The first year of marriage is the hardest. It's one of those wedding-related clichés that's so oft-repeated it starts to lose all meaning, or else it's something you always assumed only applied to young couples who didn't bunk up before tying the knot. But, much like the idea that your wedding day flies by in about 10 minutes (totally true, by the way!), this concept has merit, says relationship expert Rachel Sussman. Still, that doesn't mean you're doomed to 12 months of squabbles and staring wistfully at your picture-perfect wedding album. The licensed New York City therapist walks us through the most common stumbling blocks and how to scale them.
The problem: You aren't used to cohabitation.
Navigating a shared space is all about setting defined roles, says Sussman. Otherwise, "It can be confusing: 'Who's supposed to do this? Who's supposed to do that?'" Along with talking about who will tackle household chores—he's got the laundry? Maybe you should volunteer for bathroom duty—you should discuss how you'll handle shopping for food, making dinner, and who will serve as point person when it comes to making plans with pals.
The problem: You've never shared finances.
Fights about money can be costly, admits the pro, which is why it's key to sit down and have a major talk about how you prefer to spend your hard-earned cash. "Oftentimes you will find that one person's a saver and one person's a spender," explains Sussman. "And when you have different philosophies on money, couples tend to shame each other with labels such as 'cheap' or 'reckless' or 'irresponsible.'" To prevent the name-calling, she suggests future spouses have a master budget meeting where they lay out the money they bring in after taxes and what they have left after expenses. (See: rent or mortgage, utilities, food, and other necessities.) Then, they should talk about how they'd ideally use leftover dough. "One person might say, 'Spend it all, let's go on vacations,'" says Sussman, "While another might say, 'No I want it all in the bank.' Then we talk about that and try to meet in the middle." Once it's set, commit to monthly budget check-ins to stay on track.
The problem: You've got the post-honeymoon blues.
Coming off the high of celebrating your love with family and friends and then jetting off on a tropical vacay for two can be tough, admits Sussman: "It feels like you're getting back into the grind of life." Combat that sadness by finding a fun way to mark your six-month and one-year anniversaries or talk about other plans you can make throughout those first 12 months. Whether it's another pal's wedding or a summer getaway with friends, says the expert, "You just want to find things you can look forward to."
The problem: You're fighting with in-laws.
Maybe your significant other's mom always kind of annoyed you and now you realize you're tied to her for life. Or you butted heads throughout the planning process and you're still feeling sort of bitter. "That takes a toll," notes Sussman. "You can power through it, but then afterwards you might have a lot of resentment over the way someone behaved." After you've unpacked your wedding gifts, she advises mentioning your annoyances to your new spouse: "It's a good time to say, 'Hey, how are we both doing with each of our families? Did they help us celebrate in a proper way or is there anything that needs to be worked out before we launch.'"
The problem: You never dealt with old issues.
According to Sussman, research shows that when couples get divorced, the issues that ended them often existed before they stepped foot down the aisle. And while it can be easy to ignore obstacles when you're waist deep in taffeta, once you're married, issues become magnified. Says the pro, "A lot of people will confess to me that it's just scarier now because there's more at stake." She recommends using your new marriage as a reason to take a fresh look at an old problem. If hashing it out yourselves isn't working—troubling signs include resorting to insults, highly escalated emotions, or just fighting about the same thing over and over—think about sitting down with a counselor. "One of you has got to say, 'Look, if we can't figure this out on our own, we should go to an expert,'" she says. "That's what experts are there for. It doesn't mean your marriage is broken, but if you don't deal with it, it could get broken."