They say the first year of marriage is the hardest—and a lot of times, they’re right. It seems like in the modern age, where two-thirds of couples live together for at least two years before they get married, that it shouldn’t be that tricky of a transition. But despite no obvious changes on the outside for many couples, the first year of marriage presents a lot of new challenges. “The first year of marriage is notoriously the hardest, even if you two have been living together for many years,” relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW, tells Brides. “Despite the fact that marriage doesn’t look that different from cohabitation, the symbolism and legality of it make it a very different animal.”
Meet the Expert
Aimee Hartstein, LCSW, is a relationship therapist based in New York.
So if you find yourself struggling in the first year, you’re not alone. It might feel like marriage shouldn’t be a huge change, but often something shifts. You’ve made a massive commitment, you’ve probably spent a lot of money, and you’re dealing with a post-wedding come down. And suddenly people are talking about ‘starting’ your lives together, even if you’ve been dating for years. It’s natural that the stress is going to set in. So here’s what you need to know about transitioning from fiancées to newlyweds because knowing that it’s different is half the battle.
Check-In With Yourself
To be a good partner you need to be feeling settled with yourself, so take some time to work out how you feel differently now that you’re married. “Knowing that this is a legal change that is forever binding, brings up all kinds of loaded feelings and expectations,” Hartstein says. So be honest with yourself: do you feel like things have changed? Do you have different expectations? If there are ways you think that marriage should look or if you think that your dynamic should change, you need to be aware of that. Or else, how can you expect your partner to be?
Be Patient With Each Other
The reason checking in with yourself is so important is that some of your changing feelings might not always be obvious—even to you. “A woman might not think twice about her role when cohabiting, but once she becomes a ‘wife’ she might be feeling on some level that the rules are different for both her and her husband,” Hartstein explains. “This can often be unconscious and catch people very unaware.” And the same thing can happen to a husband, so you need to be patient with each other. You may both need some time to work out why you may feel stressed or prickly with each other. If you notice your partner is having a tough time, give them some space to adjust.
Talk It Out
That being said, you shouldn’t just ignore the fact that you’re finding the transition difficult. “The best thing to do to help offset this is to talk to your spouse about what your expectations are, what their expectations are, and if need be consult a couple’s counselor,” Hartstein explains. “It might seem like overkill in the beginning of a marriage but a counselor can often spot weaknesses and problems well before the couple themselves can.” Even if you don’t find you need to seek help outside the relationship, talking is crucial. Share with your spouse the ways that you’re feeling things have changed and encourage them to do the same. If you start the conversation, it may force them to confront some of their feelings that they’ve been ignoring.
Make Time for Fun Together
Finally, don’t take it all too seriously. Part of the difficulty of the first year is that suddenly there’s this weight of marriage and paperwork and ‘forever’ hanging over your relationship. Try to take a step back and set time aside to be silly together. Go to a restaurant you went to when you were first dating and reminisce or try a new activity that you’ll both be terrible at but can laugh through anyway. You’ve done something really serious, you’ve made a big commitment—but that doesn't mean that the fun is all gone. Take a minute to remind yourself of that. You’re still the same people you were before you got married, and your relationship hasn’t shifted that much. You may just need to find it again.
No matter how much you love your partner or how excited you are to be married, it’s totally normal for the first year to be tough. There is often a stress hangover from the wedding, a fairy-tale pressure to run off into the sunset and be happy forever, plus a subtle shift in expectations you might not even be aware of—but you’ll get through it. Just be honest with yourself about how you’re feeling and patient with your partner while you both figure it out. As long as you’re keeping the communication open and making time to have fun together, you’ll get through the first year just fine.