The first year of marriage is like wet cement – the impressions made in it are much harder to change once it has set. – Robert Wolgemuth
Yes, the first year of marriage sets the tone for the next several years to come. During that special season, we create habits and norms. What we do and say during that time carries weight for a long time – sometimes a lifetime. Since the first year of marriage is so important – and the first three months most important – why start creating great habits on day one of your marriage? Why not start now so you can transition comfortably into married life?
There will always be surprises. Even the most prepared couples will have crazy stories to tell their children someday. Still, if you can ease the ride and save yourself some heartache, why not do it?
I recommend doing the following before diving into forever:
- Make that Budget Happen. Okay, we know budget is a four-letter word to many of you, but making and keeping a budget does not have to be painful. Trust me; I am not a naturally well-budgeted person. While I have always enjoyed making budgets, I have never been great about keeping them. Eric, however, is great at both budgeting and sticking to the budget. We were newly married with a mortgage and a brand-new car payment before we started budgeting our money… and we wish we had started before getting married. Neither of us were poor with managing our money; yet, having the budget laid out, agreed on, and working for us brought us an extra layer of peace we had not experienced in our relationship’s infancy. We never recommend couples combine their money until after they are legally married (seriously, never). But, you can both get used to creating and living on your own personal monthly budget, talk about your monetary goals, and make suggestions (not demands) to each other’s budgets (because you’re showing them to each other, right?). If you have your financial direction hammered out before the altar, your marital transition will be far smoother than many of your peers.
- Stay Out of the Bedroom. Or the backseat. Or the woods. Or anywhere else you feel tempted to compromise. Before I was married, I struggled with God’s design for sex and marriage. It seemed so unfair to have to wait. Even though I knew in my head God had His perfect reasons (Isaiah 55:8-9), my heart and my body were not on board with His plan. It seemed flawed. Now that I am on this side of the marriage equation, it makes much more sense (though I still vividly remember the struggle and wanting it desperately to end). When couples engage in illicit, “rule-breaking” sexual activities, there is an excitement created by illicitness which is intoxicating. This is wrong. We shouldn’t be doing this. Once these same couples get married and lose the illicitness, the magical attraction they had been feeling is no longer present. Why? Because having sex is permitted now (i.e., there is no illicitness). Everyone expects it. The worst way to transition into a married sex life is to start with a dating sex life. You do not want your wedding night to feel like just another normal day at the office. God can (and does) forgive, heal, and restore. If you have crossed that line, you can each repent and wait from here on out. Waiting to enjoy sex in the bonds of marriage is a gift you can give your future spouse and yourself. It is worth it. (And if the other person won’t wait until marriage after being confronted about it, that is a huge red flag.)
- Hone Your Cheap Date Skills. There are a lot of ways to have fun for little or no money. Even if you are both working and bringing in a decent income, it is wise to prepare should your situations change. One of you may decide to stay home when children come. You may change jobs or start your own business someday. You may have three children within three years and find your bank account “leaking.” Regardless of your income, get proficient at going on cheap dates you both enjoy. Give yourselves a monetary limit – no more than $20 (or, preferably $10) – and plan a fun evening you will both enjoy. The more accustomed you become to dating conservatively, the simpler it will be to continue after you are married.
- Explore Common Interests. Along with perfecting the art of the cheap date, start exploring new interests together. Though it is good and healthy to have hobbies which do not include each other, it is just as important to the health of your friendship to have several common interests. If after much investigating you discover you have little in common, you should rethink your decision to move forward in your relationship. Even if you feel so in love, your lack of compatibility due to the lack of common interests will catch up with you over the years.
- Get Real with Yourself. Early in our marriage, I attributed so many of my internal issues to Eric. If Eric would only <<fill in the blank>>, I would be happier. Though Eric does have the ability to make my days brighter or grayer, he can do only so much about my happiness. We are responsible for what we take in, what we dwell on, and what we believe (cf. Philippians 4:8). After some time and soul searching, it became clear to me that a lot of my problems with Eric were truly problems I had with myself. Admitting that was freeing because it meant I was not at Eric’s mercy. I did not have to wait for a flawed human to give me my dose of feeling better. Whether you sort out your inner thoughts and feelings on your own, in prayer, with a friend, or with a counselor, get to the bottom of your inner turmoil. The healthier you both are, the healthier your marriage will be.
- Agree on Some Alone Time. It makes sense for dating and engaged couples to spend a lot of time together (and many do as much time together as possible); but, after marriage, being together constantly can become overwhelming and smothering. Agreeing to spend time apart each week will give you the opportunity to nourish other relationships, get caught up on tasks, and recharge. If you are in the groove of taking me-time pre-marriage, it will be easier to continue doing so once you are married. (However, make sure you agree on when those other-friend times happen. It is also very important to make new friendships with other couples – and, that’s likely going to happen on the weekend. So, if you are in the pattern of reserving your alone time with friends on the weekend, you will want to consider moving that so you both can become friends with other couples.)
- Fight! Fight! Fight! Some of our clients look horrified when we suggest they get in a fight before getting engaged. Perhaps I looked at my professor the same way when he told my fellow twenty-year-olds and me not to get married before having a big fight. And, you know… I get it now. ~smile~ Fighting is something married couples do and you want to be prepared for how the other person does it. We never condone physical fighting or anything which can be considered abusive. When we use the word ‘fight’, we mean ‘have a serious disagreement which requires time, effort, compromise, and humility to solve.’ Do not hold in your negative feelings; be upfront about how you feel. If you let your issues stew inside, they will eventually explode out of you. Arguing, resolving, and moving on is healthy; but, holding back, growing resentful, and resorting to contemptuous statements and gestures is not. Learn to fight fair. Learn each other’s triggers. Learn how to disagree without abusing or even pushing each other’s buttons.
- Grow Your Family Relationships. How a man treats his mom and how a woman treats her dad is a significant indicator of how he or she will treat a future spouse. If there are issues between parents and children, those hurts and defensive feelings are guaranteed to pop up in marriage. So, take some time while you are preparing for the rest of your life to work on your parental (and other familial) relationships. If you need to restore and heal relationships, now is the time. If you need to do some soul searching and forgiving, now is the time. If there is any possible way to make peace with your family – especially your parents – do so before your wedding. A peaceful, calm spirit makes conditions favorable for a peaceful, calm newlywed experience. At least, far calmer than if you were wrestling with pain and anger.
- Create a Chore Chart. Before talking about how to divide the chores, get a little insight into each other’s cleaning pasts. What did your sweetheart have to do around the house growing up? Are you both prepared to take care of a home? Are there housekeeping lessons (e.g., cooking, cleaning, laundry, basic repair, etc.) either (or both) of you need before caring for a living space together? Next, talk about which chores you loathe and which chores you do not mind so much. Use that information when deciding who will be in charge of what chore. Talk about how you prefer to clean (all at once, throughout the week, or only as it needs it) and create a chore chart together. Allow room for tweaking. ~smile~
- Get Real about Your Annoying Habits. We all have something about us which irks other people at least some of the time. For example, I occasionally feel the need to playfully take on the personality of an endearing four-year-old, snuggle up to Eric, get in his face, and (adorably) beg for his attention. When he is in a good mood, he laughs and plays along. When he is tired or focused on something, he shoots me a look. After thirteen years, I am familiar enough with the look that I know when to revert back to my thirty-five year old self. In addition to my childlikeness, I can let clutter pile up, clear my throat like an old man, and talk really loudly when I am on the phone. Before we were married, I wanted him to think I was delightful (as any young lady would), but the jig is up. He knows my annoying habits and I know his (and have vocalized my feelings about them – maybe once or twice ~smile~). Before moving your relationship forward, talk about your habits (the good, bad, and the ugly). Do not hide the real you. No one would stay married if dealing with aggravating traits was a divorceable offense. Face it, we are all annoying creatures in some way or another. Having a heads up will help you both adjust to your new life together.
Marriage is a lot like a rollercoaster. It can be fun, exhilarating, and create amazing memories; or, it can be scary, unsettling, and nauseating. If I expect to enjoy a ride, I have to make sure I have eaten something light, am well hydrated, and have the correct dosage of Dramamine in my system. If not, what is meant to be fun in the sun becomes a panic-induced run to the nearest bathroom. But, if I prepare in advance, I can relax and enjoy the ride. We recommend doing the work to prepare. If you want deep preparation (which we recommend), connect with us for our pre-engagement or premarital counseling services.
Take time to prepare and simplify. You can wait until you are creeping up the tracks, but by then, it is a little late. The time you invest now is most definitely not a waste.
How can you better prepare yourself for the dating to marriage transition?