Marriage can be one of the most rewarding, beautiful, and worthwhile journeys that a couple can embark on. Simultaneously, marriages can be challenging, confusing, and infuriating, as couples desperately try to navigate through roadblocks, construction, and gridlock traffic.
Anniversaries are celebrated and couples are revered when they can successfully traverse the winding roads of married life without jumping out of the car, or spontaneously bursting into flames. Moreover, milestone wedding anniversaries are celebrated with traditional gifts of a specific theme.
A couple navigating through 25 years of marriage earns silver, 50 years merits gold, and 75 years imparted with diamond. The first year of marriage is notorious for being one of the more challenging years, where couples can easily lose their way.
One would think that crossing the finish line of the first year would warrant something spectacular like medals, monuments, or shiny, precious stones. However, when a couple hits their one-year anniversary, they are bestowed with the traditional gift of paper.
The paper anniversary
It hardly seems fair that the first leg of such an epic journey is rewarded with a flimsy piece of paper instead of the precious gems that it so rightly deserves. Paper is said to be a poetic metaphor for a blank slate and humble beginnings, but I think a couple should be rewarded for simply making it out of the first year alive.
Nevertheless, I present you now with an EZ-pass, a roadmap, and ten shortcuts to help you to make it to your paper anniversary in one piece
1. Maintain your identity
One’s identity is often challenged the moment that “I do” is declared.
“I” morphs into “us” and “me” is swapped for “we” and somebody else becomes intricately factored into our once simple equation. Couples need to balance individual time, together time, and socialization time, while cultivating their own hobbies, interests, passions, and goals.
It can be easy for spouses to neglect themselves for the sake of the marriage and thus, must take special care of their independence, confidence, and self-esteem. Identity is further challenged when we bid farewell to our birth names when our names are legally changed.
I remember sitting in the DMV office awaiting the arrival of my updated driver’s license. As I perused a magazine promising me the latest celebrity gossip, I vaguely heard a name being called, but it failed to register in my lacklustre brain.
After two or three more tries, the DMV representative came out from behind the counter and handed me my new license, looking at me, clearly peeved for not being responsive to my own name. But, it wasn’t my name. Or was it? I recall staring at the shiny new plastic, desperately trying to reconcile the unfamiliar name that sat adjacent to my face.
Who is this new person? Did I lose myself? How can I be found?
It was enough to send me into a mid-twenties identity crisis, precipitated by the sudden death of my childhood name. Word to the wise, make sure that you maintain your identity to preserve a strong sense of self.
2. Financial planning
Marriage signifies the union of finances, in the form of debt, income, and financial responsibilities.
Your partner’s stellar or ghastly credit has the power to impact your purchases, their debt becomes yours, and incomes are fused. Couples need to make financial decisions regarding money allocation, spending, joint versus individual bank accounts, and their financial futures at the onset of marriage.
3. Holidays and traditions
Spouses bring two sets of practices and rituals from their family of origins into marriage. It is necessary for couples to formulate new traditions together while incorporating any important customs from the past. Holidays and birthdays should be discussed and planned beforehand so that they do not become a point of contention for the couple.
As newlyweds, I remember my husband and I smugly celebrating how holidays would never be an issue for us, as we are an interfaith couple. We cruised through Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter, and Passover and then stopped short, as we were hit head on by the holy mother of all holidays – Mother’s Day.
As two insistent mothers demanded to know where and how Mother’s Day would be spent, my husband and I remorsefully acknowledged our naivety and cocky attitudes as we sought a relatively painless way to escape the two explosive landmines.
To maintain your sanity and good will towards each other and towards the extended families, make sure that you and your spouse plan and discuss all special occasions well in advance.
Extended families are a package deal when one marries the love of their life. In-Laws and family dynamics can sometimes present as major challenges to a budding, new marriage.
Couples need to set boundaries, assert themselves, and demand respect from all parties. Partners do not have to like, agree, or enjoy spending time with their in-laws, but it is critical that respect them.
Effective and impactful communication is the key to any healthy relationship. Partners need to be comfortable with expressing their feelings, concerns, and fears. A breakdown in communication will inevitably lead to emotional and physical drifting between the couple.
Spouses need to verbalize expectations, learn to compromise, and pay attention to each other. It is imperative for each partner to listen, be heard, and receive validation.
Couples would benefit from incorporating “electronic free” periods into each day so that connection and focus can be deepened.
6. Fighting fairly and resolving conflicts
Disagreements and arguing are intrinsic to any relationship and some degree of conflict is healthy. However, it is imperative for couples to fight fairly and to show respect while working towards a resolution.
It is important for partners to avoid name-calling, blaming, or criticizing and should refrain from keeping score, lecturing, or shutting down.
Partners need to be mindful of their emotions, take a break when necessary, and think carefully before responding. Neither partner should ever feel degraded, humiliated, or overlooked during moments of conflict.
Spouses should always ensure that they are on the same page regarding their expectations.
Couples need to make certain that they are in agreement regarding important issues such as children, intimacy, sex, and career.
It is vital for a couple to practice gratitude while showing appreciation for their partner. Couples need to be attentive to the positive, rather than focusing solely on the negative.
“Thank you” should be incorporated into a couple’s daily vocabulary so that each partner feels appreciated, validated, and not taken advantage of.
It is important to be kind to each other, to overlook imperfections, and to allow your spouse to learn from their mistakes. My husband and I are always mindful to thank each other for the little things, such as doing the dishes, folding the laundry, or taking out the trash.
Is it necessary for us to express gratitude to each other every time?
Probably not, but I find that both my husband and I feel appreciated when we are recognized for doing the mundane tasks that often go unnoticed in other households.
Small acts of kindness seem to go a long way. Thus, I strongly recommend incorporating kindness and gratitude on an everyday basis in your marriage.
9. Daily roles and routines
Routines, roles, and habits are established early in a marriage and are often perpetuated well into the future. A couple would benefit from developing healthy patterns in the beginning by delineating household roles and responsibilities.
Partners need to decide who is vacuuming, cleaning the toilet, and emptying the dishwasher while understanding that the division of responsibilities will not always be equal.
It is important for couples to be aware of the balance or imbalance in their responsibilities, while always feeling supported, appreciated, and validated by their partner.
10. Resolve emotional baggage
It is inevitable that some degree of emotional baggage will be carried into every relationship. Some emotional baggage is heavier, more complex, and takes a substantial amount of time to be resolved.
Partners need to be willing to confront their issues, to reach out for help when needed, and to be open to support from their partners. The strongest unions are the ones where both partners are emotionally whole.