I’m going to tell you about one thing that will improve a lot after your first year of marriage…
“I know you were exaggerating,” Bill says, smiling across the table from me at one of our new favorite pubs, “but did I really make you cry every day our first year of marriage?”
We’d ditched a party after an hour for our own after-party date night, a practice that I, an avowed last-to-leave-extrovert, have come to love. Bill remembered something I’d said earlier to a newly wed couple.
“No,” I answer, “you didn’t. But I did cry a lot and almost always because you hurt my feelings, which, to be accurate, is what I said you did every day.”
This, I go on to say, had more to do with me than with him. As feelings go, mine were more frayed, no, unraveled, than at any other phase in my life since. The first year of marriage does that to women. And the men they marry have to deal with it.
This conversation, the one with the newly wed couple, started when I sat next to my friend, Shade, as she used a wet paper towel to dab the spaghetti sauce she’d spilled all over her shorts on the way to the party, shaking her head and saying, “Why does this bother me so much? It shouldn’t bother me.”
I remembered our first year when Bill braked suddenly and the dish of beef stroganoff we were taking to a friend’s apartment slid forward and sloshed all over our front seat. Which was bad enough, but then Bill laughed. And that, more than anything, bothered me. I wondered out loud if Shade’s husband Courtlandt had caused the spaghetti sauce spill, but no, Shade said. It was her fault.
And then it occurred to me that the heightened emotions of the first year are no one’s fault. It’s just the way it is. Bill and I always say we had a blissful first year, and on one level that’s true. But as soon as we got past it, we realized it how hard it was. Hurt-feelings-all-over-the-place hard.
I was going to call this article “One Thing That Can Improve After the First Year of Marriage,” because, of course, it doesn’t in every marriage, but I wanted a more hopeful title than that. I was also going to write about “Five Things That Can Improve”—but let me assure you of this: if you can navigate your way out of the dysfunction that will surely exist in your first year by talking to each other, your marriage will improve. In way more than five ways.
A theme I hear all the time from young wives goes something like this: “How can he not know that I need his help?” This theme varies according to the wife’s standards of cleanliness, project completion, etc. In most cases, men do not know you need them to help you. They aren’t lazy or insensitive or even untrained by their mothers, they just don’t get it. And they certainly will not get your sideways methods of asking them to help. Nagging, hinting, huffing, and haranguing may get tasks done, but they will not improve the thing your marriage needs more than dish washing or tax forms filed on time: communication.
…if you can navigate your way out of the dysfunction that will surely exist in your first year by talking to each other, your marriage will improve.
Learn to talk about this stuff. And about everything else. Nothing is too petty in the first year. Bring it up when it isn’t an issue and don’t accuse. No nevers and alwayses. See these first year bumps for what they are: practice. Don’t freak out over them or run away from them. Lean in. Lean in with love, that is. Remember grace.
You are setting some standards here, and I’m not talking about who will do what chores. If Bill and I had to dig beneath our discussions about household tasks all the time now, if we had to talk about our parents or our guilt feelings or identity issues, I’d run over myself with a Swiffer wet jet. We don’t have to do that anymore, or at least not every week. All because we learned to communicate about it a long time ago.
You are going to have conflict over how you spend your time and your money. You will have to talk about sex (which can be really fun, but maybe scary at first). You are not going to understand each other. You are going to be fearful from time to time. You are going to wonder about each other’s sanity when you get inside your spouse’s head. You are going to have issues.
And then one day you’ll wake up to find you don’t have quite so many issues as you did that first year. You’ll still fight, but I hope you see that as a refresher course in good communication. A trip down memory lane to that “blissful” first year when you learned how to fight right by fighting all wrong, when you discovered a few little tricks that come in handy now in the heat of battle. Maybe you won’t remember this right away, but somewhere in mid-sentence you just might, and your heart will thaw.
Nagging, hinting, huffing, and haranguing may get tasks done, but they will not improve the thing your marriage needs more than dish washing or tax forms filed on time: communication.
Bill and I laugh now about the time I stood behind a door and stuck my tongue out at him. It was childish, but I think it’s rather mature that I can say I only did it once, don’t you? We have a veritable time chronicling our bad communication moments that led us to where we are today. And we’ll keep on having them, just not quite as often. We haven’t reached perfection, but we’ve landed on our own clandestine, little island, where we can ditch a party together purely for the purpose of communication—more like communion—with candlelight and live music thrown in for good measure, making use of the skills we’d barely begun to learn all those years ago.
Want to read more of our favorite marriage articles? Try 5 Things I’ve Learned in a Decade of Wifing, Our Secret Marriage Code, Surviving an Affair—Mine, and You Didn’t Marry a Grown Up Husband
Image by Stills by Hernan.