The first year of marriage

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Why is the first year of marriage so hard?

“So, how’s married life?”

It was a question we were asked hundreds of times in that first year. It was a question that always left me feeling a little bereft as to what to say.

The truth is, our first year of marriage was hard. Very hard. Not because we’d made a mistake, not because I regretted the decision, not because I wanted out. Even though I was sure we’d chosen right and wanted in – it was still hard.

We may have been in love, but we hadn’t yet begun to learn how to love one another well. We hadn’t yet begun to learn that beyond the declarations of love and commitment comes the daily study of learning what your spouse likes, and deeper than that – how your spouse thinks.

I cried. A lot. Tears of frustration. Tears of pain. Tears of despair. Tears of martyrdom, spilled out on my pillow before sleep finally came: “Oh God, I promised to love him even if this means feeling this way fore-eh-eh-eh- (sob)-ver…zzzz”

There was no particular sin or problem that made it hard. It wasn’t that we were mismatched. It was more just that it was painful to figure out the changes. I think the most honest thing we were able to say about that first year was that it was “a big adjustment“. Here are some of the things that were hard for us to adjust:

It was hard to change our expectations of how time together was spent. When we were dating and engaged, our time together was spent “TOGETHER”, and then we went home to our respective houses and did our alone-time things alone. But once we were married, was time at home together time, or alone time? How did we figure that out? I expected marriage to feel more like an extended low-fuss date. I think he expected it more to feel like alone time, except with me in the house. It was painful for both of us to figure that out.

We suffered from decision-making fatigue. Before we were married, we had to decide on a few things together, and we figured we were pretty good at making those decisions. But once we were married, we discovered that every part of every day and every routine in every chore needed now to be decided on: we didn’t want to presume to do it “his” way or “my” way, so that meant having to have conversation after conversation about what “our” way was going to be. When should we eat dinner? what to eat for dinner? Who will do what prep and cooking for dinner? How long after dinner is it acceptable to wait before doing the dishes? Should washed dishes be dried and put away at once, or left to drip dry until morning? None of these questions was important, but much like the fatigue of a group of friends all trying to decide on a place to go for dinner and the conversation just goes and goes and goes because no-one wants to decide for the group, or the fatigue of a 4
-year olds’ “why”…. we were tired.

Another complicating factor was that it was hard to figure out our social obligations. While dating, I had a large circle of (mostly single) friends, with whom I spent about half the nights of the week. Once
married, what happened to those friendships? I wanted to keep those friendships and not be the friend-who-dropped-off-the-face-of-the-earth once she got married, but I couldn’t leave my hubby alone at home 3 nights a
week, and I couldn’t always just invite my girl friends to our house: they were my friends after all, and while they liked him they didn’t exactly want to bare their souls to my new hubby.

And so I did what all nice-girls-in-a-bind do: I cried. In private.

Would telling the truth about it being hard that first year have been understood? Would it have been seen as betrayal? Betrayal to my husband, or to the idealized notion of marriage? At the time it felt like it might be both.

And so one night, when an older, wiser friend asked: “So, how’s married life?”, and then followed it up immediately with, “It’s hard, isn’t it?”, I just about sobbed with relief. It was hard. It was such a relief to say it. And you know what? It got better. That first year wasn’t all terrible, but to be honest – it wasn’t all great.

I have friends who have had most wonderful first years of marriage. I’m so happy for them. But I just wanted to put in writing that it was not so with us. Just in case there’s anyone out there, whether in year 1 or year 4 or year 14, who feels this marriage gig is HARD and I-didn’t-expect-this and am-I-doing-something-wrong? and will-I-always-feel-like-this? and I-don’t-regret-this-but-I’m-still-crying-all-the-time…

Just in case that’s you, I wanted to say: “So how’s married life? It’s HARD, isn’t it?”

I know. We struggled through it, and we came through the stronger for it. You can too.

You might be interested in this post over at Start Marriage Right: Why we ditched the “young marrieds” groups

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61 thoughts on “The first year of marriage”

    1. Thanks Jenna. Doesn’t it feel good to be able to look back on your 13 years together and feel like you have conquered a little part of the world together?

  1. Carol Dillard

    I was never more grateful to anyone than I was when my aunt told me that marriage takes work, and that the first year wouldn’t be easy. She was so right! Knowing that it was ok to say “this is hard” going into the marriage, made it a lot easier to work through the adjustments. A great thing to share!

    1. What a kindness your aunt did you! I hope that by writing this there is some newlywed or engaged person to whom this post is a similar word of encouragement ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Like Carol, I was told ahead of time that marriage takes work. It was so far ahead of time that I hadn’t even met my wife yet, let alone married her. That piece of information made our married life much more understandable!


    1. I think I had often heard that marriage takes work, but until we were in it had no idea what kind of work that meant. I had thought it meant “write thoughtful notes in your husbands lunch” and “don’t forget date night” kind of work. I hadnt learned yet that notes and dates were all good, but there was also a whole lot of “don’t lose your temper” and “move towards your spouse in peace even when you want to run in anger” and “forgive quickly” type of work. You and Liz bear the fruit of many years of “good work”: a marriage I (and many others) admire!

  3. I remember our first married autumn. I was on the way home from work, thrilled that we had a nice cool day. I looked forward to putting a sweater on and enjoying being in “our” home feeling so cozy and perfect. I walked in the house to discover that my husband had closed up all the windows and turned on our furnace, excited to be able to provide warmth in “our” home. I cried for at least an hour, wondering how I could have married a man who thought a furnace was better than a sweater. That was the moment I realized how hard marriage could be.

    1. Oh my goodness! What a story, Chris! What a perfect illustration of the type of painful tears that come from the early well-meaning-but-misguided years of still learning to love one another. Isn’t it a relief to be married long enough to learn that a lit furnace is an overture of love from your husband? Thanks for sharing!

  4. Marriage is probably the hardest adjustment I’ve had to make in life! I try to view it as a way to grow closer to God…. it certainly causes me to pray a lot!

  5. Thought you should know that this post is indeed an encouragement to this engaged guy. Though I am beyond excited for marriage, even during our engaged years, Kindra and I have learned that marriage is going to involve many adjustments for both of us. Examples: How do we decide whose family we visit for Christmas each year, if at all? Do we use bar soap or liquid soap? Should the A/C be on or should we use a fan? I never realized I had an opinion on these things until the word marriage was involved.

    Also I really enjoyed your post on Nelson Mandela. The more I learn about him, the more I admire him.

  6. I just realized I wrote “engaged years,” when we have definitely been engaged less than a year. Forgive the error! ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. I loved reading this, and could so relate!

    We are heading to our 4th anniversary in November, and year 1 was much like yours. I got to the point where I was convinced that people (Christians included) who asked the question “how is married life?” didn’t actually want to hear the honest answer – much like “how is motherhood?” when you’ve been home with your baby all of 2 days (but that’s for another day! ;))

    I’ve since answered truthfully about marriage – especially to other newly married (or soon to be married couples) who are likely feeling the very way I – and you – did.

    Thanks for your encouragement and honesty about this – it’s generally in short supply!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Robyn. “How’s motherhood?” Is definitely another loaded question. I think when my first was born I lied through my teeth for the first four months: it was HARD! ๐Ÿ™‚ but, as with marriage, so worth it!

  8. You express many of the challenges I remember from the early days of my marriage but never articulated. You nailed it! “Decision-making fatigue” says it perfectly. Figuring out the social implications of marriage was a particular challenge for me and my husband. W’ve worked it out, but it took a while. This should be required reading for couples approaching marriage. Thanks!

    1. I think my husband may have come up with the term decision making fatigue, but it was so spot-on that I had to claim it as my own ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Merry Welker-Tolla

    I guess this is further evidence that I go about life in a round-about-way. My first year of marriage was bliss. But then again… we got pregnant, THEN lived together, THEN raised a baby, THEN got married. We never really dated – well maybe for 1 or 2 months. I almost feel like this is an argument for living together before marriage. It sounds like just too much too deal with all at once. But I did just say to Dean a few days ago, ” I REALLY love you. I felt like I loved you when I married you, but in hindsight I may have just like you a lot. But the longer I’m married to you the more I truly love you.” We’ve been married 7 years now. We’re definitely still working out some details. But the soap, etc…. we figured that stuff out before marriage. Much like childrearing, it’s a lot of hard work; but the pay-offs are infinite.

    1. Merry, I wondered too whether this might be an argument for living together before marriage ๐Ÿ™‚ I don’t think so, though. I think that the lower commitment level of living together (no promise of “forever” having been made by either) changes the dynamic in many ways. For one thing, I don’t know that it requires you to have an “adjustment of status”, and so while it impacts ones social obligations, it doesnt completely overhaul them. But mainly, I don’t think we would have stuck it out in working out an “our way” unless we had made a commitment that we were going to have to do life together forever. I think we would have given up sooner, and called it incompatibility. Marriage does one thing that giving together can never do: it makes you FAMILY, and introduces that “blood is thicker than water” component into your relationship tenacity. Maybe since you and dean had a baby between you, you had the forever-commitment thing in your attitudes from the beginning? I totally agree on the “now I know I REALLY love you” conversation with hubby after a few years of marriage has now gone by. You guys are a great pair!

  10. Merry Welker-Tolla

    Yeah, I’m pretty sure that having a child already made it a forever commitment. One funny thing though…. for the first 6 years we lived together, Dean was in grad school and we rented a house from his parents that was already furnished with various random family items. We didn’t particularly like the furnishings, but they were there and they were free. Then we moved to Boston and for the first time, had a chance to pick out furniture as a couple. Oh Boy! Our tastes could not be more different! We had no idea. I prefer an early 1900’s library look. He likes the spaceship design. It’s been a bit of a problem ever since. However, we have concluded that it’s only in the Ikea price range that our tastes differ. If we move up to extremely high end furnishings, we can agree on quite a lot. But that’s a whole new problem ๐Ÿ˜›

  11. Hehehe. I hear you!! Maybe one good reason to register for wedding gifts is not merely to accessorize your house, but to give couples as crash course in how different their tastes can be ๐Ÿ˜‰

  12. as one who is still in her first year of marriage, I feel like I’ve experienced both some very hard moments and some very joy-filled moments — delight and fun like never before, but also deep and challenging like never before. I love the freedom to have both kinds of experiences, and to know that it’s not the final word on our marriage either way; that the full spectrum will continute and much is still yet to come. thanks for being real, bron!

  13. You were spot-on about the decision-making fatigue!
    I’ve just celebrated my two-year anniversary, and it is so true that marriage is hard, it is a lot of work. But as much as I love my single days, I would not trade anything for the hard but beautiful days of being married.

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  16. This is by far the best post I have come across regarding the first year gloom! We had dated for 11years and We have been married 7 months and the 7months has been the most taxing period, with me in tears for 60% of the time. Mostly through thinking we had made wrong choices. Thank you for this awesome post,being spot on with every single sentence, and restoring faith in our marriage. It couldn’t have come sooner ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Oh Bianca, I am so, so glad our experience can be an encouragement to you! It DOES get better ๐Ÿ™‚ May God give you little pockets of rest and joy and continued encouragement even today as you weave your new family together!

  17. A wise friend told me when we were engaged that marriage is a place where God teaches us the fruits of the spirit. Those words came back to me time and again as I was in tears learning to sacrifice self in that first year. What is love, patience, gentleness, kindness, self control… But I never doubted that it was the right man, at the right time. It is 8 years end of this month, and our marriage has just gone from strength to strength.

  18. Thank you! I’m in year 1 (today celebrates 2 months of marriage), and we’ve challenged ourselves by not only taking the leap of getting married, but by starting our married life with a new job in a new community in a new culture/country (Tunisia). I feel that most of what I’m experiencing regarding the first year of marriage is probably pretty normal, but the difference is, everything else in my world is new too. I long for friends in a similar place in life (newly-married), but since I haven’t made those friendships yet, all the emotions I’m experiencing in year 1 are either suppressed or expressed solely to my husband. Anyhow, I appreciate this post, and I appreciate your honesty. Thanks for making me feel normal.

    1. Angela, congratulations in your marriage! My husband and I moved across the world after we had been married for 4months: from South Africa to the USA, so I have true sympathy for the challenges of dealing with a whole other set of “new” factors! Looking back, I do feel like the move was actually something that blessed us, because it meant we HAD to figure out how to do life together – we had no other options! All the best ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. Thank you so much for this article. I’ve been married 13 months and I’ve had some horrible times in that 13 months. But I’ve had some brilliant times too. My problem is exacerbated by suffering with anxiety and weaning off medication so we can start a family, so when the decision making issues come up I tend to withdraw from my husband, convinced we’re in the wrong marriage and with the wrong people. I’m in that zone at the moment, and all I can do is cry and cry with guilt and upset and at the minute some anger at my husband over a decision making process that I felt I sacrificed myself for. Now I know from reading this that it’s normal. Thank God, is all I can say! I assumed every newly wed was in “wedded bliss”, now I know they’re not!

    1. Hi Sheila, I’m so glad our story is of help to you! I am praying for you and your hubby as you work this out, one day at a time. It gets better ๐Ÿ™‚ May God help you to learn to love each other better and better as time goes by.

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  22. OMG, i feel like kissing and hugging u, four months into marriage, 4 years of dating and all i can say it is HARD!!!!that got me goggling and that got me here, i can relate to every single thing u ve written,

  23. Thank you for this post. So timely! Especially about decision making fatigue. I met & married my husband within a year (2013) and have been married for 3 months. I know people told me it would be work. I thought it meant more laundry etc. But now I know better. I’m finding fatigue in insecurity and questioning everything and trying to figure marriage & my husband out. I love being married, but when asked how it’s going I always say “an adjustment” with a smile. I think married people know. I’m finding that marriage is driving me to Christ like nothing else could. We are in our late 30/early40s and so many details need to be worked out since we’ve both lived on our own for a long time. This gives me encouragement to press on through the hard stuff and that I’m not completely going crazy ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Amy, thank you so much for your comment! Yes, it is an ‘adjustment’ (UNDERSTATMENT ALERT!!), and I well remember that fatigue and insecurity. It does get better ๐Ÿ™‚ and congratulations! Hope to see you around the blog again. Best wishes, Bronwyn

  24. Thank you so much ! You have given me such a sense of relief ! My husband and I have been married for 16 months and you could have said it no better when you said ” It’s Hard ” ! Were trudging through though and I would’nt change my life for anything so thank you so much and I am have definitlely praying on a regular basis have been for a while and will continue to do so. Thank you so much and keep writing because I’ll keep reading. Love your blog ! Plan to make and start one soon as soon as I get all my ducks in a row. I have’nt quite figured it all out yet ! Until then see ya next time !

    1. Vickie, thank you for your kind comment! Yes, it IS HARD!!! But worth it ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks so much for reading and following, and I hope you decide to take the plunge and try blogging!

  25. This is great! I’m a single young adult, but I have a feeling what you shared here will stick with me if I do get to a point in my life where this story would be a good thing to keep in mind!

  26. Superb blog! Do you have any helpful hints for aspiring writers?
    I’m planning to start my own blog soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
    Would you recommend starting with a free platform like WordPress or
    go for a paid option? There are so many choices out
    there that I’m totally confused .. Any ideas?

  27. I have cried more times in the 7 months that I’ve been married than I had in the two years of being completely single. IT’S HARD! Reading this finally stopped the tears from falling. I am such a cry baby now and I was never the emotional type….until now. I feel so alone because I have no one to talk to, so like you, I cry in private. My bestfriend is single and goes on a new date every week. I pray and try reading the Bible but its still so hard. I know I love him, I just wish times like this I could call some type of stranger hotline for newlyweds. Anyway, thanks for the read.

    1. Sherelle, I am SO glad you found my blog – because I can totally be that “stranger hotline for newlyweds”. Yup… been there. I could not believe how much I cried in those first few months… but it really did get better. Please feel free to email or stay in touch if you need to know you are not alone. If you go to the “New here” page, or the “ask bronwyn” page, there are contact forms which will send an email right to my inbox ๐Ÿ™‚

  28. Howdy! This blog post could not be written any better!
    Looking at this post reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He continually kept preaching about this. I am going to send
    this post to him. Pretty sure he’s going to have a good read.
    I appreciate you for sharing!

    1. I don’t know how to do that, I’m sorry! I don’t think I can control your mail notification settings. Hopefully since that is a fairly old post you won’t get many any more ๐Ÿ™

  29. Hello are using WordPress for your site platform? I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started and set up
    my own. Do you require any coding knowledge
    to make your own blog? Any help would be really appreciated!

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  31. I agree… our first 6 months of married life were hard…. is it okay to drive the hubby’s car without asking…. who opens the mail…. what money is spending, savings, ect…. I think most ppl just don’t realize how hard the first months/year can be.
    Ps. We’ve been married 11 yrs now and it keeps getting better!

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