There are all sorts of speculations as to what year of marriage is the "hardest" (I've heard 1st, 5th, and 7th fairly frequently), and it obviously depends on the couple, but I wanted to share some tools that I think helped our first year of marriage go by so smoothly.
We worked incredibly hard to be as prepared for marriage as we possibly could (without living together). We hadn't known each other for incredibly long - we dated for 7 months and were engaged for 9, but during the time we dated and were engaged our time together was very intentional. Our entire relationship was long distance until about 4 months before the wedding when Brandon moved to Michigan. Consequently we spent a ton of time on the phone talking about anything and everything. One mistake I think couples can fall into is thinking that just because they've spent a lot of time together, they really know each other. But do you really know someone if you spend a ton of time in front of the TV or at the movies? Or if you are always talking about surface issues? It amazes me how many people I've met who never talked to their spouse about how many kids they wanted to have or what they thought about birth control before they got married.
At one point Brandon and I looked up numerous books and lists on the Internet that made suggestions about topics to discuss before you get married. This was a great resource and one we used during our dating days. Consequently, by the time we started formal marriage counseling 3 months before our wedding, there were really no "surprising" topics that ever came up. Marriage counseling with our pastor and his wife (whose marriage we really admire) was also very helpful as was spending a lot of time talking to our parents about what to expect and how to prepare.
Brandon and I are both realistic people. While we both were SO excited to get married, we also knew that moving in together would require some adjustments. We talked (again a lot of talking!) a lot while we were engaged about what challenges we thought might come up and how we could handle them.
Honesty and Communication
One of the ways in which Brandon and I are really suited for one another is that we have very similar styles of communication. As 2 lawyers, you might guess that at times we probably overtalk things through :) But I love this about us! This has been a huge asset over the last year. When something was bothering one of us (i.e. it drove Brandon nuts that I left closet/cupboard doors open all over the place) we were really good about bringing it up and talking things through, rather than waiting and suppressing annoyances until we burst!
Ladies, please note that I am not saying it is ok to nag your husband about everything that drives you nuts! It is important to let the little things go - and remember that your husband is probably extending you grace in a lot of things you do that he is trying to get used to as well! But if something is truly bothering or hurting you - share it! Don't wait around expecting your husband to read your mind, this will only cause unnecessary frustration on both ends.
Brandon was the one to first articulate our commitment as husband and wife - and it completely set the stage for our journey together. Although our marriage has been strong, this past year has not been easy at all from a "life" perspective. One of the biggest challenges we faced was some major family drama only a week after we returned from our honeymoon. During one heated conversation with his family, Brandon firmly stated that it was not "him" and "me" anymore, it was "us," and that he would always be on his wife's side moving forward.
To see my man take that stance so firmly brought me to tears. Even given all of the pain and frustration of the conversation, it was such a beautiful moment in our marriage. And when differences arose later with my side of the family, it was much easier for me to take the same stance.
Becoming one is not an easy thing to do. But it's essential to a successful marriage - and the earlier you commit to making the practice a priority in your marriage, the better.
Above all else, we both attribute our faith to the strength of our marriage. Our individual relationship with the Lord is the number one priority in both of our lives - followed by pursuing the Lord together as husband and wife. Our faith has pushed us to practice grace with each other, and offer love and respect when it might not be deserved. Our marriage is successful because Christ is at the center of it.
"We love because he first loved us." 1 John 4:19