It all begins with a first phone call, a first text, or a first date. The dating stage is filled with joy and maybe some doubt. Then comes the excitement of the engagement stage. Finally, after months of planning, the all-important wedding day arrives! These are each special seasons filled with squeals and giggles from friends, and lots of advice.
When our relationships begin, our loved ones have questions. They want to meet the person we are with so they can form an opinion. Throughout the dating season, they weigh in, listen, and enjoy the journey with us.
Engagement brings a whole new excitement. As we plan, shop, complete pre-marital counseling, and enjoy wedding showers, people surround us to help, encourage, (sometimes discourage), and create memories.
At the wedding, people flock to give hugs, blessings, and gifts. There are toasts. There are carefully penned words written in fancy white cards. There is an army waiting to send us off on our honeymoon.
Sharing your courtship and wedding with others is joyful; we need people. But, after this avalanche of family and friend time, what should happen after the wedding buzz dies down? Should we resume life as previously lived? Should we call our parents and friends? Should we give ourselves some space? Should we attend all of our usual events or take some time away for a while?
The newlywed season is unchartered territory. You have been a son, daughter, niece, nephew, sibling, and friend much longer than a husband or wife. Where should our time go and how should we divide our loyalties?
The First Year
Based on the admonition of Deuteronomy 24:5, Eric and I recommend to our clients that they take a break from any unrequired responsibilities in their first year of marriage so they can spend time together, get to know each other better, and set the tone for their marriage. Can graduate school wait? (Yes.) Can you afford to work one job instead of two? (If so, then yes.) Can you lessen your involvement in various extra-curricular activities? (Absolutely yes.)
We do not advise couples to fall off the face of the earth, or to be so involved in each other that they make those around them feel uncomfortable or unwanted. It is important to maintain a connection with loved ones, but without pressuring yourself to attend every event or involve yourself in every family matter.
Basic principle: Your first year of marriage should be about you and your spouse growing together – spiritually and emotionally – and constructing a firm foundation.
Consider these five reasons you should be a prioritize each other above others as a newlywed:
- You will never have your first year of marriage again. The newlywed season is very short and should be sweet. For the rest of your lives, you will have people needing you and managing responsibilities. While it is just the two of you, savor it and do not take it for granted. Be determined to look back on that year fondly (and not with regret).
- The habits you begin in your first year will be hard to break in future years – so take the time to create good ones! When Eric and I got married, I moved into “his” house. Though he bought the house after we were engaged with the intention of it being our home, he moved in first, set up the furniture, and made it his home. When I moved in five months later, we were not intentional about making it ours; and, in essence, I moved into his After a while, I began to resent feeling like a guest in my own home. By letting stuff happen instead of being intentional, we fell into some bad habits which harmed our emotional connection. After those habits were habits, it was extremely difficult to change them. Some habits, we are even still working to break eleven years later!
- It is hard to find your groove with a thousand opinions floating your way. There are many well-intentioned (and perhaps some poorly-intentioned) people in our lives who have dozens of thoughts about how we should live. Even when those opinions are motivated by love, they can overwhelm us if we try to digest them all at once. When a man and woman marry and move into a new life together, they need time to figure out their specific path for themselves. Not that they never need advice – young couples do; but, too much advice too quickly can create conflict between them. Do we listen to your mom? My mom? Your childhood pastor? My hair stylist? By strategically planning to spend a year focusing on each other, you and your love can cut down on the urge to entertain too many opinions.
- The strength of your marriage will affect every area of your life. Building a rock-solid foundation will not only be beneficial for you and your spouse, but for your job, your relationships, your ministries, and your future parenting. Think of your future marriage as an indestructible fort. Then, consider what you must do to make it indestructible. Building anything substantial takes time, effort, and a blueprint.
- Prioritizing your new marriage at this level will help combat the idea that you have reached the finish line. Dating and preparing for a wedding can feel like a whirlwind. At times, it is euphoric and, other times, it is stressful; but, the wedding almost always comes with a sense of completion: we are finally here, we made it, the wedding is over, we can rest, we can be, no more wedding details will plague our dreams! The mental idea that we are done can lead couples to fall into a lazy pattern. It is not intentional, but it can easily happen after pushing so hard towards a wedding and then having no particular goal waiting on the other side. Keeping your relationship as the focus of your first year gives you a shared goal to work towards while your marital bones are forming. Just as a pregnant woman takes extra care of herself while her baby is growing, couples in their first year should take extra care of their relationship while their collective oneness is fusing.
My Wise Uncle
When a cousin of mine was newly married, I remember being put off by his lack of involvement in our lives and family time. My wise uncle simply said, “Give them a year.” We appreciated my uncle’s wisdom as it helped put the situation into perspective. My cousin was a newlywed and he needed time to adjust and build a life with his wife.
So, I will echo my wise uncle: Give yourselves a year. Not a year to ignore or unplug, but a year to primarily focus on your new marriage. If you take the time to become a strong unit, you will be more prepared to tackle future struggles together and better equipped to help others who come to you for guidance. Put your oxygen mask on first.
Eric and I neglected each other too much in our first year and we still feel the effects from it. I did not want to let go of my single life and Eric threw himself into school. If we had been wiser, we would have declared June 11, 2005 through June 11, 2006 the year of Eric and Heather. So, learn from our mistakes. A year flies by, but it can make all the difference.
How do you plan to prioritize your first year of marriage?