Marriage, it turns out, is an art. What a cliché, right? But still true. It’s the art of compromise, of love, of care, of growth and ultimately of happiness. You see, staying in love is a lot tougher than being in love. For starters, staying in love is a choice. It’s one you’ll have to make again and again – and there’ll be times when you really, really want to choose differently. When in quiet horror you will look at the man or woman you married, and think to yourself ‘why?’
You’re in trouble if you can’t think of the answer to that one – but let’s assume you can. After all, you’re a few weeks into your marriage and still in love. But there’s a reason they say that the first year is the hardest – it’s the difference between going out on a date and having to wash your dishes after a full day of work, between craving your lover’s company and finding you now have too much of it. In that first year, you’re thrown headfirst into the deep end. However well you know your partner, however long you’ve been together, there are going to be a few unpleasant surprises. It’s all a matter of logistics – of practicality if you will.
It helps to have the big conversations well in advance – doing so will make your lives much easier in the future. Belong to different religions? Then figure out how you would like your children raised. One of you might not even want children, the other might want at least a pair. Money and how you manage it can be a big issue for some couples – some counselors suggest maintaining different accounts altogether. Having this distinction will allow you to spend on the things that matter to you and allow your spouse the same freedom. A joint savings account might be a nice idea though – for the holidays you might want to have, the house you’d like to build or the children you’d like to send to college.
You may have been looking forward to having your own space, a new house of your own. But for most of us, there’s the drudgery of cooking and cleaning to be considered, and the little matter of a fair division of labour. Cultural stereotypes ensure that this is widely considered the domain of the woman – and many find that even the most liberal of husbands are just a little lazy when it comes to taking out the garbage. When your requests are ignored, it’s the most obvious thing in the world to ask again. But ask too many times and you’re nagging. Dividing your chores helps – take turns cooking and cleaning, or at least choose a day when you do it together. Playing to your strengths – choosing to do the things that you each like or at least find tolerable is a good idea. Showing your appreciation is an even better one. In many cases, lavish praise will get you further than anger and accusations.
Especially if you’re living with them, getting used to your in-laws can be a really challenge. The strain of being ‘family’ with people that you don’t actually know all that well is a stress – but now that you’re in there, remember that compromise is your best strategy. Be firm and open about what you want, but be willing to make allowances for the people that are so important to your spouse. When there’s conflict and there almost invariably is, be as patient as you can. Remember that while you love and respect your parents, your spouse is counting on you to support her or him too. Either way, while neither of you had a choice about who you call mum and dad, you did pick each other.
In the end, that first year is going to present you with a dozen challenges. Remember to carve out time for yourself and to allow your spouse to do the same – to be with friends or for a favourite activity. Consider it a recharge that will allow you to stay emotionally healthy as a couple. You might get bored or frustrated, find that you’re disillusioned or simply on an emotional roller coaster. Some of you might even just be really happy. Either way, remember that some of the best advice has already been given. Laughter is the best medicine – don’t get angry, be amused instead. When you’re angry about something petty, remember that your husband or wife is more important than some minor discomfort. Rely on humour and warmth to help you come to solutions that are mutually agreeable. Listen and adjust, and hopefully your spouse will do the same.