Photo: Ayo Ogunseinde
Whether you're that couple that spent years planning the perfect wedding or you had a low-key courthouse affair, getting married is, obviously, a major life event with the potential to change the way you view yourself and the relationship you are in. And once the honeymoon ends, the pile of presents has been sorted through, and the thank you notes have been mailed, it's easy to feel a bit rudderless, especially if your first year of marriage isn't the can't-keep-your-hands-off-each-other love you expected it to be. Not every couple is able to immediately adapt to their new relationship status, and some even find that they're fighting more, enjoying each other's company less, or privately questioning whether they've made, in the words of Arrested Development's Gob Bluth, "a huge mistake."
"Most people like to think of newlyweds as blissful, lovey-dovey, over-the-top couples who barely leave their bedroom. So, a lot of couples have anxiety about asking for help because they may perceive others around them as being judgmental, as if beginning a marriage should be the easiest part," admit Marcus and Ashley Kusi, hosts of the podcast First Year Marriage Show. "If they can't survive the first few years without needing help, then the rest of their marriage must be doomed. That is totally not the case. In fact, setting up those initial boundaries and foundations of a marriage can be one of the most challenging parts of a marriage—it was for us!"
The Kusi's, who have also written multiple books about parenting, intimacy, and constructive communication in romantic relationships, have been married since 2010, and specialize in coaching couples through their first year of marriage, a period that's often more fraught than people are willing to admit. Rather than ignoring these first-year issues or assuming they'll simply resolve themselves, they encourage couples to speak openly about their struggles, regardless of the stigma, and seek help from a counselor or relationship expert if they find they can't resolve them on their own.
"Love brings people together, but it takes effort to stay together."
Los Angeles-based relationship counselor Arnie Horwitz suggests that the problems some couples may face in their first year of marriage come down to differing communication styles, bad behavioral habits, and a lack of understanding about the needs of the other person. "People are the solution, patterns are the problem," he explains. "My job is to make people aware of the patterns that are effective and the patterns that are ineffective." He breaks these patterns down for me, referencing the extensive research of Drs. John and Julie Gottman. Constructive behaviors, he says, include attention, appreciation, affection, and acceptance. Destructive behaviors, which he also calls "termite behaviors, because they eat away at the foundation of a relationship," include being critical, being condescending, and stonewalling. The more couples can recognize these behaviors, put names to them, and increase the positive ones while curbing the negative ones, the better.
Horwitz also mentions the work of Dr. Gary Chapman, author of the popular book The Five Love Languages, which outlines five unique ways we telegraph affection. "It's important to know what your love language is," Horwitz says. "For example, most men are looking for verbal affirmation and physical affection ... A lot of times we will project that another person has the same needs that we do. It's important to learn how to be bilingual and speak the love language of your partner."
But what if you're questioning whether or not you even want to work through your issues? After all, the title of "husband and wife" can put things in perspective in a way that "fiance" simply doesn't. "If both partners are willing to put in the effort needed to solve whatever the issues may be, be open-minded, and listen with empathy, then there isn't much you can't work through," the Kusi's say. "It just depends on each partner's limits and boundaries."
There's no question that relationships are a lot of work, and that marriage is a whole different ballgame than dating or even cohabitating. And while the prospect of spending the rest of your life with someone who isn't yourself—someone who, for example, smacks their lips when they chew or can never remember to put the toilet seat down—can be daunting, try to remember why you fell in love with this person to begin with, and then go from there. But the most important thing? Recognizing that you're not alone and that just because your first year of marriage hasn't been all sunshine and rainbows and raunchy activity, doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you or your partner.
"Tina Turner said it so well all those years ago," Horwitz laughs. "'What's love got to do with it?' Love brings people together, but it takes effort to stay together."