10 Lessons Couples Learn in the First Year of Marriage

Along with those oh-so-comforting phrases like “Marriage is hard work” and “Everything changes once you’re married,” people are quick to tell newly engaged couples, “The first year is the hardest.”

Recently, Jolie Kerr of Jezebel‘s “I Thee Dread” wrote an article called, “Damn, I Wish I’d Known This Stuff Before I Got Married.” One of the points she makes is that, while people are quick to tell you that your first year will test your relationship in ways you’ve never experienced (no big deal, right?), they keep their warnings frustratingly vague.

This is a refrain you’ll hear over and over and over again during the time when you’re engaged. Except … no one ever explains why it’s so hard.”

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Because I never like to settle for vague, I decided to seek out more information about this first-year business. I asked married couples to share the biggest lessons they learned in their first years as husband and wife. (Thankfully, no one responded with “It was the biggest mistake of my life!”) They offered thoughtful, heartfelt answers that anyone who hopes to spend his or her life with another person should read.

1. Great marriages aren’t born from faith; they’re made with deliberate choice.
man and woman holding pinkies in field



“You know that saying, ‘born, not made’? Marriage has basically been the opposite for me. My husband and I have MADE our marriage what we need it to be, unlike many new couples I know that have just had faith that marriage would birth the ideal partnership.

“Everything about my marriage is a deliberate choice to intentionally create the type of partnership we both need to be happy. We knew that going in, but the first year of marriage solidified it for us.” – Gervase Kolmos, Life Coach of Shiny. Happy. Human.

2. Your priorities can make or break everything.

“Put your marriage and your life together above every other relationship in your life. Your time, money and emotional effort should reflect your priorities, not anyone else’s expectations…” – Kristen Swartzlander Bowser and Carl Bowser

3. Old habits die hard, or don’t die at all.

“I learned that annoying habits die hard, both mine and his! Even 35 years later, he doesn’t push his seat in when he gets up from the table. It’s annoying, but if I haven’t changed him by now, I’m not going to change him. I saw this early on…” – Varda Meyers Epstein, Communications Writer at Kars4Kids.org

4. With every passing storm comes wisdom and strength.

“As we celebrate our 5-year anniversary this month, I can truly say that the one important thing I learned in my first year of marriage is to mean what I say, particularly after I said my vows.

“For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, good times and bad times… and good times again, we certainly have been put to the test so quickly… but we endured… to become stronger, wiser better… together. You will, too.” –Stephanie Adams-Nicolai, Founder CEO of GODDESSY and GODDESSY Organics

5. Being a good partner means loving yourself first.
woman looking into sunset and thinking

“Today I celebrate 30 years of marriage with my husband. The one thing I learned in my first year of marriage is that becoming one does not mean that you give up your individual identity. It’s important to grow individually and as a couple. Stay true to yourself and pursue your dreams. Love yourself so that you can have more than enough love to share with your partner.” – Annette Johnson, CPC, ELI-MP, The FLY Coach

6. When one of you is hurt, the other becomes a superhero.

“In a freak accident, while honeymooning in Spain, I slipped and fell through a plate glass door, severing an artery, two nerves and five tendons in my right arm.

“There was an overwhelming amount of blood, but my new wife, Audrey, was a trooper and fashioned a tourniquet out of a belt and held it until an ambulance arrived.” – Chris Hoyt, Co-Founder of Langua Travel(Photo courtesy of Chris Hoyt)
stiches out chris hoyt

7. It’s more important to find common ground than to get your own way.

“I (Rocquelle) was an only child and never had to share. Merlon came from a large family, and looked forward to not having to share anymore now that he was married. We realized that we had to compromise on some things, like who could watch their favorite TV shows (this was long before DVRs). We also developed some common interests, so compromising wasn’t always necessary.” – Merlon Devine and Rocquelle Devine, Founder/CEO of Supermom Decoded and Devine Cooking

“Having been ‘mostly’ happily married to the same man since 1982, I think the most valuable thing we learned in our first year together was that it’s more important to be happy than it is to be ‘right…” – Glenda Standeven, author and inspirational speaker

8. Stop money issues before they start.

“First, when we split our bills and house finances 50-50 in the first year and kept our own bank accounts, we have never fought over money since. Second, by keeping our money separate, we continue to respect one another’s autonomy; that is, we chase our individual dreams and don’t expect the other to make us happy.

We are married because we want to be married, not because we need to be married.” – Jeaninne Escallier Kato, author, and Glenn Kato

9. You don’t just have a partner; you have a best friend for life.

happy couple looking at each other over landscape

“One of the many things that I learned during our first year of marriage is that a spouse can, and should, be your very best friend, if you treat them as such. Treat your spouse with the same dignity that you afford your very best friend.” – Dawn Roberts, author of Warnings of Disease: Your Body Uses Symptoms to Communicate

10. There’s no telling what can happen in a year.

“I have been married 13 years and the thing I learned most about my first year of marriage is that within 12 months of meeting someone, you can be married, pregnant, buy a home, and move to a new city that works best for your future family. You will never be the same girl/guy that walked down the aisle 1-12 months previously.” – Heather Oxer

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