This is my 100th post on this blog, so I wanted to make sure it was very important… so, I decided to talk about the first year of marriage. The impact of what you do in your first year of marriage is huge. Did you hear me? Okay, I’ll say it again…. The impact of what you do in your first year of marriage is HUGE! Why? The first year is when you both create your “normal.” Before marriage, assuming that you have not lived together before marriage, you have no idea how living with this person will look like (and even if you’ve lived with him or her prior to marriage, you still don’t know what living with this person as your spouse will really be like… marriage does change things). During the first few months, you are setting up your marital routines. By the time a year has passed, you have experienced every season together, made traditions (knowingly or unknowingly), and your natural actions and reactions to marital life have been fit into the mold you have created (again, knowingly or unknowingly).
When Eric and I met, we were in our undergraduate studies at Liberty University. We met in our Group Dynamics psychology class. During the duration of this class, we did not have an instant love connection; however, as we learned more about each other after the class ended, we found that we had similar career aspirations and life goals in mind. While I did not necessarily want to hang a shingle (i.e., start a business), I did want to work with couples in the areas of relationships as this had been my passion since I was a youth. Eric also wanted to work with couples and told me that he felt a specific calling from God in the tenth grade to be a counselor. It was exciting to meet someone that shared my love for counseling and relationships! As the months continued, we eventually moved from being just friends, to inseparable friends, to dating and courting, which then culminated in engagement. Two and a half years after meeting, we were finally man and wife. Together, as a life-long vision, we planned to serve others by helping them with their relationships.
We had completed our first semester of our graduate Master’s degree program in Marriage and Family Therapy when we were married. We quickly discovered that while we both had a passion to help couples, we studied very differently. He is an avid reader and would read the assigned textbooks cover-to-cover – and when he was home from his full-time job, it seemed he only came up for air to get food and take bathroom breaks (yes, I am exaggerating… some). Me, on the other hand… my mom tried everything in her power, while I was growing up, to help me love reading; yet, the more she pushed, the more I resisted. This resistance followed me from elementary school all the way through graduate school. I would continuously put off reading assignments, if I got to them at all. My preference in learning is to be shown something repeatedly instead of reading about it. This difference in study habits led us to continuously fight about my studying. He wanted me to delve into the material as he was and I wanted him to put the books down and pay attention to me. Differing from my premarital expectations of newlywed life, I often felt ignored. Some days, I even fantasized about burning his books. My least favorite phrase from him was, and probably still is, “… but I have to read.” (And now that we have completed graduate school, I hardly ever hear that anymore from him.)
During that first year, we began to separate emotionally. He would stay in the bedroom, reading and studying for hours, and I would watch movies. We did not spend as much time together as I expected we would have. Internally, I felt like we couldn’t help couples because we were so far apart ourselves. We still laughed together, had some fun together, and still shared a mutual care for each other, but I did not feel anything I thought I was supposed to feel as a newlywed. I did not feel pursued; I did not feel like I was more important than those books.
From his perspective, he didn’t see me as someone who was going to counsel with him, or cared about counseling with him – as we had previously planned, because I was not taking a vested interest in studying the material. He saw someone who preferred to be lazy and in her own little world instead of someone who wanted to study to show herself approved (II Timothy 2:15). We discussed and argued about these points many times – sometimes for hours – but it never led to resolution, so we continued to drift apart. I started resenting school and wanted no part of it; yet, at the same time, I was not willing to quit something I had always planned to do.
We later realized that we had jump-started our marriage into a downward spiral by jumping toward our long-term life aspirations too quickly – instead of spending time with each other in that first year. In retrospect, neither of us would have continued our graduate program (again, we were at the beginning) during the first year of our marriage if we could do it over again. We would have either both worked while neither of us attended graduate school during our first year of marriage – or one of us would have worked while the other went to school. However, at that time, we believed that if we could just get through our degree program, we’d have all of this magical time to spend together! If we could just hold on during those first few years, we would have a post-graduate school lifetime to enjoy each other! We could not have been more wrong.
We began a pattern of ignoring each other for personal desires – not out of maliciousness, but just because we had not yet solidified as a unified couple. Though committed to each other, we did what we knew and mostly kept our pre-marriage single behaviors. We consulted each other out of respect, but we each planned our lives around our personal goals and desires. For me, nothing much seemed to change after we got married other than my last name and address. Our relationship continued to revolve around counseling, but my passion for it waned considerably. My fun time revolved around my pre-marriage, single friends and I had little interest in having fun with Eric because I thought that it would often lead back to wearying discussions about school and studying. At that point, I really hated school and couldn’t wait to get that monkey off of my back.
Had we known then what we know now, we would’ve treated our first year of marriage as the most important year of our lives – as we should have. We would have had date nights weekly (or more often). We would have discovered new things to do together. We would have left school behind for a year to rest and to get to know each other deeply – and then pick up where we left off. We would’ve taken time to meet new couples and form our identity as a couple. We would’ve had more game nights and spent more time pursuing Christ together. We would’ve decorated and organized our home together more. We may have even chosen to volunteer together somewhere. At any rate, we would have been much less selfish with our time and much more giving of ourselves as a couple with a united front.
While we are living proof that negative patterns established in the first year of marriage can be broken and restored to health, we are here to scream out “It is so painful to do!” We strongly recommend taking your first year of marriage and treating it like gold. Have minimal external obligations for the first year – including serving in ministry (you will have many years ahead to do that; Deuteronomy 24:5). You will never have your first year again and you can create a haven of peace, a unified front, and an aroma of righteousness in your home during that time – or you can create a hostile, unpleasant environment. Do note that if you both do not actively strive to create an intimate and unified identity, you both will create a hostile and selfish environment by default. Before walking down the aisle, have a blueprint for your first year. We know that everything will not go as planned, but you can save yourself much heartache, frustration, anger, and arguments by verbally mapping out your first year together (and then write those plans down for later reference). Create some boundaries for your first year together – both from what you allow into your marriage and what energy you expend outside of your marriage. In doing so, you will be much better prepared to get the most out of your first year of marriage and cultivate it to be a blessing for years to come.