Marriage Success: How to survive the First Year and thrive after 30

As a colleague expressed about her recent engagement, “It’s exciting to think about starting a new life with my best friend, officially as husband and wife.  Although there is a bit of anxiety in the realization that I am now his beacon for love and support, I’m beyond confident that there is no other that will love him the way I do.”  Engagement is just the beginning of your long story together.  For the first time, couples begin to imagine what it will be like to call each other Husband and Wife, and have the amazing privilege of being the other’s caretaker…you are his just as he is yours.

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          Today I have two different perspectives to share with you.  Brianna, freshly married just 5-months ago, and my own parents, who have been married for many years.

Brianna, newly married to her love-boat Brian, is still in the dreamy “honeymoon” phase but surprisingly (or maybe not so surprising) has very similar thoughts on how to have a successful marriage… a sign that they, too, will be celebrating their 30th anniversary down the road, with decades of warm memories, deep-rooted respect for one another, and a shared excitement for what the rest of their lives have in store.  Brianna shares her thoughts on loving the First Year of marriage:

“Couples spend on average 18 months planning their wedding and just as soon as you get used to saying “my fiancé” – it’s time to change your relationship status to “married” and start thinking about being married!  Here are a few tips to help you plan for what’s in store after you say “I do”:

1.  Open all your gifts from your registry and have fun using them!   After your honeymoon, you might feel a bit strange…no vendors to call, no RSVPs to chase….what to do?!  Enjoy your time together!  Spend a night using your new kitchenware.  Make homemade pasta together, open a nice bottle of wine you got as a wedding gift using your new bottle opener, and break out the china.  Let’s face it – not everyone is proficient in the kitchen as soon as they get married but it’s certainly fun to learn together!

2.  Share Experiences.  He likes history.  I like advertising.  He likes to stay current on politics and listens to NPR, and I like to stay current on Pinterest and Entertainment columns.  We have our separate interests, which is really important – but what’s equally important is sharing experiences together.  We both love Mad Men, the beach, traveling, our dogs and cocktails, which makes for fantastic dates, but be open to hearing about his interests!  Speaking of dates, just because you’re married now doesn’t mean you should stop going out on dates.  Listening and learning from one another is important and opens your mind to new things!

3.  Be Spontaneous!  Spontaneity is what keeps things new, exciting and never boring!  It could be something small and thoughtful such as sending him a sweet text or bringing home his favorite beer and dessert to wind down after a long workday – or a larger affair such as planning a day trip to a nearby vineyard.  If you shower him with random acts of love – he will most likely return the favor with those beautiful flowers you’ve been eyeing!

4.  Don’t sweat the small stuff!  The first year of marriage is about going with the flow.  It’s about working together to figure out what works best for you as a couple. I’ve learned there will be fights…he’ll leave his gym clothes on the floor one too many times or return the empty milk carton to the fridge – and you may delete his favorite unwatched show on DVR or stress too much about the house being in pristine condition – but at the end of the day – is it worth picking a fight about it?  Those few quirky habits are only normal!  Realize you can’t change everything that bugs you – learn to accept them and smile knowing you’re spending time focusing on what matters most – one another.

5.  Have a game plan for finances.  Okay, this one isn’t fun and everyone warns new couples of this – but I can attest, if you both agree to how you’re going to contribute financially once you’re married, you’ll be in a great place starting your new life together.  Brian and I had this discussion before our wedding – we both agreed it made the most sense to us to have three accounts, “His”, “Hers” and “Ours.”  All of our joint expenses would be paid out of “Our” account – with the responsibility of our bills divided equally.  We agreed to a percentage of our salary we would each contribute to “Our” account – and the rest of the salary would go to our respective personal accounts.  That way, when Brian purchased his new surfboard or if I spent too much money at CVS on cosmetics –neither of us would be upset, oh…and for the spontaneous gifts (see point #3) you can get those without him knowing!

Above all, have fun!  Marriage is the absolute best when you share it with your best friend, the one you trust, confide in and can laugh uncontrollably with.  Remember, as Jon Krakauer proclaimed, “Happiness [is] only REAL when shared.”

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          My parents, who just celebrated their 30th anniversary last month, have never been more in love… a true inspiration for anyone who doubts the existence of a successful marriage.  They’re testament to the fact that there will be arguments, differences of opinion, and even hurtful moments during the life of a marriage but that if you love, unconditionally and with all your heart, your marriage will not only survive, it will thrive.  I’ve had the privilege of witnessing what it takes to be truly happy in a marriage and have learned that it all begins with self-respect and a certain independence that will bring life and excitement to your shared story.  After 30 years, my mom confidently explains their success:

“For us, our key words are: Friendship, Communication, Respect, Patience, and Honesty.  You also need to know when to be there for your spouse when they need it BUT also, just as importantly, know when to leave them alone!  It took us a long time to figure out the last one.  That’s when communication and honesty comes into play.  Let your spouse know…’I’m in a bad mood, it has nothing to do with you, could you please just give some space and don’t try to fix it.’

Friendship:   Think about your friends.  What drew you to them?  They make you laugh, like doing the same things, similar beliefs, like hanging out together, can’t wait to call them to share good news and know that you can always talk to them when you just need an ear.  Also, on the flip-side, I don’t know about you, but I’ve had disagreements with my best friend of 35 years (my college room mate) and yet to this day, we still talk at least once a week.  We may not always agree, but she’s my friend and has always been there for me, as I have been there for her.  I can’t imagine my life without her.  You should feel that way about your spouse.

Communication:  Whether it’s comfortable or uncomfortable for either you or your spouse, it HAS to take place.  Although not very romantic, finances are a part of any marriage.  Whether you have money or not, discuss your individual and joint income…how much needs to go into household general maintenance, investments, etc.  No matter how you decide to handle your income, or lack there-of, you have to discuss and agree.  For the first 15 years of our marriage I was the one who did the checkbook (yes, an actual checkbook before online banking and ATMs) and paid all the bills.  I can’t tell you how many times my husband asked “where did the money go?”  Handed him the checkbook….here you go.  He now takes care of paying the monthly bills…it’s a compromise.  Finances, sex, who emptied the dishwasher, did a load of laundry, vacation plans…whatever it is, and however silly you feel about the fact that it bothers you…TALK about it.  If you don’t, it becomes a festering issue that won’t go away until you take care of it.  Wishing it away never works.

Respect:  So, when you’re communicating, always do it with respect.  Yeah, I know, there are times while “communicating” you want to scream or walk out of the room…I’ve done that!  That’s okay.  Just remember after things have chilled out, go back…remember why you married them to put the disagreement into perspective.  It’s not always about what is said (as long as you’re being honest) but how it’s communicated.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a spouse not only disrespect the other, but in public, to top it off.  NOT acceptable!  Respect is mutual.  Even if you don’t think the other’s actions deserve a respectful response, it’s important that you show them respect anyway.   It goes back to that Golden Rule:  Treat your spouse as you expect to be treated in return.

Patience:  Oh patience… My personal example…we’re scheduled to leave for a trip (out of the driveway by 11am) to make our destination in 4 hours.  I’ve written up the packing list, done all the organizing, cooked pre-made meals, done the laundry, and packed the car (keep in mind this is for OUR VACATION)…my children and I are in the car and ready to go…NOW he has to check the oil and the tire pressure… oh, and did I mention he forgot the EZ Pass in the other car?  So we are now at least a half-hour late.  I am fuming.  The first hour into the trip is silent and tense.  Yahoo, fun times.  Now, when I look back on it, did it really matter that we were running late?  No.  He now admits that he could have prepped the car the day before or that morning before 11.  The first 15 years, yes I was angry at these things.  The past 15?  It’s simply not that important.  Enjoy your time together rather than sweating the small stuff.  The 30 minutes we lost at the beginning of the trip means nothing when remembering the fun times had on the tip itself.

One last note…Children.  If you decide to have a family, know that those early years will be filled with joy, laughter, pride, worry, school plays, car pool, soccer games, family holiday dinners, stressful vacations (someone always seems to get sick at Disney World…ahem, Kate), less money, more schedules than you know what to do with, less sleep, and less sex.  We wouldn’t change a thing.  Going through the trials of raising children has sharpened our negotiating skills, compromising abilities, and deepened our love more than we could have known.  Now that they’re out of the house, it’s our turn again and it’s better than ever!”

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          So as you start your new adventure, go into it with an open heart, knowing that some days your marriage may seem broken but there will also be days when it’s full beyond expectations.  Roll with it and enjoy the ride…

Cheers, to a long, happy, marriage!

Kate

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