By, Aubrey Garner, MA, Therapist - LMHCA
Is the First Year Really the Hardest?
I have been blessed enough to have married my high school sweetheart. We dated throughout high school, were engaged by college, and married between summers in undergrad. Throughout our two-year engagement, we heard all sorts of advice and “wisdom” from those who took the plunge before us. Among some of the proverbs we heard were that the first year is the hardest and that our values have to align. However, these magical tidbits do not always hold true.
For my marriage, the first year was the easiest. For our first anniversary, my husband and I celebrated that we had such a successful and fulfilling the first year of marriage. We discussed how everyone said that the first year is the hardest, so we were excited because that meant that we would only have improvement and bliss to look forward to for the next handful of decades. However, when you marry your high school sweetheart, you have to survive late adolescence and early adulthood which entails those self-defining rebellious years. My husband and I changed so much in our early 20's; from 20 to 25 we rode a roller coaster of hitting stages at different times and having to support each other, fight through it, or wait it out. It was hard continuously relearning about each other as well as supporting each other through such challenging stages, and these stages often do not hit at the same time for spouses. We are on year 8 of marriage and year 12 together, and we are working hard to get and/or stay in sync.
What if We Don't Always Agree?
I have heard over and over that partners need matching values in order to have a successful marriage, and as a therapist, I often attempt to apply what I have learned to my own life. You could imagine when I started to realize that my husband and my values do not completely align, I began to panic. I know many people in my personal life who have hit the eject button from their marriages at this point, electing to opt out of a life of constantly disagreeing or of a life of hating one-another for opposing views. Obviously matching values would present a best-case-scenario for any couple, but sometimes it’s not that simple. My husband and I thought we had ours figured out and stamped them as cohesive before we ever got hitched. We were wrong. Over the course of 12 years, people change, life circumstances take their toll, and spirituality and our walk with God plays in as well to our shifting values. I currently have a few values that do not align with his, and I work daily to reconcile his mindset and thought processes in order to have continued respect and admiration of him. I believe he does the same for me, and I can see that it is a challenge for both of us. Yet again, it’s often fun laughing about our differences, and there are times when we each humbly inquire about each other’s ways of life. Proverbs 27:17 says “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” We both have strong beliefs about our priorities that make the other person look twice about his or her beliefs. So far he has not tainted me too much. Ha! Instead I feel stronger in my beliefs and admire his tenacity about his beliefs yet hope and pray for each of us to become open-minded to what God wants for our lives. I also believe that people have individual walks with God, and sometimes a husband and wife’s relationships with God are not in cadence. He and I talk about being equally yoked, yet we often find ourselves relating differently with God. This can be extremely challenging but has taught me so many lessons about marriage, about life, and about God.
Marriage is an Ever-Changing Process
Marriage is not just a relationship status or a life choice; it is a process. We will have to be creative, be patient, and adapt at all times to the ever-changing needs of our partner and ourselves.
For help in reconnecting and relearning about your partner, take a look at John Gottman’s love mapping.
Check out Gottman’s other resources for building a strong, healthy, lasting relationship at the Gottman Institute.
Also, check out Focus on the Family’s resources.