After 'I Do': The Critical First Years of Marriage

Reviewed Jan 14, 2016

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Summary

  • Signs of trouble: decreased romantic love and increased negativity.
  • Ways to succeed: communicate often and make time for each other.

Newlyweds are eager to live out the “happily ever after” they dreamed and talked about while dating. Yet, the realities of everyday married life often create doubts that can spoil this fairytale image and put a new marriage at risk. These realities range from small aggravations related to sharing a household, to larger issues such as managing money, balancing careers and dealing with in-laws.

Bumps in the road are certain for all married couples. But marriage researchers and counselors have identified red flags to look out for. They also offer strategies to navigate the critical first years of marriage.

Red flags

Is constant fighting a red flag? Probably not, according to a study by University of Texas at Austin researcher Ted Huston. He looked at 156 couples to examine the connection between couples’ newlywed years and their long-term marital fate after 13 years. Interestingly, although Huston notes that how well couples handle their differences can affect relationship stability, his study showed that the couples that ultimately divorced demonstrated “disillusionment” in the first 2 years of marriage. He defines disillusionment as “reflected in an abatement of love, a decline in overt affection, a lessening of the conviction that one's spouse is responsive and an increase in ambivalence.”

So what do newlyweds need to look out for to make sure “disillusionment” doesn’t happen to them?

  • Decline in romantic love. Although it’s normal for passion to wane, not feeling romantic love or desire toward your mate is a red flag.
  • Increasing negativity toward spouse. Spending too much time dwelling on “disappointments” or your spouse’s “flaws” is a red flag.
  • Believing your spouse is the source of all your happiness and can fulfill all your needs.
  • Avoiding confrontation.
  • Spending time on everything (career, establishing a home) but the relationship. 

Relationship strategies for newlyweds

Huston writes that his findings “suggest that greater attention needs to be paid to the extent to which relationships have positive elements and whether these elements dissipate over time.” Newlyweds should try these strategies to keep positive thoughts and behaviors at the forefront of the relationship:

  • Communicate often and honestly. Be truthful about your needs and expectations, and avoid sending mixed messages. Address issues without attacking each other. In turn, be an active listener. Don’t assume you know what your spouse needs. Show your understanding: Be responsive to one another in words and actions. 
  • Make time for each other; make time for each self. Relying on your marriage for personal fulfillment will lead to disappointment. Balance free time between independent pursuits and times for togetherness and intimacy. 
  • Confront big, and little, issues as they arise. Avoiding conflicts and disagreements won’t make them go away and can lead to resentment. Ideally, couples should come to terms on many big issues before they get married. This includes money, career, having children, religion and so forth. Marriage planning classes can help engaged couples hash through the big issues and prepare them to deal with those that will come up once they are married. Still, newlyweds often are caught off guard by their first big blow-up. Realize that wishing problems away isn’t a solution, but that dealing with the problems can help your relationship grow. 
  • Make an effort to express your love and appreciation for each other every day. “What we think largely influences what we do. This connection between attitude and actions opens a door of hope for all couples,” writes marriage counselor and author Gary Chapman in The Four Seasons of Marriage. Chapman advises married couples to not focus on disappointments or “flaws” in their spouse. Rather, dwelling on the positive features of your spouse and relationship will lead to loving attitudes and actions. 

Ultimately, all married couples face times of disappointment, conflict and uncertainty. Yet research shows that newlyweds who work to keep the romance, friendship and feelings of love toward one another have the best chance of a lasting and happy “ever after.”

Resources

Secrets of Great Marriages: Real Truth from Real Couples about Lasting Love by Linda Bloom and Charlie Bloom. New World Library, 2010.

The First Year of Marriage: 7 Obstacles to Expect and How to Succeed Together by Sierra and Brian Butler. Blue Llama Publishing LLC, 2015.

The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman. Northfield Publishing, 2015.

The Most Important Year in a Woman's Life/The Most Important Year in a Man's Life by Robert Wolgemuth, Bobbie Wolgemuth, Mark DeVries and Susan Devries. Zondervan, 2011.

By Christine Martin
Source: “The Connubial Crucible: Newlywed Years as Predictors of Marital Delight, Distress, and Divorce” by Ted Huston, et al. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2001, Vol. 80, No. 2; The Four Seasons of Marriage by Gary Chapman. Tyndale House, 2005; Now That I’m Married, Why Isn’t Everything Perfect? by Susan Page. Little Brown, 1994.

Summary

  • Signs of trouble: decreased romantic love and increased negativity.
  • Ways to succeed: communicate often and make time for each other.

Newlyweds are eager to live out the “happily ever after” they dreamed and talked about while dating. Yet, the realities of everyday married life often create doubts that can spoil this fairytale image and put a new marriage at risk. These realities range from small aggravations related to sharing a household, to larger issues such as managing money, balancing careers and dealing with in-laws.

Bumps in the road are certain for all married couples. But marriage researchers and counselors have identified red flags to look out for. They also offer strategies to navigate the critical first years of marriage.

Red flags

Is constant fighting a red flag? Probably not, according to a study by University of Texas at Austin researcher Ted Huston. He looked at 156 couples to examine the connection between couples’ newlywed years and their long-term marital fate after 13 years. Interestingly, although Huston notes that how well couples handle their differences can affect relationship stability, his study showed that the couples that ultimately divorced demonstrated “disillusionment” in the first 2 years of marriage. He defines disillusionment as “reflected in an abatement of love, a decline in overt affection, a lessening of the conviction that one's spouse is responsive and an increase in ambivalence.”

So what do newlyweds need to look out for to make sure “disillusionment” doesn’t happen to them?

  • Decline in romantic love. Although it’s normal for passion to wane, not feeling romantic love or desire toward your mate is a red flag.
  • Increasing negativity toward spouse. Spending too much time dwelling on “disappointments” or your spouse’s “flaws” is a red flag.
  • Believing your spouse is the source of all your happiness and can fulfill all your needs.
  • Avoiding confrontation.
  • Spending time on everything (career, establishing a home) but the relationship. 

Relationship strategies for newlyweds

Huston writes that his findings “suggest that greater attention needs to be paid to the extent to which relationships have positive elements and whether these elements dissipate over time.” Newlyweds should try these strategies to keep positive thoughts and behaviors at the forefront of the relationship:

  • Communicate often and honestly. Be truthful about your needs and expectations, and avoid sending mixed messages. Address issues without attacking each other. In turn, be an active listener. Don’t assume you know what your spouse needs. Show your understanding: Be responsive to one another in words and actions. 
  • Make time for each other; make time for each self. Relying on your marriage for personal fulfillment will lead to disappointment. Balance free time between independent pursuits and times for togetherness and intimacy. 
  • Confront big, and little, issues as they arise. Avoiding conflicts and disagreements won’t make them go away and can lead to resentment. Ideally, couples should come to terms on many big issues before they get married. This includes money, career, having children, religion and so forth. Marriage planning classes can help engaged couples hash through the big issues and prepare them to deal with those that will come up once they are married. Still, newlyweds often are caught off guard by their first big blow-up. Realize that wishing problems away isn’t a solution, but that dealing with the problems can help your relationship grow. 
  • Make an effort to express your love and appreciation for each other every day. “What we think largely influences what we do. This connection between attitude and actions opens a door of hope for all couples,” writes marriage counselor and author Gary Chapman in The Four Seasons of Marriage. Chapman advises married couples to not focus on disappointments or “flaws” in their spouse. Rather, dwelling on the positive features of your spouse and relationship will lead to loving attitudes and actions. 

Ultimately, all married couples face times of disappointment, conflict and uncertainty. Yet research shows that newlyweds who work to keep the romance, friendship and feelings of love toward one another have the best chance of a lasting and happy “ever after.”

Resources

Secrets of Great Marriages: Real Truth from Real Couples about Lasting Love by Linda Bloom and Charlie Bloom. New World Library, 2010.

The First Year of Marriage: 7 Obstacles to Expect and How to Succeed Together by Sierra and Brian Butler. Blue Llama Publishing LLC, 2015.

The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman. Northfield Publishing, 2015.

The Most Important Year in a Woman's Life/The Most Important Year in a Man's Life by Robert Wolgemuth, Bobbie Wolgemuth, Mark DeVries and Susan Devries. Zondervan, 2011.

By Christine Martin
Source: “The Connubial Crucible: Newlywed Years as Predictors of Marital Delight, Distress, and Divorce” by Ted Huston, et al. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2001, Vol. 80, No. 2; The Four Seasons of Marriage by Gary Chapman. Tyndale House, 2005; Now That I’m Married, Why Isn’t Everything Perfect? by Susan Page. Little Brown, 1994.

Summary

  • Signs of trouble: decreased romantic love and increased negativity.
  • Ways to succeed: communicate often and make time for each other.

Newlyweds are eager to live out the “happily ever after” they dreamed and talked about while dating. Yet, the realities of everyday married life often create doubts that can spoil this fairytale image and put a new marriage at risk. These realities range from small aggravations related to sharing a household, to larger issues such as managing money, balancing careers and dealing with in-laws.

Bumps in the road are certain for all married couples. But marriage researchers and counselors have identified red flags to look out for. They also offer strategies to navigate the critical first years of marriage.

Red flags

Is constant fighting a red flag? Probably not, according to a study by University of Texas at Austin researcher Ted Huston. He looked at 156 couples to examine the connection between couples’ newlywed years and their long-term marital fate after 13 years. Interestingly, although Huston notes that how well couples handle their differences can affect relationship stability, his study showed that the couples that ultimately divorced demonstrated “disillusionment” in the first 2 years of marriage. He defines disillusionment as “reflected in an abatement of love, a decline in overt affection, a lessening of the conviction that one's spouse is responsive and an increase in ambivalence.”

So what do newlyweds need to look out for to make sure “disillusionment” doesn’t happen to them?

  • Decline in romantic love. Although it’s normal for passion to wane, not feeling romantic love or desire toward your mate is a red flag.
  • Increasing negativity toward spouse. Spending too much time dwelling on “disappointments” or your spouse’s “flaws” is a red flag.
  • Believing your spouse is the source of all your happiness and can fulfill all your needs.
  • Avoiding confrontation.
  • Spending time on everything (career, establishing a home) but the relationship. 

Relationship strategies for newlyweds

Huston writes that his findings “suggest that greater attention needs to be paid to the extent to which relationships have positive elements and whether these elements dissipate over time.” Newlyweds should try these strategies to keep positive thoughts and behaviors at the forefront of the relationship:

  • Communicate often and honestly. Be truthful about your needs and expectations, and avoid sending mixed messages. Address issues without attacking each other. In turn, be an active listener. Don’t assume you know what your spouse needs. Show your understanding: Be responsive to one another in words and actions. 
  • Make time for each other; make time for each self. Relying on your marriage for personal fulfillment will lead to disappointment. Balance free time between independent pursuits and times for togetherness and intimacy. 
  • Confront big, and little, issues as they arise. Avoiding conflicts and disagreements won’t make them go away and can lead to resentment. Ideally, couples should come to terms on many big issues before they get married. This includes money, career, having children, religion and so forth. Marriage planning classes can help engaged couples hash through the big issues and prepare them to deal with those that will come up once they are married. Still, newlyweds often are caught off guard by their first big blow-up. Realize that wishing problems away isn’t a solution, but that dealing with the problems can help your relationship grow. 
  • Make an effort to express your love and appreciation for each other every day. “What we think largely influences what we do. This connection between attitude and actions opens a door of hope for all couples,” writes marriage counselor and author Gary Chapman in The Four Seasons of Marriage. Chapman advises married couples to not focus on disappointments or “flaws” in their spouse. Rather, dwelling on the positive features of your spouse and relationship will lead to loving attitudes and actions. 

Ultimately, all married couples face times of disappointment, conflict and uncertainty. Yet research shows that newlyweds who work to keep the romance, friendship and feelings of love toward one another have the best chance of a lasting and happy “ever after.”

Resources

Secrets of Great Marriages: Real Truth from Real Couples about Lasting Love by Linda Bloom and Charlie Bloom. New World Library, 2010.

The First Year of Marriage: 7 Obstacles to Expect and How to Succeed Together by Sierra and Brian Butler. Blue Llama Publishing LLC, 2015.

The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman. Northfield Publishing, 2015.

The Most Important Year in a Woman's Life/The Most Important Year in a Man's Life by Robert Wolgemuth, Bobbie Wolgemuth, Mark DeVries and Susan Devries. Zondervan, 2011.

By Christine Martin
Source: “The Connubial Crucible: Newlywed Years as Predictors of Marital Delight, Distress, and Divorce” by Ted Huston, et al. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2001, Vol. 80, No. 2; The Four Seasons of Marriage by Gary Chapman. Tyndale House, 2005; Now That I’m Married, Why Isn’t Everything Perfect? by Susan Page. Little Brown, 1994.

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