your friendships can lift you up or tear you down – and now it’s affecting more than just you. What if you or your spouse has a toxic friendship that is negatively affecting your marriage?

How to deal: Talk with your partner to see if they are even aware that they are hurting you or causing tension in your relationship. Be gentle, don’t accuse, and be open to hearing their perspective as well. After you bring it to light, assess where to go from there, such as less time spent with that person? A discussion with that person about behavior that you want to change/ have an issue with? You have to decide together what the best thing to do for your marriage is. And remember, friends should be encouraging you to be better every day and lifting you up to be the best you you can be! Invest in strong friendships for both you and your partner!

2. Your parents are just too intrusive:

Just like on that old sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, your parents or friends may feel a little too welcome in your life. “If you have parents who show up uninvited, or who spend too much time with you, you might have too little time to be alone with your new partner and formulate your life as a couple,” says Susan Newman, Ph.D., a social psychologist.

How to deal: Set some rules – and fast. “You need to clearly define your boundaries in regard to visits and time spent with your parents,” Newman says. Once you and your mate agree on the ‘rules,’ tell your parents you love them, but they need to call before they come by, or even ASK specifically before they just decide to do something that affects you and your spouse. Set whatever guidelines you need to set for the sake of your marriage.

3. They make a mountain out of a molehill:

You picked your sister-in-law’s wedding over the annual family reunion (insert your own situation where you had to choose between two family or friend events) – and now your parents aren’t speaking to you, or they’re being nasty.

How to deal: Gently remind them that you now have two families and lives to consider when you’re making decisions. “They have to learn that you have a new family now [and new relationships] and that you’ll [still] be connected, but not joined at the hip,” says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., a psychotherapist.

4. They bad-mouth your partner:

You know the saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all?” Well, sometimes family and friends don’t really listen to or apply that.

How to deal: Explain that the snide comments upset you – and firmly tell them to stop. Always stand up for the person you have chosen to spend forever with. Be their #1 advocate! Most people will stop after being directly confronted. If they really care about the relationship – at least an effort will be made. But if they continue, you need to show that you mean business. “When your parent [or friend(s)] starts, simply say, “I’m not going to listen. I married [them] and I’m happy,” Newman advises. If friends continue to speak poorly of your partner, reassess your relationship with them. Then decide if that’s really someone you want a part of your new journey.

5. Sometimes, your in-laws (or your own parents) AND/OR your spouse’s friends can create marital problems simply by being who they are.

Different personalities sometimes just don’t jive.

How to deal: Talk it out with your partner to see if you can sort out why there’s an issue. Seek out resources to help you determine what the problem is and how to work through the conflict. Combining two families + friend groups with different backgrounds and lifestyles is not easy, but it’s not impossible. Strengthen your relationship with your spouse by being at peace with each other’s “people,” and sometimes agreeing to disagree.

Looking for more engagement resources? Click here!

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*Note: I’m an early riser. Always have been, always will be. My husband, on the other hand… not so much. Being newlywed and trying to stick to a routine, I’ve learned to let him sleep until I’ve had my coffee, had my shower, and have start working on breakfast. And for about a month, it has actually worked! That is, until one morning, I had gotten my coffee and was in the shower when I heard that knock….

“Hey, Caroline?”

Surprised that he was even awake enough to voice a question, I responded, “Yes…?”

“I really need to use the bathroom. Are you done yet?”

Me, knowing that I probably didn’t want to be in the bathroom once he came in, but also in the middle of shampooing my hair, responded to his question and said, “Not really, but hold on… I can step out in just a second.” In slight frustration, I quickly rinsed the shampoo, turned off the water, and grabbed my towel.

You see, my husband and I are trying our best to save for a house as soon as we can, which meant signing a lease on a tiny apartment for the time being. One bedroom. Barely enough space for a couch in the living room. And, as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, one bathroom.

Moving in, neither of us thought it would be a problem! I’d just get up early, get things done, then he would be able to do the same after me. But, as with everything in life, things don’t always go according to plan.

That morning threw off the rest of my day, and it took me quite a while to understand why.

But by that evening, I realized something: I was frustrated with him, despite neither of us being to blame for the situation. I was upset, not because he had to use the bathroom, but because it wasn’t a part of our original plan. I wanted to be in control.

Yes, it seems a little exaggerated to get to that conclusion from a disrupted morning routine. But let me tell you. It opened my eyes to a whole different perspective of myself that I was not at all aware of.

So many people warned us that marriage is a great magnifying glass on all your flaws. But I didn’t realize how true it was until the honeymoon phase had left, and our true, imperfect selves showed again. Since that day, I have been very conscious of what I can and cannot control and my reactions to those things.

So, bottom line. Never assume that just because you have a plan or routine in your newlywed relationship, everything will go according to plan. A spouse is not there to point out your flaws, but to walk with you. They are there to support you and grow with you through each and every interruption.

Lastly, and most importantly: if possible… have more than one bathroom for your first year if you can.

Looking for more engagement resources? Click here!

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

If you’re anything like me, I used to (literally) dream about the day that the love of my life would take a knee, spout off some poetry, and say those four long-awaited words that made up the question that would change my life forever: “Will you marry me?”

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For many, the first week on the job is full of uncertainties, adjustments and even mistakes. Joining a new sports team or a band is certain to start off with some failed expectations, missed notes and assignments, too. I’ve worked at companies where the first week was awful, but my time there ended up being fulfilling, successful and beneficial for everyone involved. The first week of anything new can be hard!

When a couple gets married, each person has their own history, experiences, traditions and culture PLUS their own way of thinking, relating and communicating. So, why in the world would anyone be surprised that the first week of marriage (usually during the honeymoon) doesn’t go as planned? I’ve heard some horrific honeymoon stories from numerous couples I’ve worked with over the years. From big arguments and no sex to major disagreements and running out of money (and beyond), these couples’ biggest fear is that their horrible honeymoon is a sign that their marriage is doomed from the beginning.

Let’s understand why that’s not the case. For many, regardless of whether we lived together, lived nearby or hundreds of miles apart, wedding day is a game changer. The day we commit to do all that we can to make our marriage work is the day life changes. Often, because of expectations. Sometimes our support circle doesn’t help because because we’re in our “honeymoon phase” and they feel they should respect our privacy. Media doesn’t help because it paints an unrealistic picture that all honeymoons are perfect. Ironically, couples don’t help each other because we think we know all there is to know about being married – even though we’ve been doing it for a grand whopping total of 2 days.

Marriage is a journey, and the ceremony is just the beginning. Two people truly functioning in step with one another takes years to get really good at it. Our habits, beliefs and ideas were perfect in our minds until our spouse told us differently, and of course we didn’t agree. But, before getting scared about the years of learning how to “click,” we need to know that there’s a lot of joy in the journey.

The journey is a process where hopefully each spouse is learning to be considerate, generous and loving toward the other. This process is often preceded by the realization that we may be a little more selfish, inconsiderate and stingy than we realized. When we drop the expectations that both parties in a marriage already know how to do this well and embrace the journey, then we can find joy in learning to do this thing called marriage together. Be encouraged: A disastrous honeymoon can be seen not as a sign that we weren’t meant to be together, but as just the first step toward learning how to do marriage well.

 ***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Are you headed down the aisle soon? If you are, whether this is your first marriage or not, you probably have some thoughts rolling around in your brain in terms of what you expect from your soon-to-be spouse. Don’t worry, you aren’t alone.

Almost everyone comes to marriage with some pretty specific ideas about how things will be, whether they realize it or not. These expectations might be based on what people have experienced in their own family (things they liked or didn’t like and don’t want to repeat), a romantic movie, a previous relationship or even the Hallmark Channel.

Here’s the thing: Whether it’s how you plan to handle money, accepting support from family and in-laws, how often you will make love, being on time, handling conflict, career aspirations, helping with chores or cleanliness, if you don’t talk about your expectations ahead of time, there’s a really good chance it could lead to some disappointing and frustrating moments in the future.

People often don’t voice their expectations because they fear the other person won’t live up to them. If you do talk about them and your spouse-to-be doesn’t see these expectations as a big deal or doesn’t plan to change their approach to these issues, you may try to convince yourself that once you have a ring on your finger and things are more final, things will be different. Don’t be fooled, though: There are plenty of studies indicating the best time to look for behavior change is before the wedding, not after.

Unspoken expectations can silently kill relationships. Do yourself and your fiancé a favor: Be honest about your expectations. Just because your family did something a certain way doesn’t mean you necessarily have to do it the same way. It could be that in the midst of discussing what is important to you both, you realize your expectations aren’t realistic or that you want to tweak them a bit to better fit your relationship. 

One thing you want to guard against is sacrificing who you are in the name of your relationship. If your faith is very important to you and you strongly expect your fiancé to one day share your faith values, realize that change is possible, but it could place a hefty load of tension on your relationship if your faith is in conflict with what they believe.

It’s totally possible that you and your fiancé have expectations of each other that you don’t even realize you have. Taking the time to go through a premarital education experience either in person or online could help you both identify things you feel strongly about and help you to work through those issues before you get married. Talking about your expectations ahead of time can save you a lot of headaches and heartache down the road.

Engaged couples spend endless amounts of time planning for their special day. In the excitement of wedding showers, choosing the flowers and the cake, and finding the perfect dress, some wonder if they can make it work. They don’t necessarily question their love for each other, although some actually do. It’s more about wondering if they can defy the odds of divorce.

Most scholars agree that couples marrying today face a substantial risk of divorce. Many couples, however, don’t realize that certain factors increase their risk.

“While there are academic arguments about how great the average risk is, there is a lot less argument among scholars about the relative risks,” says Dr. Scott Stanley, co-director of the Center for Relationships at the University of Denver. “Some people face a higher risk of divorce and others a very low risk. What follows is not an exhaustive list, but it will hit the highlights.”

Individual Characteristics Linked with Higher Rates of Divorce:

  • Marrying at a young age (younger than 22)
  • Getting less education
  • Having parents who divorced or never married
  • Being a more reactive personality to stress and emotion
  • Having a prior marriage that ended
  • Prior to marrying, having sex with or cohabiting with someone other than your mate
  • Having a very low income or being in poverty

“While some people face a higher risk of divorce than others, many people who have a very low risk nevertheless worry about divorce happening to them,” Stanley asserts. “Some people avoid marriage because of their fear of divorce, but avoiding marriage won’t really reduce one’s chances of experiencing heartache and family instability.

“To really avoid the possibility of such pain, one would need to avoid love, sex and children altogether. For some, avoiding marriage may actually increase their likelihood of experiencing the very thing they fear—heartache and break-up—because marriage can be a potent force for clarifying and reinforcing commitment between two people.”

Stanley contends that BEFORE MARRIAGE is when you have the most power to affect your eventual likelihood of divorce. He suggests the following 7 tips as you proceed.

  • Take it slow. Waiting allows you to see a person’s behavior over time versus a snapshot in time.
  • Don’t ignore red flags. Bad behavior will likely not get better once you walk the aisle.
  • Look for someone who shares your beliefs and values. Chemistry is great, but it is not the binding glue in a relationship. Love does not conquer all.
  • Look for mutual dedication to the relationship. Both people should be willing to make sacrifices.
  • Establish mutual commitment to be together. Avoid sliding into staying in a relationship because of constraints such as signing a rent agreement or purchasing furniture together.
  • Get premarital training. There is solid evidence that completing premarital preparation together can improve your odds in marriage.
  • Be realistic about potential mates. There are no perfect people, but two imperfect people can walk the road together and be transformed by a life of loving commitment.

“Marriage involves a choice to risk loving another for life, but that is different from gambling with your love life,” Stanley says. “Just make sure you are deciding rather than sliding your way into your future.”

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

For better, for worse. For richer, for poorer. In sickness and in health. 

Starry-eyed in love, couples stand before friends and family and recite these vows with total commitment to each other.

“Many people believe that if they have found their soulmate and are deeply in love, they won’t have disagreements or bad things happen in their marriage. If they do, they think something must be wrong with their relationship,” says Diane Sollee, founder of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education.

“I believe one of the biggest disservices we do to newlywed couples is not giving them expectations about how things are going to be when two lives come crashing together. They get married, go on a honeymoon and then come home thinking things are going to be great, only to find that there are these little things that keep coming up that are wreaking havoc in their relationship.”

For example, one newlywed couple lived close to the husband’s family and saw them all the time. Since they lived close to his parents, the wife thought they should go visit her family for Christmas and Thanksgiving. He thought that was totally unfair. She thought it was so fair it made her extremely angry and upset. Her didn’t see the logic between where you live and splitting up the holidays. This was an issue in their first three years of marriage.

Studies indicate that every happily married couple usually has approximately 10 irreconcilable differences.

“Learning how to live with your spouse is a constant adventure that requires advance planning,” Sollee says. “I think the first years should be called the ‘clash of civilizations stage’ instead of the honeymoon. This stage is when two people actually get to set up a new civilization determining how they are going to do everything from eat, sleep, work, raise children, deal with in-laws, make love, keep house, pay bills, etc. Couples who believe that because you love each other you will simply agree about how all of this should work are in for great disappointment. Instead of seeing these differences as part of the marriage adventure, this is the very thing that sends what could be a great marriage over time into a tailspin.”

It might come as a surprise to know that noted marriage researcher, Dr. John Gottman, found that happily-married couples disagree the same amount as couples who divorce. Studies show that all couples fight about money, sex, kids, others and time. Couples who understand that these disagreements are normal and learn to manage those areas do better.

“Finding these areas of disagreement is part of the adventure. It shouldn’t scare couples if they prepare for the journey,” Sollee suggests. “Entering into marriage without preparation would be like planning to climb Mount Everest and only hoping you have what it takes. When people first started climbing that mountain, many people did not make it because they did not know what to expect. Now the success rate is much better because people know how to prepare and often do so for years before they actually climb the mountain. The same is true with marriage. We know the tools couples need to be successful.”

If you are marrying soon or are a newlywed, think of it as if you were preparing to climb Mount Everest. It’s a great adventure with potential danger at every turn. You want to be as knowledgeable as possible about what to expect. That way, even the simple things do not pose a threat to your relationship. There are ways you can know what to expect from marriage – including how to navigate those annoying disagreements that keep rising to the surface.

For instance, you can take a premarital or marriage education class where you can practice handling the hard stuff.

“You can do almost anything in life if you know what to expect,” Sollee shares. “If you don’t know what to expect, you can fall in a crevasse and blame it on all the wrong things – your spouse, your mother-in-law, etc.”

For more information on becoming a newlywed, get our e-book, 10 Things Every Newlywed Needs to Know.

 ***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Scene 1: The Big Day

The day has finally arrived. You walk down the aisle taking in all of the people who have come to witness this momentous occasion. You and your fiancé enthusiastically say “I do!” There is a great celebration and finally you leave. Now, the two of you begin your journey of happily ever after.

Scene 2: Beyond the Honeymoon

Reality sets in. Sometimes it happens on Day One of the honeymoon. Others experience it when they arrive home and are trying to settle into a routine. You both realize it is just the two of you and you have to figure out how to do life together as a team. While this is something you have been looking forward to, it can create some difficult moments.

Scene 3: What Nobody Tells You  

Regardless of how long you have been together as a couple, being married is different. The first couple of years can actually be very challenging, but nobody really talks about that for fear that people will judge them.

Learning how to live with your spouse is an adventure. In most marriages, each person has unspoken expectations based on what they experienced in their own home. Things like:

  • Who cleans the toilets, pays the bills, mows the lawn, does the laundry, shops for groceries?

  • How will you deal with the in-laws?

  • Will you eat dinner together every night?

  • Who does the cooking?

  • What about sleep? Do you go to bed at the same time?

  • When you experience conflict (and you will) how will you handle it?

All of these things tend to trip couples up because each person comes to the marriage with assumptions about how things will be.

Scene 4: What Might be Helpful to Know

As you navigate the first years of marriage, here are some things to consider that can help make the transition smoother.

  • Get prepared. You probably spent a lot of time and energy preparing for the wedding, but don’t forget to prepare for the health of your marriage. Getting married without preparation is like planning to compete in the Iron Man and hoping you have what it takes to finish the race. Couples who take the time to learn the skills needed for successful marriage are 30 percent less likely to divorce. Make the time to attend a premarital education class where you can practice handling the hard stuff.

  • You are a team. Before marriage you only had to be concerned about yourself. Adding someone else into the mix, even when you love them, can be tough. It isn’t all about you anymore. It is about two individuals coming together with the goal of helping each other grow. This requires give and take, thinking through priorities and being totally invested in making the relationship work.

  • Love isn’t all you need. Many couples believe that because they love each other they will agree on most things. This is when things can get really dicey. Studies show that all couples fight about money, sex, kids, others and time. An advantage of marriage is you have someone who cares so much about you they are willing to disagree and weigh in with their thoughts and opinions. Couples who understand these disagreements are normal and learn to manage those areas of their life do better.

Happily-married couples rarely describe their marriage as challenge-free, even after decades of marriage. In fact, many of them describe the hard times as those that refined them and made their marriage stronger.

Whether you are preparing for marriage or you are a newlywed, remember you are building something new together. You may come to marriage with a blueprint of how you always thought it should be, but as you hammer it out you both realize you need something different. No matter who you marry, there will be challenges. It’s how you handle them that makes the difference.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***