Why the First Year of Marriage Is So Important

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Along with newlywed bliss can come some ups and downs. In fact, it's pretty normal to hit rough patches in the first two years of marriage, but don't panic. By understanding some of the transitions and roadblocks you may experience in early marriage, you and your partner can work together to build a strong foundation for years to come.

Why the First Year of Marriage Matters

The first year of marriage can feel like the hardest because it is full of changes and adjustments as you and your partner adapt to your new roles. Yet how you handle this period of adjustment is crucial to the longevity of your marriage, say researchers.

A decline in love, affection, and responsiveness and an increase in ambivalence within the first two years of marriage can be a predictor for divorce after 13 years. That's according to a 2009 study on the predictors of marital satisfaction and stressors by Ted Huston, PhD, of the University of Texas at Austin.

The same study also found that couples who divorced within the first two years showed signs of disillusionment and were negative toward one another in the first 2 months of their marriage. The couples who were still happily married were couples who were able to have positive feelings about their spouses during this early period in their relationship.

More recent research shows that newlyweds may be more prone to dissatisfaction due to unrealistic expectations or the level of what they experience versus what they expected in terms of marriage. Common unexpected adjustments include:

  • The "little things"
  • Competing loyalties
  • Letdowns
  • Serious responsibilities
  • Relationship roles
  • Sex

One study found that newlywed couples who tend to estimate that their happiness levels will rise (or at least stay the same) within the first four years of marriage are actually more likely to experience a decline in happiness over time.

Divorce is also common within the early years of marriage due to the transition itself into marriage and parenthood, especially among couples high in neuroticism who have been shown to have lower overall levels of satisfaction in their marriage.

Red Flags in Early Marriage

  • Addictions and/or substance abuse
  • Emotional and/or physical abuse
  • Fear of conflict
  • Inability to have fun together
  • Lack of respect
  • Lack of romance and intimacy
  • Married too young or for the wrong reasons
  • Over-commitment of time to other things
  • Over-spending
  • Selfishness
  • Sexual problems
  • Too much dependence on parents
  • Unrealistic expectations

Priorities in the First Year of Marriage

If you find yourself a bit depressed after your wedding, it's okay. Honeymoon blues are normal. You have both been caught up in time-consuming wedding preparations.

It is a sure bet that once you don't have that stress to deal with, you will have a sense of loss. It's similar to the post-holiday letdown that many people experience. However, it is important to not ignore this period of depression.

Being prepared for the newlywed blues can help you get past them. It's time to move on to setting the marital stage for the rest of your lives together.

In addition to keeping the romance alive, there are other priorities a couple will need to face as well.

  • Decide how to handle money. Discuss whether you want to manage your finances separately, jointly, or with a combination of separate and joint accounts. Either way, never lie; honesty is key when it comes to avoiding conflicts over money.
  • Figure out how to handle chores. Dividing up household chores fairly can eliminate stress in your home and ensure a happy marriage. Keep in mind that you will likely have to reevaluate the list from time to time.
  • Find ways to spend free time. While together time is important, you also need quality time outside of your relationship for personal growth and independence.
  • Make time for sex. Even when life gets busy and hectic, keeping your sex life healthy needs to remain a priority. While most couples typically have sex once a week, it's important to figure out what works for you to maintain intimacy.
  • Set boundaries with in-laws. Have a conversation with your spouse about what's okay and what's not okay as far as involvement from your in-laws. For example, can they drop by unannounced or do you expect a phone call or text first?
  • Understand differences. While your core values are likely the same, your spouse's thoughts and beliefs may differ from your own. Understanding and respecting these differences will help you avoid judgement and improve your relationship.
  • Learn to handle conflict. While conflict is inevitable, how you handle conflict can make the difference in your marriage. Do your best to maintain a constructive attitude and mutual respect, and be willing to recognize your partner's point of view.
  • Discuss expectations. From household responsibilities to sexual intimacy, it's important to discuss what you expect from your partner. After all, unmet or unrealistic expectations can create significant stress in your relationship.

Unfortunately, many couples avoid topics that may become heated. But doing so will do a disservice to your union.

What to Do If You're Struggling During Your First Year of Marriage

To survive your first year of marriage, the best thing to do is have an open and honest conversation with your spouse, without blaming, about your concerns. You might start by saying something like, "I think we are both struggling to adjust to being married." 

From there, you can figure out what marriage support options might be a good fit for you both. It could be setting aside time to read and discuss self-help books, seeking guidance from a house of worship or other trusted source, enrolling in a marriage education class, or pursuing couples' therapy. It's also important to:

  • Avoid blaming your partner. The blame game will only exacerbate any struggles you and your partner are having. Instead, discuss what you feel is happening and how you can work together as a couple to bridge the gap.
  • Have realistic expectations. False expectations can get the better of your relationship, if for example, you expect your partner to live up to what you see in romance movies.
  • Give yourself and your partner time to adapt. Marriage is new for both of you, so it's important to have patience as you adjust to your new roles and responsibilities.
  • Remember you can help your partner grow, but you can't change who they are. While you can't change your partner, you can change your reactions and responses, which may prompt your spouse to want to change theirs.
  • Value your partner. Don't take them for granted. Making an effort to say “thank you,” and show appreciation can go a long way in making your partner feel good about themself and your relationship.
  • Spend quality time together. Enjoying some one-on-one time can help strengthen your bond, build intimacy, and create cherished memories in your ,marriage.

Frequently Asked Questions About the First Year of Marriage

Why is the first year of marriage so hard?

There are a variety of reasons that the first year of marriage can be hard, however, it is often due to the many transitions and unexpected adjustments that come with your new role and responsibilities.

What should you expect in the first year of marriage?

The first year of marriage is, of course, unique for each couple. While everyone may expect the first year of marriage to be nothing but wedded bliss, you'll also likely experience some ups and downs as you learn to navigate your new life and new roles.

What do you learn in your first year of marriage?

Again, everyone's experience in marriage is different. However, for many couples, the first year of marriage is a time when you can learn a lot about yourself and your spouse. The learning comes from working together to manage finances, divide chores, understand differences, handle conflicts, set boundaries, manage expectations, and more.

How many couples divorce in the first year of marriage?

There are no clear statistics on divorce rates for the first year of marriage. But according to the most recent data (2011-2015) from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's National Survey of Family Growth, more than 20% of first marriages end in divorce within the first five years, while more than 50% of marriages end by the 20-year mark.

What are realistic goals for the first year of marriage?

Defining your marriage goals is ultimately up to you and your partner. Whatever they may be, however, it's important that they are clearly defined and realistic for you to work on together as a team.

A Word From Verywell

Although the first couple of years of a marriage are said to be the most difficult, they are often remembered as the most joyous. They can be a tremendous time of intimacy and discovery.

There is so much to learn about each other and so much to express to one another. During the newlywed stage, you can build the foundation for a life-long, meaningful partnership. So enjoy and romance one another.

8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Hall SS, Adams R. Newlyweds’ unexpected adjustments to marriageFam Consum Sci Res J. 2011;39(4):375-387. doi:10.1111/j.1552-3934.2011.02076.x

  3. Lavner JA, Karney BR, Bradbury TN. Newlyweds’ optimistic forecasts of their marriage: For better or for worse?J Fam Psychol. 2013;27(4):531-540. doi:10.1037/a0033423

  4. Sayehmiri K, Kareem KI, Abdi K, Dalvand S, Gheshlagh RG. The relationship between personality traits and marital satisfaction: a systematic review and meta-analysisBMC Psychol. 2020;8(1):15. doi:10.1186/s40359-020-0383-z

  5. Twenge JM, Sherman RA, Wells BE. Declines in sexual frequency among American adults, 1989-2014Arch Sex Behav. 2017;46(8):2389-2401. doi:10.1007/s10508-017-0953-1

  6. Karney B. Keeping marriages healthy, and why it’s so difficult. Psychological Science Agenda: Science Briefs. American Psychological Association.

  7. Hewison D, Casey P, Mwamba N. The effectiveness of couple therapy: Clinical outcomes in a naturalistic United Kingdom settingPsychotherapy. 2016;53(4):377-387. doi:10.1037/pst0000098

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Survey of Family Growth. Divorce and marital disruption.

By Sheri Stritof
Sheri Stritof has written about marriage and relationships for 20+ years. She's the co-author of The Everything Great Marriage Book.