Sure, your list of newlywed goals can be full of firsts—your first time traveling to a new destination, hosting your first dinner party, or adopting your first puppy as a couple—but you'll also want to set out to achieve a few goals that will help you to lay a strong foundation for your marriage. Peter Pearson, relationship coaching consultant and co-founder of The Couples Institute, recommends prioritizing these five activities during year one in order to look forward to a lifetime of happiness.
Print out your vows.
Whether you used the traditional vows or wrote your own, keeping a copy of the words that you can refer back to throughout the year can keep your relationship on solid footing, says Pearson. "Your wedding vows are an antidote to your worst instincts," he says. "They really force us to rethink what's important and what we value. By and large, wedding vows come from our best and our higher self." Think of them as your own personal GPS—a map toward the person you wish you were. "The wedding vows tell us how to aspire to be, and how to treat our partner when our partner is less than their stellar self. If one person can hold steady and remember their vows when a fight starts, it can help settle the other person down."
Compliment each other every day.
Every engaged couple hears warnings about not taking each other for granted, but that's a vague goal. Pearson suggests quantifying it with a specific plan during your first year of marriage: "Once a day, tell your partner what you love, value, appreciate, and respect about them." Whether you send a text thanking him for making coffee in the morning or bring her that just-published novel she has on her wish list, small acts can make a big impact. "These gestures done every day start to build in a foundation of connection," says Pearson. "It forces you to think consciously about your partner instead of getting into that habit of letting things slide."
Argue (when you need to).
One of Pearson's favorite metaphors for a healthy marriage comes from the history of the British Navy. "They ruled the world because of their navy, but they were willing to do something others didn't," he says: Periodically pull the boats out of the water and remove barnacles and seaweed from the wooden hulls—before those growths weakened the integrity of the structure or slowed the ship's ability to maneuver. "Guess what the parallels are in marriage?" he says. "Resentment, passivity, letting things build up without talking about them, being afraid to create a fight by bringing something up—and then gradually you start to disappear from the marriage. You have to do the work to keep the barnacles scraped off."
Talk about your marriage with your friends.
"Talking about marriage" doesn't mean complaining about her intolerance for clutter or his inefficient way of loading the dishwasher—it means asking the friends and family you're close with how they make their marriage work. "After you've been married for six months or a year, check in with your friends," says Pearson. "Say, 'What are you doing to keep your marriage alive and fresh?' Have that kind of discussion with your friends so that you can learn and support each other." It may feel awkward at first, but hearing how your best friends, siblings, and even parents talk through arguments, carve out time for date nights, share cleaning duties, handle money, and yes, even agree on how to load the dishwasher, can give you tested and approved ideas for clearing your own hurdles.
Plan for year two.
On your first anniversary, Pearson suggests getting your wedding vows out again (you can use that copy you've been referencing during your fights), and taking stock of how you kept them. "This is an exercise in self-evaluation about being dedicated to coming from your higher self," he says. "Do not evaluate, criticize, judge, or say anything negative about your partner's list, or tell them how they can improve." Instead, consider the promises you made and how you followed through, and imagine the adjustments you could make that would turn you into a better partner for your spouse in the year (and years) to come.