Lisa and Christopher during the dating years.
“We read a lot of articles and books about how to get through the engagement process, but no one ever talked to us about what it would be like the first year of our marriage. I wish we had known what to expect,” said one of the couples my husband and I mentor. This is a common comment, and if you find yourself having similar feelings, do not fret! You are not alone. The first year of marriage is fabulous, but it can also be difficult. Two people learning to become one does not happen overnight. There is good reason the Jewish men in biblical times were not allowed to go off to war the first year of their marriage. This was done so they could stay home and “strengthen the marital bond.” (Deuteronomy 24:5).
In our modern culture, taking a full year hiatus from society is not feasible, but it should highlight the importance of those first 12 months of marriage. It is not “business as usual.” Instead, we should be very intentional with our approach to each day.
Although I could create an endless list of tips to help newlyweds during their first year, I will mention the top 10 things we see that repeatedly surface. I hope these help you be proactive so you can build a strong foundation that will last throughout your marriage.
1. Combine Your Finances: When we marry, we enter a covenant that states we will be there for each other and support each other, in good times and bad. We take a vow where two become one and we learn to cleave to each other. If our spouse is sick, we take care of them. If our spouse is in danger, we stand in the gap to protect. We combine every aspect of our lives, including our names and our identities, but when it comes to money we say, “Nope! You go to your corner and I’ll go to mine.” Combining finances is one way you support each other. If one spouse brings debt into a marriage, the other spouse helps carry the load of that debt. It is no different than if one spouse brought an illness into a marriage, the other spouse would help carry that burden. Side note: Combining finances does not mean one partner now has extra money to play with. Plans, goals, and big purchases should be mutually decided as your finances belong to both of you, not just one.
2. Create A Budget: In our family we use the word Rachel Cruz uses. We do not have a budget; we have a spending plan. Ahhh…. That sounds much better! Once you combine your finances, it is crucial that the two of you create a budget. Even if you have agreed that one spouse will handle the finances, it is important that both of you are involved in setting the spending plan. It is also important you meet regularly to review. Too often we hear one spouse say, “Finances are not my thing.” As a new mom, bandaging bloody wounds was not my thing, either, but I had to do it. A 2018 survey by Ramsey Solutions revealed the number one thing couples fight about is money, and money fights are the second leading cause of divorce. Yet, it is the topic many couples avoid. A healthy marriage takes two mature adults to thrive, and this is one area both husband and wife need to step up to the plate. For help in this area, I recommend you go here: https://www.daveramsey.com/budgeting/how-to-budget
3. Marriage Counseling: Many couples go through some type of marriage counseling before they walk down the aisle. Why do we study before a big test in school? So, we can choose the correct answers. If we do study, and we still encounter a question on the quiz we have not seen, hopefully we have gained enough knowledge to make an educated decision as to how to proceed. Marriage counseling accomplishes the same thing. It is impossible for a counselor to prepare you for everything you will face in marriage, but they can give you valuable tools to help you navigate the waters. Do you keep a tool chest in your home? Why? So, you are prepared to fix things when they need repairing. If you did not have counseling before you married, it is never too late! My husband and I mentored engaged and married couples at our church through a year-long class. It is not uncommon for an engaged couple to go through the entire class, then stay another full year after they have married. The topics repeat after one year, so even though these couples hear the same thing twice a common comment is, “I thought I understood that lesson when I was engaged, but now that I am hearing it as a married person, it has an entirely different meaning.” There are many online courses you can use, but the one we utilize is by Leslie and Les Parrott called SYMBIS (Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts). Les is a clinical psychologist and his wife, Leslie, is a marriage and family therapist, and both are renowned for their marriage expertise. My husband and I have seen this mentoring forum change relationships. As we like to call it: Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts…Or After! It is never too late to seek proactive marriage counseling so you can begin your marriage on a firm foundation.
4. Good Manners: Manners are as important in marriage as they were when you were dating. Husbands (or wives 😊), did you bring your sweetheart flowers when you dated? Do you still bring her flowers now that you are married? If not, why did you stop? Did you verbally and physically support each other’s activities before you married? Did you continue this after you married? My husband and I began dating when he was fifteen. I cannot begin to count how many of his sporting events I attended during this time in our lives. Once we married, my husband continued to play sports through an intramural league. Guess what? He still wanted me to attend his games. It is easy to become comfortable in our marriages, which is a good thing. This is part of two becoming one. But if we are not careful, our comfort leads to laziness and our laziness can lead to a lack of servitude. When I am in my reading chair in the mornings, my husband does not walk by without peeking into my coffee cup. If it is empty, he fills it up. This is an act of service. The key is to be intentional in how we treat each other. Respect, gratitude, serving each other will go a long way to establishing, and keeping, a healthy relationship. Remember that manners are nothing more than an outward representation of the condition of your heart. If your heart is full of joy, it will show in your manners. If your heart is full of resentment and anger, this, too, will be revealed in how you treat others.
Celebrating our anniversary with dinner at our favorite North Carolina hangout.
5. Never Stop Dating: Many engagements last more than a year. It is not uncommon to spend a large majority of this time focused on planning the ceremony. Your big day arrives, you enjoy a fabulous wedding, and you take a great honeymoon. The first month or two after the wedding are spent writing thank you notes, organizing your home, and just getting settled into your new life. Then one day you wake up and realize you have completed these tasks and you look at each other and say, “Now what?” You had worked together for so long on a shared project, and suddenly you no longer have a common goal. This can be a little unsettling for some newlyweds. Now is the time to practice the word I stated at the beginning of this article and become intentional about dating again. Without constant and planned connection, the whirlwind of life will take over and the two of you will end up more as roommates than husband and wife. You might still have a good marriage, but a great marriage comes when each of you remain #1 to the other person. Life has different seasons, and the child-rearing years can be difficult when it comes to dating. Your time is spent taking care of little ones, and by the end of the day, you are exhausted, leaving little energy for each other. This is a big reason dating needs to be an intentional act and not something you do when you “feel” like it. When our son was two, he went through a phase where he was unhappy when we left him with a babysitter. My husband and I tried to be intentional about date nights. On one such evening we were pulling out of the driveway only to see bright red pudgy cheeks and hands glued to the living room window. As our son screamed, we drove away. Of course, I did what any good mom would do. I began to cry, too! I will never forget what my husband did. He stopped the car, looked me in the eye and said, “We are going on our date night…and we WILL have fun.” He made dating a priority in our marriage, especially during those child-rearing years. Neither of us “felt” like a date night as we left our son in hysterics, but “feeling” and “doing” are often two different things. Two minutes later we called the babysitter, and we could hear our child laughing in the background. We honored our commitment to put our marriage first, even when we did not always want to. After your wedding activities have passed, find new activities you can do together, new projects to work on, and never stop dating.
6. Make New Friends: Once you are married, most friendships transition with you into your new life, but not always. Some couples, especially if they married young in life, find their single friends do not want to hang out with them as much. This is due to the fact you have moved into a different season of life. Another reason a friendship might be left behind is if that person does not work well within your marriage. If they talk badly about your spouse, or are not supportive of your marriage, it may be time to do a little distancing. Putting boundaries around your marriage is crucial for a healthy relationship. A must read for every couple is Boundaries in Marriage by Dr. Henry Cloud. Some new marriages experience loneliness, which can seem odd considering you just entered a covenant with your best friend, but this is normal. Be intentional about finding new couples you can enjoy together. My husband and I have many friends, but one way we were intentional about building a strong network was through a dinner group with five other couples. The twelve of us are like-minded and have supported each other through good and bad times. Find couples that you share common interests with and build up these relationships in your newly formed marriage.
7. Building Careers: Depending on your stage of life when you marry, many couples are in the career-building phase. This can be tough, because it often means you do not see each other as much as you would like. The key to survival is communicating what everyone’s expectations will be. And this communication should happen, when possible, before you enter this season. When my husband started his firm, we knew the first 1-2 years would be difficult, and we would spend most of our time apart. We also had a 5-year-old child to think about. Creating the business had been a goal for many years, and we had agreed, together, that we were willing to make the sacrifices necessary. These included financial sacrifices and quality of life sacrifices. We went into this with our eyes wide open, and we were very intentional and strategic about how we were going to schedule our lives and the time we spent together. For a full year, my husband rarely ate a dinner at home. We both knew the importance of sharing meals as a family, so each night our son and I would pack a picnic basket and head to the office. The time together was important for the growth of our child and the health of our marriage. Everyone in the family makes sacrifices when you are building a career. The key is to be intentional upfront, communicate what it is going to take (and then triple that expectation because you will have grossly underestimated!), put on your calendar set times you will spend together (otherwise you will work nonstop), and have a flexible attitude that can pivot when those plans do not always work out. Remember this part of your life is a season, and all seasons eventually pass. You need to be in this together, though, and you need to support each other through this journey. My husband told me one day, “If the world says I will succeed, but you do not believe in me, I will fail. If the world tells me I will fail, but I know you say I will succeed, then I will succeed.” A spouse has more influence on their partner than almost any other outside force. It is a precious gift that has been given to us. But as with anything that is valuable, it must be treated with the utmost of care, never to be abused or taken advantage of.
8. Holidays: We see more hurt feelings around the holidays than any other time of year. Usually, it is because the newlyweds have not communicated with each other as to what their expectations are. The easiest way to handle this is for each of you to write down all holidays, celebrations, and events that are important to you throughout the year. This can be everything from Christmas and birthdays to going back to your college homecoming each year. If it is important to you, write it down. Then, sit down to discuss these items and decide how you will approach each one. If the parents and the in-laws live in the same town, this can sometimes make the holidays easier to navigate. If they live in separate towns, you will need to decide how to divide up the visits. The advice we give our newlywed couples is everyone needs to give a little. This includes parents and in-laws, but also the bride and groom. Things will not always turn out the way you had envisioned, because now you are dealing with (usually) at least 3 different family units. Logistically, this can be difficult. Have an attitude of grace and do your best to find an equitable solution. At the same time, the two of you need to create your own family traditions. My husband and I always had one date night in the middle of December at our favorite steak house, and then we would drive around enjoying the Christmas lights. It was our calm in the middle of a busy month. The key is, be intentional about things that are important to you, work together to create a plan, and then each of you honor that plan (and each other) with a positive attitude. Holidays will change once you marry compared to what you always did as a child. For some, it can create a sense of sadness. This is part of the“leaving” part of marriage. You have left your old life behind, but you now get to create an exciting new life with your partner, which is a joyous time, indeed!
9. Make Your House a Home: Home should be a place where you want to go. An escape for your soul. It does not take much to make a house a home, but a few specific things can create the warmth and feeling of security most people are seeking. If your spouse enjoys his quiet time, giving him a corner in the living room with a cozy chair, table, and lamp where he can read creates a sense of “this is my own little area.” In your home use lamps instead of overhead lighting. The lower, softer light creates a better ambiance. A soft blanket draped over a couch with fluffy pillows gives you a place to relax and wrap yourself in warmth. If your home has a fireplace, use it. Lit candles can make a home smell clean. (I try to stay with the same scent throughout the house.) A good way to set up a home is to go through the five senses. How does your home look, feel, smell, sound, taste? Sight: furniture, lighting, creature comforts, no clutter. Touch: fluffy blanket, textured upholstery, soft pillows. Smell: candles, fire burning, meal on the stove. Sound: music playing, fire crackling. Taste: fruit sitting out, fresh cookies, BBQ on the grill. Even when I cannot daily accomplish all the above, the one thing I put as a top priority is to keep a neat home. Notice I did not say clean! My home is not always clean, and trust me, low lights and candles go a long way to hiding a multitude of sins. But clutter is difficult to hide. Try to keep messes to a minimum or keep them in a certain area of the house that is easy to shut off. A cluttered mess creates a cluttered brain, but out of sight, out of mind works almost every time! The most important thing about a home is for every family member to know they are welcome. If you find yourself working late because you are avoiding walking through that front door, then there is a problem that needs to be addressed. Conflicts do not go away. They just fester and become more infected. Deal with the little things up front so they do not become big things later. Our home should be a refuge and it can be with a little TLC.
10. Etiquette Tip: This would not be a Lisa Lou blog if I did not give at least one etiquette tip. Remember, etiquette is different than manners. Manners is the manifestation of the condition of our heart. Etiquette encompasses the guidelines we follow to function together in society. Women, if you have chosen to take your husband’s name, and you follow the traditional manner of presentation, this is how your name will appear when written together with your spouse’s name: Suzy and John Cooper. The woman’s name goes before the man’s name. It is not John and Suzy Cooper. It is Suzy and John Cooper. Why? Cooper is John’s surname (last name). It is the hereditary name that has passed down his family line. His given name (first name; name “given” to him at birth) is not to be separated from his surname (his inherited last name). The wife married into the last name, but that name is not on her birth certificate. Thus, the reason the wife’s name goes first, and the husband’s name goes second, when both names are written together.
There really is something called post-wedding blues. It does not happen to all couples, but it does happen to some. If you know this, you will not worry should it pop up in your marriage. You will be able to recognize it as normal, and being armed with this knowledge, you can be proactive in stopping those blues (or at least minimizing them) in their tracks.
In a Time magazine article written by Jo Piazza, she talks about marriage. “During the beginning of my own marriage, I spoke with a therapist who referred to the first year as ‘the wet cement year,’ because it’s the time when both members of a couple figure out how to live as partners without getting stuck, without developing bad habits that might trap them later. It’s a time to establish good patterns and ways of being together that should continue for the rest of your marriage.”
I love this visual. When the cement is first poured, it can still be adjusted. As the cement begins to harden, it becomes more difficult to move. Once the cement has dried, the foundation is set. The first year of marriage is the time to establish your foundation, because once that foundation has set, sometimes only a jackhammer can fix what has been laid.
Put each other first, be kind, show grace, have mercy, communicate up front, be intentional. And never forget the Golden Rule: treat your spouse as YOU want to be treated. If you both do this, you will have a marriage that sizzles.
Together with you,