"Marriage is Hard"
You are newly married. Should you be jumping for joy...or running away in terror? Due to all of the mixed messages couples receive, it can be hard to tell!
"Marriage is a lot of work"
"All you need is love"
"Marriage is tough. Good luck."
"You're so lucky to have found your soul mate!"
"50% of all marriages end up in divorce."
Drawing from my experience of being newly married and working with couples in my therapy office, I can confirm that all of those statements have some elements of truth. However, what many fail to provide newly married couples is an explanation of why marriage is hard and what couples can do to navigate the first year of marriage and beyond.
Marriage is Forever
You are committed to someone FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. Suddenly you realize that the habits that you found to be mildly to moderately annoying are going to be a part of your life, FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. He's a saver and she's a spender....FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. She's clean and he's messy....FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. He's a stickler about being on time and she's always late...FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. Do you remember how long marriage is designed to last? FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.
Early in marriage, the concept of marriage being forever can feel a little daunting and cause a sense of urgency not previously felt in the relationship. When you are dating, you have an escape plan. You may not ever dream of or desire to use the escape plan, but you have one. The escape plan is also less risky, albeit unappealing. You can end a relationship with one conversation, followed by an undetermined amount of time for grieving and then you're back looking for the next mister or miss right.
Once married, the escape plan is taken off of the table, potentially leaving each partner looking at the relationship thinking "Is this it? Can I live with this? Let's fix this problem as soon as possible!". If you have witnessed an unhappy marriage (or several), you are probably aware of the potential pitfalls in marriages. This can make you more susceptible to the fear that minor issues will spiral into major issues. If you are a "fixer" by nature, when you see a problem, you want to find a solution- and fast! However, most newlyweds quickly learn that marriages aren't "fixed". Marriages are adjusted and adapted to. It is important to remember that as a couple you have already had many yesterdays, and you will have many tomorrows to make the necessary adjustments to your new life as a married couple.
Marriage Can Be Emotionally Painful
Both spouses have needs, and when emotional needs are not met, it is painful. There is also that pesky task of deciding who is responsible for what- and I don't mean who does the dishes and the laundry (although those decisions have to be made too!). It is figuring out whether your hurt, restlessness or unhappiness is your own responsibility, your spouse's responsibility, or the even more frustrating answer; some of both! How do you decide how much space is allocated for "me time" or "couple time"? The answers to those questions will depend on a variety of factors, and will be different for every couple and every stage of life.
There will be days that you don't feel "in love" with your spouse. You may feel more like friends, roommates, foes or strangers. Don't panic! It is some common on popular media to see and hear couples saying things like "I love you, but I'm not in love with you anymore" and find that a perfectly acceptable (and final) nail in the coffin of the relationship/marriage. Although the feeling of being "in love" is amazing, it isn't realistic to expect to sustain that intensity of any emotion all day every day. Can you imagine being intensely angry all day every day? Yikes! Some days, love is more an action than a feeling. In fact, if you have temporarily "lost that loving feeling", the best way to recapture it is to act in loving ways towards your spouse. This can and should be done any time things are feeling a little "stale" emotionally. If you want the love flame to stay alive, keep stoking the fire!
Also, due to the closeness and intensity of your relationship with your spouse, it will inevitably trigger any "unfinished business" you might have from childhood with your attachment figures, also known as, your parents. Mary Ainsworth (1971, 1978) discovered that there are three different attachment styles: secure, avoidant, and ambivalent. The attachment style of each person in the marriage will greatly impact how you relate to one another. Securely attached adults are going to have an easier time adjusting to marriage than insecurely (avoidant or ambivalent) attached adults, but if the issues are properly identified and addressed, it does not have to doom the marriage to fear and misunderstanding. It can be helpful for an individual with an insecure attachment style to address and heal those wounds in therapy. Other times however, individuals are able to work through their fears and past hurts with one another outside of the therapy setting.
Discover Your Attachment Style!
Communicating is Easier Said Than Done
All of a sudden, you go from an independent adult capable of making decisions about your life and your future, to being bound to another adult's decisions and future. Their welfare impacts your welfare and vice versa.There are some "wrong" ways to navigate your marriage, but there are also a number of "right" options for each couple. This ambiguity makes it both harder and easier to figure out the answers to the questions the first year of marriage inevitably brings. It also makes communicating with your spouse essential.
It can be very frightening and difficult to share your vulnerabilities with your partner. Most people have an underlying sense of inadequacy and fear of abandonment. For some, there is a belief that sharing anger puts them at risk of losing their partner. Some may feel inadequate for having any needs at all. However, as much as you love your partner and your partner loves you, neither of you are mind readers! It may be easier to express your feelings through nonverbal avenues such as pouting, slamming doors or heavy sighing. However, just because your partner may recognize that you are upset, it does not mean that they know what you are upset about or what to do to fix it.
Each individual will need to find their own process for sharing their needs and concerns with their partner. Being up front with one another about which emotions are difficult to share and or receive is a great place to start. For example, "Sometimes I blow up and I need 20 minutes to calm down before I can have a real conversation" or "It is very hard for me when you raise your voice" or "When you are crying, I have a hard time not shutting down or leaving the room". Some couples are more expressive and others are more conflict avoidant. Both types have their pros and cons. Whatever you do, do not give up on sharing with and listening to your partner. When communication shuts down it leaves a void that is more often than not filled with unwanted visitors (assumptions, affairs, doubts)!
Some assume that if their communication is "good", then that means they will always like what they hear from their partner. Wouldn't that be great?! Disagreements and hurt feelings are inevitable, but they don't have to be destructive. Making an effort to eliminate insults, generalizations and interruptions is a great place to start. Also, BREATHE. If you're so upset that you're unable to stay calm enough to listen to your partner and respond in a way that you'll be proud of in an hour or two, it is time to take a break from the conversation. Pick a time to reconvene and walk away.
What NOT To Do When Communicating With Your Spouse
Marriage Tests and Changes You
The trial fires of marriage are working towards burning us into our best selves. We must allow the fire to do its work! Disengaging from the marriage fire may be necessary for a time, but leaving yourself (or your spouse!) out in the cold is not a good idea in the long term. The fire warms us up, helps us shed our layers, and helps us get a good look at what is going on underneath the surface. It sheds light on both the positive and the negative qualities of yourself, your spouse, and your marriage. There will be days that you are feeling and expressing concern and frustration with your spouse. There will also be days you are so grateful and humbled by the fact that you get to go through life with someone as wonderful as your spouse!
Life is a process. Marriage is a process. Marriage can be very fun and rewarding, even if it is "hard" or "work".