Ask any couple you know and most of them will exhale a sigh of relief once the wedding planning process is completely over. In fact, after so much chaos bundled into one 24-hour day (or OK, 72-hour weekend), most twosomes look forward to settling into their married, normal life and back into the routines that brought them closer as a couple — like ya know, watching Netflix and not worrying about seating arrangements. But once that stressful, yet romantic, period has come to a close, relationships also focus another challenge: the first year of marriage.
Among those traditionally branded as difficult by psychologists and therapists, those initial 365 days of "marital bliss" can also bring many arguments, questions you raise as a couple or on your own, and at times, doubts. And while every year and each struggle varies greatly depending on the two people experiencing it, divorce lawyers have seen it all.
“Everyone knows how to get along when things are good – but the trick to maintaining the distance in a relationship is learning how to fight well," Jacqueline Newman, Esq, Managing Partner of Berkman Bottger Newman & Rodd, LLP tells Bustle. "When marriages first begin, people are often on their best behavior and want to make sure the marriage lasts. So, couples will do what they can to be extra nice to each other, more patient than they want to be and choose their words carefully when having difficult conversations.”
After aiding many couples through painful and expensive divorces, these lawyers share their advice, based on what they’ve witnessed and what they wish more couples would avoid before saying ‘I do.’
Here are the biggest mistakes couples make in the first year of marriage, according to divorce attorneys:
1 Not Talking About Money
It’s not a sexy topic — especially when you get the credit card bill for your part of the wedding finances and your honeymoon —but it’s an essential one. As soon as you tie your names together legally, you are both bound to certain responsibilities that’ll impact your ability to buy a home, save money and more.
“Talking about money is difficult," divorce attorney Morghan Leia Richardson shares with Bustle. "People tend to avoid it, especially in a romantic relationship or new marriage because it can lead to arguments. But one of the benefits of marriage is the financial partnership that is formed: two incomes and shared expenses. But couples who don't talk finances establish a bad pattern where one of them is in the dark about their money. The marriage suffers, resentment and distrust build and the marriage fails.”
To get the conversation started, Richardson says to take it easy and be open, but to also set aside time each week or every month (depending on your needs and situation) to get everything out in the clear. “Establish when and how to talk about the finances early so that years down the road everything is manageable and everyone is on the same page. Many times the partner who doesn't want to talk money is the wife. Women: money isn't boring and just because he makes more — statistically a likelihood — doesn't mean you don't have the right to be informed about it,” she says.
2 Not Establishing Equal Household Roles
You don’t just share a bed where you spend a lot of time as a newlywed. And not just the couch where you order takeout or get fast food. All of the daily tasks, chores, errands, and cleaning are meant to be split between the two of you. If you haven’t established a routine where you load the dishwasher and he takes out the trash, or you make the bed and he makes sure to pick up groceries — then it’s time to start chatting, stat. And as Richardson says, do it before you have kids because then it really gets more difficult.
“A common problem is the ‘second shift,’ when all the household chores that need to be done daily and weekly," Richardson says. "Face it, generally women are more tidy and organized at home. Initially, before kids, this might not create much more work for one or the other partner. The couple may justify it: maybe he earns more or doesn't clean as well. But these tedious extra chores can take on a life of their own once kids are involved. If you are a working parent, the effort you put in at work and with your kids is tremendous. Then there's the little matter of the laundry and the dishes and the cleaning. The resentment of doing it all while the other person watches television breaks many marriages. Let me tell you, the day my ex-husband apologized to me and said ‘I have no idea how you've been doing this all,’ was one of the greatest days of my life because I was able to let go of my resentment knowing that he finally understood how much work I was doing for our life. Don't wait until you have kids to divide up the chores. Do that early so that you have shared expectations.”
3 Forgetting The Small Gestures That Go A Long Way
It’s those simple, small and often silly, gestures that keep you continuously attracted to your partner. They remember that you like your coffee with almond milk, and you always make sure to pick up their favorite breakfast food when you spot it. Or, a mention of your shared inside joke in the middle of a work meeting can make you grin ear-to-ear. These might seem trivial as you begin to look into investing in your first home, possibly moving or attempting to start a family, but lawyers would argue that the little stuff becomes more important in stressful times.
“I believe that sometimes people stop trying as hard after marriage because they no longer feel the need to chase after their significant other because they already have them. So they might stop sending flowers, having date nights, giving little gifts for no reason,” Gabriel Cheong, Esq., owner of Infinity Law Group LLC tells Bustle. “These things don't have to stop because you're now married and not dating. In fact, it's a good idea to keep doing these things after marriage and after settling into a life together. With all the stresses that come with a new marriage and perhaps with children, it's important to remind each other why you started this family.”
4 Not Moving Out On Your Own As A Couple
Depending on your financial situation, you might feel trapped in your family’s house (or that of your in-law’s) while you save up the dough you need to get started on your four feet. But though it might take longer to pack away the cash when you’re renting a small place of your own, Kemie King, Esquire at King Lindsey, PA tells Bustle it’s very important to have a home of your own.
“I have found that living with parents during the first few years of marriage could lead to the end of the marriage," he says. "The first few years of a marriage is a time of adjustment for couples who did not live together prior to marriage. In addition to merging their lives together, couples are also adjusting to each person's little annoying habits. Having another adult in the home, especially a parent, is generally a recipe for failure. Couples need time to bond with each other as married partners. They should try their best to avoid living with others during the first few years of marriage.”
5 Not Being Honest About Debt Before Getting Married
As part of your pre-marital counseling that’s often recommended by churches or therapists, you’ll probably discuss money at some point. Let this be your doorway into getting real in the nitty-gritty details of your financial picture. Once you’ve tied the knot, your debt no longer merely belongs to you, but to your partner, too. Not only do they have a right to know, but a big surprise down the road could cause him or her to distrust you.
"Most couples never discuss their debts and liabilities before marriage," King says. "It's important that couples fully discuss topics such as: how many credit cards each party has and the balance on each card; if they have student loan debts and whether they are current with student loan payments; any bankruptcies or judgments against them; and any tax liens. These are just a few but they are important to discuss before getting married. These issues will affect the couple's financial future together. For instance, if one party has judgments or credit card debts, this may prevent the couple from purchasing a home together. Or if one person has a tax lien, the couple may not want to file a joint tax returns. It's important to know the financial position prior to the marriage.”
6 Not Being Communicative About Annoying Things
No matter if you knew you were going to marry that person the day you met them, or they're most beautiful person you’ve ever met and you look forward to seeing them laugh each and every single day… there are going to be habits they have that drive you up the f*cking wall. Like, maybe not leaving their banana peel on the counter. Or forgetting to use a coaster… every time. Or countless other tidbits that you won’t know until you’ve lived with or been married to your partner for an extended period. Being able to communicate these feelings is a must for a happy marriage, Newman says.
“There is nothing cuter than the honeymoon period of a relationship," she says. "So what happens when a couple has their first disagreement about leaving a cap off the toothpaste or dirty socks left on the floor? How can they stay cute and schmoopy while still expressing their displeasure to their love about simple living habits? Some couples keep quiet and think they will lead by example and always put the cap back on the toothpaste so it does not spill all over the counter or are passive aggressive and have the laundry basket block the bathroom door so no one could miss it. Then when the hints are not picked up on (or simply ignored), then that offended spouse becomes angry. And the things that were cute are not so cute anymore because while he brings you flowers, all you see are a bouquet of dirty socks.” This buildup can make you doubt if you married the right person, as the romance fades and daily life and responsibilities settle in.
“People in their first year of marriage often think that everything little misdemeanor is the slippery slope to a felony. My advice, before you go down the rabbit hole of questioning your marriage and returning wedding gifts, talk to your spouse about how annoying it is to you that [they] insist on leaving dirty socks on the floor. Tell [them] that you do not want to make a big deal out of nothing, but that you do want to live in a clean house. You can also open the door for [them] to tell you something that maybe you are doing to annoy [them],” she says. “It may be as simple as [them] saying ‘No big deal, I will make sure to toss them into the basket next time if it bothers you that much, sweetie.’”
7 Not Mastering the Skill of Fighting Well
Part of loving someone is accepting their faults — but being able to explain how they make you feel, in good and in bad. Arguments are part of a healthy, happy relationship — but if you’re not able to fight fairly and candidly, then your marriage will struggle.
“Younger couples who may not have as much experience in relationships or are under more stress because they have these ideals in their minds that are not being met, may be nasty when fighting," Newman says. "Be careful about this. While you may feel that what is said in a fight does not really count, it does not really work that way. People may forgive, but often do not forget. Be careful what ammunition you give your spouse early on in the marriage — because no matter how many years later it may be, a good insult or attack will be regurgitated for years to come. Fight clean. Be communicative about your feelings but say things in a respectful and not attacking way. It should not be the job of your new spouse to try to find ways to hurt you (or vice versa) — even in a fight. You should always remember that you and your newlywed are always on the same team.”