You don't have to be married for a decade or longer before you start experiencing major relationship milestones. In fact, some of the most defining moments in a marriage may happen as soon as your first year as husband and wife. And that's good news, because how you and your partner handle these important experiences may change the course of your partnership—and those changes are generally for the better. "Defining moments are the real stages of alchemy in a relationship," says Audrey Hope, a Los Angeles-based relationship expert. "They're the road to the gold if you know how to survive the tougher moments." To prepare, read up on the experiences experts agree will be defining moments in your marriage.
The first big (married) fight.
If you and your new spouse were together for more than a few months before your wedding, there's a good chance you've already had your share of fights. But nothing truly compares to the first fight you'll have as a married couple. Don't freak out—fighting is hardly a bad thing. In fact, it shows that you are willing to speak up for you beliefs and are comfortable enough telling your partner how you feel. "Agreeing to disagree is an art form, and how you handle disagreements can define whether or not you'll hold resentment or be able to move on as a stronger couple," says Vikki Ziegler, a renowned divorce attorney, relationship expert, and author of The Premarital Planner.
Getting pregnant and having a child.
You began your life together as two people, but now you're entering into a phase of your relationship that means you're a family of three (or four, or five!). Naturally, having a child can be overwhelming, especially if the plan is not discussed thoroughly beforehand, explains Hope. "Just like you would with any business plan, there must be a 'new baby plan' so you don't lose the quality of your relationship," she says. "Talk about needs and expectations, and don't hide truth under the rug as that can lead to resentment."
Dealing with loss.
"Whether it's a parent, sibling, or beloved friend, losing a person integrally involved in your lives is a true defining moment in a marriage," says Ziegler. "Death is one of the most difficult things a person has to deal with and having a supportive spouse can truly assist a grieving partner through a very dark time." In these sensitive situations, she recommends providing support to your spouse but also giving them the space they need.
Buying your first house.
A house is likely the largest purchase you two will make, so you can certainly expect tensions to arise as you start to search for, find, and buy a house. Ziegler says this experience is one that will bring you both "great responsibility and pride," but you'll also have to navigate the trickier points as a team.
Financial issues or a career change.
"The vows say 'for richer or for poorer,' but how many people really think about how they would handle being poor with their spouse?" asks premarital counselor Rachel Lamson. "It's a significant, defining moment where the couple either bears down to find a way to make the best of a bad situation or the couple discovers their love had more conditions than they thought." Instead of assigning blame, she recommends creating a plan together and working to better your situation as a team.