"The first year of marriage is so hard but wonderful. Trust me; it's worth it." I can't tell you how many times I heard almost those exact words when I got engaged. And they were so gloriously clichéd and generic I'd smile, thank Aunt Suzy or Grandpa Will for their advice, and think to myself, "But Jason and I have already worked through so many things newlyweds struggle with. We're prepared. We know what we're in for."
It was true; I was just about as prepared as I could be. From asking countless friends and siblings advice to eating up books I could find on the topic, I thought I had this.
I couldn't have been more wrong.
Part of the reason newlywed advice is so vague is that marriage has an amnesiac effect—at least that's my theory. Just like mothers tend to forget the horrific pain of childbirth and remember only the tender memories, married couples tend to forget the nitpicky negative of learning to live together and instead hold onto the beautiful moments. Though that's a wonderful thing in the long run, it can be a little frustrating when all you want is honest feedback.
If you're anything like me, your trials won't be anything you expected. Marriage has a way of throwing the most unexpected curveballs.
Before I go on, let me make myself clear: I am not an expert on marriage. After 67 weeks of marriage, I still have a lifetime to learn on the subject. However, I know what it's like to be a newlywed. I'm there. I live it. It's real. And I understand.
While I know every marriage will be different and we'll all come up against things we can't anticipate, here are a few realities I wish I had known before I was married.
1. Stock up at the pharmacy, because you'll probably be sicker than you have ever been in your life.
Nothing says romance like stuffy noses or the stomach flu—right? Okay, maybe not, but this is one reality to marriage no one warned me about.
When you get married, you're suddenly sharing your food, living space, and almost everything else with a new person. Not to mention you will be more sleep-deprived than you ever have been in your life, and you'll also be adding a new component of health to your life—sexual health.
While I don't want to be all doom and gloom, almost every recently married couple I've talked to said their first year of marriage was the sickest year of their life. And though that can be frustrating, it provides an excellent opportunity to grow closer together as you learn to rely on and support one another—through good and bad. Here are some ways you can prepare for or avoid the worst consequences of newlywed germs:
Get good sleep, no matter what—It's difficult adjusting to sleeping with a new person in your bed. Suddenly, your number of bad nights double—sometimes even quadruple. On top of that, most married couples tend to include a night owl and early bird, which doesn't give much time for sleep in the first place. Because of this, you should make sleep a priority in your marriage from day one. Learn to compromise by waking up a little earlier or staying up a little later than you normally would. Though I know you want to spend as much time as you can together, you'll have much more fun if it is quality time where you both don't feel like zombies.
Set time limits—Check with each other at dinner to see when your spouse needs to get up the next morning, what the goals are for the next day, and when the two of you should ideally be in bed. Set a time limit for heading to bed and stick to it, no matter what.
Establish a nighttime ritual—Whether it simply be brushing your teeth together or reading scriptures and praying, set aside time every night the two of you can come together and unwind.
Don't be afraid to try new things—Separate beds, earplugs, sleeping in different rooms, going to bed at different times, snacks, meditation, etc. really can make all the difference if you aren't getting quality sleep.
Find a doctor you trust—You're starting an entirely new phase of life, one that's bound to come with new health challenges. Be sure to find a doctor you like and whenever something unexpected comes up, be sure to give them a call and stay in contact regularly. Rather than self-diagnosing or dismissing questions, a quick call can clarify whether you really should be concerned and can save you from more serious illnesses in the future. And when unexpected things do come up, don't freak out and don't get grossed out—by yourself or your spouse. Be sure to always let your spouse know you love them.
Find creative ways to exercise—I thought my husband and I would have more time once we were married and didn't have to commute to be together. But finances, family, daily chores, and so much more gobble up even more of your time. Add on top of that regular sickness, and sometimes you feel lucky just to get through the day let alone exercise. But during tough times your body needs the endorphins and stress-relief that come from exercise more than ever. So be flexible with when you exercise and find active things you can do with your spouse. Whether it's learning a new sport together, riding bikes, doing yoga, or simply going on walks, if you try to do a few active things together it can give you more time and relieve stress.
2. Get rid of your expectations and just enjoy the adventure.
No matter how much you read, no matter how much you pray or prepare, I can guarantee that marriage will never meet your expectations. Often, there are those sublime moments when everything you imagined is blown out of the water by the sheer reality of being with this person who will shape your eternity. But then there are lots of moments when you can hardly catch your breath from the frenzy of it all.
Do your spouse the favor of not expecting them to magically know everything you wish they would do to make you happy. Marriage is an equal partnership where both you and your spouse will need to start putting in more work to get everything accomplished—and not all of it will be pleasant. No one wants to do the dishes or clean the toilets, but setting expectations goes far beyond housework.
If you wish your spouse would be more affectionate, would notice something you've changed, would plan more dates, or would change such and such, stop and do two things. First, remind yourself of all the good things your spouse does, how much they contribute, and how often they show their love for you. Then, and only then, be proactive and change whatever is bothering you. Don't sit back passively feeling frustrated or hurt—take control of your life and make a change.
Change your perspective, change the circumstances, speak up about your feelings, talk it out, find a resolution, but never assume the person who has to change is your spouse. God gave us each agency for a reason and we shouldn't violate another's right of choice by trying to control or micromanage them.
3. Sexual Intimacy comes naturally only if you work at it.
There are two things that fundamentally changed the way I understand sex. The first was Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's talk "Of Symbols, Souls, and Sacraments." The second was a book that my husband and I both read while we were engaged, The Act of Marriage. (I'd also highly recommend And They Were Not Ashamed; this book is definitely an eye-opener for those who have questions about how sexual intimacy can connect us spiritually.)
Even if you have received a thorough sex education and think you know everything, these resources integrate the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of sexual intimacy in a way that will probably change how you see this sacred act. As Elder Holland has said, "Sexual intimacy is not only a symbolic union between a man and a woman—the uniting of their very souls—but it is also symbolic of a union between mortals and deity, between otherwise ordinary and fallible humans uniting for a rare and special moment with God himself and all the powers by which he gives life in this wide universe of ours. In this latter sense, human intimacy is a sacrament, a very special kind of symbol."
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Because of the vulnerability and intense emotions involved, the frustration or pain that can result from problems in your sexual life can be harmful to your overall relationship. Here are a few suggestions to help you build a stronger sexual relationship as a newlywed.
Talk to each other about everything—Talk to one another often about what you like or don't like, what you are comfortable with, what you feel excited about, etc. Be frank. Often, these things can change from day to day based on a person's mood, so be sure to tell your spouse what you need and what feels good. Don't feel guilty or selfish for honestly sharing your needs. We grow closer in love by serving and being served, and you might miss out on some of the sweetest moments of connection if you aren't willing to be honest.
Timing plays a big part—One aspect of sexual intimacy I didn't realize is that often in marriage, one spouse feels more aroused in the mornings and one in the evenings. That means feelings of arousal can often get out of sync, leaving one or both of you frustrated. As with everything else in your marriage, find ways to compromise. Saying no and being told no can both be very frustrating places to be in, so be compassionate with each other. If you don't feel as in the mood when your spouse is ready to go, be willing to try. Tell your spouse what you might need to more fully connect. If you're the one who is interested but your spouse seems oblivious to you, don't feel hurt. Instead, communicate, make your intentions clear, and help your spouse understand how you are feeling. It's never selfish to let your spouse know you want to have sex. Be confident and don't try to guess what your spouse might be feeling or thinking. At the same time, be patient and realize it might take some time for your spouse to reach your same level or that sometimes the answer is no but your spouse still loves and wants you.
Be honest with your spouse—In everything, honesty and frankness save heartache and second-guessing. At all times in your relationship, never be afraid to tell your spouse no when it comes to sex. But also be sure to explain your thoughts and feelings. If you feel sick, emotionally distant, tired, etc., tell your spouse honestly, saving them the worry of blaming themselves or wondering if they did something wrong. This also helps your spouse understand how they can support and serve you better, something that will improve your relationship in every way. And be sure that no matter what you say to your spouse they never doubt your love for them. Also, be honest after intimacy, telling your spouse what you might need or any intense emotions or thoughts you might be feeling, even when it feels the most vulnerable and difficult.
Be sure not to ignore your emotional, mental, and spiritual connection—While sexual intimacy is an important part of marriage, be careful not to let other areas of your life lose focus. As you talk with one another, learn from each other, and connect mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, a stronger physical connection tends to naturally follow.
4. Double the family also means double the time commitment and the fun.
When you get married, your list of loved ones and your support network doubles almost instantly. And with that comes a doubling of birthdays to remember and family events to attend and people to visit. Remember through it all what a blessing it is to have such a vast network of love surrounding you and your spouse.
While it can be easy to nitpick over where you spend your holidays or how different your family traditions might be, just relax, embrace the new, and enjoy. You and your spouse still have many years ahead of you to build your own traditions, so for now, be flexible in trying new things and be willing to compromise. Get to know your new family. At the same time, look forward to creating your own traditions. Talk regularly with your spouse to 1) make sure neither of you are feeling overwhelmed and 2) to figure out each other's preferences. While it's amazing to have family surrounding you, be sure to maintain your friendships and save time to build your new family too.
5. You come from completely different family cultures, so you won't always speak the same language.
After spending over a week in a small house with all of her brand-new in-laws, my friend told me about the moment she finally understood what it was she had been experiencing—culture shock.
For any of you who've served a mission or traveled abroad, you know how exhilarating and intimidating it can be to suddenly throw yourself into an entirely new language and culture. And believe me, every family has its own language, inside jokes, games, and ways of communicating, connecting, and living.
So what does this mean for you? Actively find ways to break out of your own bubble and make a place for yourself in your new family. Rejoice in your individuality, find creative ways you can contribute to your new family, but mostly, be willing to learn a new language and way of loving. Just as the struggles of a mission provide unlimited ways to grow, marriage provides progression on a daily basis.
But with all of that growth, be sure to be patient with yourself. If you find being around your new family draining, don't worry. It doesn't mean that you love them less—it just means you are working hard to learn their culture. Be mindful too that your spouse may feel the same way around your family. Be considerate and help each other understand the other's family while making sure you both get enough time to adjust.
Here are a few tips to help with this process:
Figure out how your spouse communicates—Since you and your spouse come from completely different families, you both speak entirely different languages. Yes, the base words might be the same, but the inflection, mannerisms, meaning, and so much more can vary. So when something your spouse says confuses or offends you, stop to ask what they really meant before you react. While you're bound to have differing opinions and beliefs, it's amazing to see how many differences are minimized when you step back to understand each other.
Don't be afraid to do things differently—When those different opinions do arise or when you find out about one of the billions of little things you and your spouse do differently, don't correct and don't be condescending. Ask your spouse first if they can show you how to do things their way, then offer to show them how to do things your way. It's the same with politics, beliefs, and opinions. Honestly find out why your spouse votes, worships, or thinks the way they do and explain your own thoughts without trying to "convert" your spouse. From how you do the dishes to how you live the gospel, you and your spouse need to understand one another, but you don't need to be the same person. Rejoice in your diversity—it keeps things fun!
Learn how you show love and how your spouse shows love—Before you decide to be hurt because your spouse forgot to do this or that, stop and think of all the dozens of things you might be oblivious to. If you love it when your spouse texts you during the day, tell them. If you love getting flowers, tell them. If you need more time alone together, tell them. Never expect your spouse to read your mind. And be sure to ask your spouse if there are things they need or appreciate that you can work on. Learn to see the dozens of ways your spouse already shows you they love you each day and learn new ways your spouse appreciates receiving love. As you start understanding each others' love language better, you'll both be able to show love more fluently.
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6. You'll find weaknesses you never knew existed, so enjoy learning to rely on each other.
There will be so many moments in your marriage when the person you will be the most frustrated with is yourself. You'll be stretched and tested in lots of new ways, and that testing will reveal weak spots you never knew you had. In fact, you'll learn about character traits and talents you didn't even know existed. But always keep in mind that the opposite is also true. You'll suddenly find strengths in yourself that you never knew about—several that your new spouse might even point out.
So when you feel overwhelmed and start beating yourself up, stop and instead think of the things you are doing right and be grateful that you have time to improve. If you still feel down, try asking your spouse some of the things they admire in you and I'm sure you'll quickly see you're doing better than you thought. Remember it's your weaknesses and flaws, in part, that made you and your spouse so perfect for one another as you both help bolster one another.
7. Your emotions will be all over the place, so be patient with yourself and your spouse.
Depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems are triggered by stressful life-changing events. And guess what? Moving to a new place, becoming sexually active, building a life with a new person, and becoming part of a new family are all stressful life-changing events that tend to pile up on a person right after marriage. Of course, all of these cause good stress—the kind that motivates us to be better. But sometimes these changes can trigger unexpected emotional responses—in yourself and your spouse. Add on top of that lack of sleep and there will be times when your emotions will overwhelm you and you'll wonder if you can do this.
But trust me, you can. In those moments, you need to realize it's stress and fear and depression that are speaking out, not you. Know that what you are going through is totally normal, though I know it is not easy. Know too that though this is normal receiving professional help from doctors, counselors, and therapists could help you achieve optimal mental and physical health. And most of all, be patient with yourself for feeling overwhelmed, and be patient with your spouse if they're struggling.
Here are some tips that might help you through those tough moments:
Focus on the good—Though all you might want to do when you are frustrated, sad, or in pain is to stew over those feelings, think instead of all the good that fills your marriage, the funny moments you've shared, and the beautiful memories you want to hold onto. Write them down. Be proactive about creating and holding onto the good.
Don't compare—Often, we look at other people's marriages as something we want to model our own after, whether that be the marriage of our parents, someone in our ward, a friend, etc. But there are several inherent problems with that. First of all, often those you look up to have had a much longer time to work on their marriage. It's unfair to pit a first-year piano student against a professional musician. The same is true with marriage. Marriage takes practice, and you're just starting yours. In addition, you don't always know what goes on in other's lives and the problems, tears, and struggles they've had to work through to build the seemingly strong marriage they now have. Finally, and most importantly, you and your spouse are completely different from any other couple and will have a completely different marriage—thank goodness. So be grateful that everything you are going through as a newlywed is helping you build a strong, unique marriage.
Let your spouse know how you are feeling—Don't ever make your spouse guess how you're feeling. Believe me, if you try to keep silent to spare their feelings, they'll probably assume the worst and torture themselves obsessing over what is wrong. Even though all you might want to do is isolate yourself, don't. If you are not entirely sure yet why you are feeling hurt or afraid or sad, that's okay. Be honest. Tell your spouse about your confusion. And when they give you the same courtesy, don't take anything they say personally. Emotions are not always rational, and sometimes we have unexpected feelings for unknown reasons.
Process your emotions—While it's good to let your spouse know about your feelings early on, don't try "correcting" the situation until you've had a little time to figure out yourself and your emotions. Don't try talking things out in stressful moments or late at night—those are the times when your emotions are the most imbalanced. In the heat of the moment, we tend to lash out with blame, despair, anger, resentment, and sometimes even revenge. Get a good night's rest or take a break and reason out why you responded the way you did and how you can avoid that kind of reaction in the future.
Talk it out—Once you and your spouse have had some time to think, ask them how they understood the situation from their perspective. What were they thinking and how were they feeling? You'll find out pretty quickly that most things that offended you were completely unintentional and that overall your spouse's actions are motivated by love and concern for you. Once you understand them better, tell your side of things and brainstorm together how you can avoid those hiccups in the future. Discuss, don't dictate and blame. During the conversation, ask your spouse from time to time to repeat what you said and repeat your own understanding of what they have said to you. This shouldn't be approached as a test to see if you are each truly listening. Instead, this allows you to step back and analyze the way you two communicate and hear. Is your spouse feeling blamed or attacked? Does what they hear and understand as the crux of the conversation match what you think? As you begin building communication patterns, this will help you learn to speak with more clarity and compassion.
Forgive often, including yourself—Free up your heart and mind to feel a deeper sense of love for your spouse by letting go and forgiving quickly. Make sure you explain whatever might be bothering you so the two of you can both find a resolution, then just let go. Above all, don't fixate on the mistakes you've made in the past or depressing and frustrating thoughts and feelings you might have experienced. Instead, focus on the future and the person you and your spouse can become.
Get the help you need—Whether that be friends, family, books, or even doctors, be sure to take care of your mental and emotional health. When speaking to others, be sure to never betray your spouse's trust, but be honest and ask for advice. Look for signs of burnout or anxiety and depression in yourself and your spouse and be active in combatting them before they become a serious concern.
For women: Often, hormonal changes that come from different types of birth control can add another layer to balancing your emotional health. Stay in touch with your doctor and don't ever blame or belittle yourself if it's difficult for you to find a balance on your own. Get the help of those who have more experience and actively seek out the best options possible.
8. You'll do church differently, and that's okay.
Even if you and your spouse both have a testimony, I can guarantee the two of you will live the gospel in unique ways. From when you arrive at church to how you participate in Sunday School and when you pay your tithing to how you keep the Word of Wisdom, you and your spouse do things differently. You were raised by different families and you've developed your testimony in different ways. Instead of getting hung up on the differences, focus on the heart of living the gospel—that you and your spouse both want to grow closer to each other and the Savior.
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When debates or disagreements come up, do what you would do for any disagreement: first, seek to understand your spouse's perspective, then explain your ideas without trying to "convert" them. Both of you need to be open-minded and realize that the culture of the Church is not the same thing as commandments. Be flexible and find ways you can both help each other become better disciples of Christ.
9. Be prepared for lots of fun—and to work for it.
Remind yourself every day that marriage is exciting and fun. While some days that truth might seem like a no-brainer, it might surprise you how often we begin taking wonderful things for granted. Find the adventure in planning out finances and preparing for the future, dream big together, and don't let the everyday steps or incredibly long list of things to be done dim that excitement.
This is another area where it helps to let go of expectations. You have no idea what may come in your future, so setting concrete plans that are likely to fail only leads to frustration. Instead, set goals and plans that you have control over and can both contribute to, plans like living within your means, making the gospel a priority, attending the temple often, performing service regularly, etc.
Making marriage fun involves a tricky balance of learning how to make plans and being flexible and spontaneous. Now that your family consists of two people with very busy schedules, you might need to start planning a little ahead if you ever want date nights, trips, family visits, and temple nights to happen. However, in your hustle to get things done and move ahead in your new life together, don't underestimate the importance of just enjoying time together when you can be goofy or spontaneous. Make a goal to laugh together every day. Some of the best memories and discussions come about by just giving yourselves time to forget the stress and laugh.
The following article originally ran on LDS Living in April 2017.