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Sherry Amatenstein is a New York City-based marriage therapist and author who wrote, First Comes Love. Then Comes Marriage. Then Comes ...? in the new issue of Brides. For the piece, Amatenstein interviewed nearly 50 couples who've been married between one and 28 years to find out what happens once newlywed-bliss wears off and real life kicks in. Here, Amatenstein reveals how the first year of marriage differs from the fifth according to the couples she surveyed — and the results are surprising.
Year One: Bumpy, Yet Blissful
Shockingly, it's not all about the sex: In fact, newlyweds Norah Walsh and Guido Elgueta are barely having any. Guido explains, "Normally it's twice a week but for the past five months circumstances have had us living at her dad's house so it doesn't feel comfortable...I'm not discontent. It is what it is." For Dequiana Jackson, her post-marriage sex life took an unexpected turn at year two. "I'm happy but I don't think we have sex enough. For some reason Will is like, 'The girlfriend you can do everything with; the wife is on a pedestal.'" I tell him, "We don't need to cut things down now that I'm your wife."
Romance rules: Instead of the clichéd image of newlyweds going at it like rabbits, new marrieds are all about classic romance. "I'm old school. A perfect evening is Dequiana and me, a blanket on the floor, feeding each other strawberries and whipped cream, talking and getting lost in each other's eyes..." Will says.
Giving up free agent status: Doug Crawford puts it this way about the realization that he's no longer a solo act: "I can't just leave and go to the beach on a whim." Rather than mourning his single-guy freedom, he spins it into a positive. "Being responsible to another person isn't so much about giving up stuff as it is choosing to do something else. I choose Lexi."
Year Five: Team Players
Dare one another to stre-tch: At this stage, partners feel cushioned enough by being in a secure, happy relationship to try things that scare them like a new hobby, job, or a sport. "Even doing this interview is out of my comfort zone!" says Paul Matthews, who's been married for five years to his wife Charity.
Marriage, Inc.: Life together becomes less about planning fun adventures and more about planning and implementing long-term goals. Think: buying a house and having children. Expectations about what a marital partnership is and can be shifts. "I didn't understand that you're not always wildly in love, there are times you are business partners," David Knudsen, married six years to Carrie Patch, explains. "but it's so amazing to be with someone so intensely, watch her grow figuratively and literally — she gave birth to our two kids!"
A fight isn't the end of the world: A fight can feel like the kiss of death for a newlywed couple, but pairs often come to an important realization by the time five years roll around: As long as you treat one another with a respect during the argument (like learning how to bite your tongue!), then a disagreement is just that. Maggie Reyes, married to Mariano for six years, reports her fighting style has evolved: "In the beginning I would withdraw. Now I know he has my best interests at heart so I'll just say, 'I need a minute to process it,' then we'll come back to the issue later on.'" Mariano adds, "No one is out to 'defeat' the other."
Stay tuned for Part II to find out what happens at 10, 15, and 20 years of marriage. Also, be sure to pick up the April/May issue, on newsstands now, to read Amatenstein's accompanying story.