When my husband and I got married in 2001, we had already been dating for six years, were living together and for all intents and purposes, were a married couple -- or at least acting like one. Although we had experienced matrimonial bliss before the matrimony, it wasn't until we purchased our first house that the real roles and responsibilities of 'husband' and 'wife' took effect.
After having lived in small apartments in large cities for the entirety of our pre-betrothed state, the prospect of owning a house and being actual grown-ups was both exciting and scary. But we were living the American dream of being homeowners. To add another picket to the white picket fence, we even got a dog.
I wanted to be a good wife, even though I didn't really know what that entailed. In that naïve first year, my interpretation of it was to take care of everything possible so my husband could concentrate on school. I was also starting my own business and had the added pressure of being the sole breadwinner. The more I took on both inside and outside of the house, the expectation to continue it kept building. But it was something I put onto myself. My expectations perpetuated themselves towards becoming part bad habit and part chronicle of a Stepford wife. I was overwhelmed and put a lot of pressure on myself to live up to this false interpretation of what being a good wife was.
This was clearly not a good way to start off a long life together. We had a lot to learn about communication, responsibility, expectations and being adults together. But we worked on it and made it through our newlywed year and years following stronger and wiser about ourselves as individuals and as a couple. It was in that first year that we learned the following important lessons for building a strong foundation for marriage:
1. Don't make assumptions: We make assumptions all the time in relationships that we believe to be the truth, but that's when we can get into trouble. When I assumed that my husband expected things to be done around the house, there was no basis of fact in that aside from the expectations I was putting on myself. Unless you know something to be true, don't assume.
2. Speak up: I can't read my husband's mind, nor can he read mine. Yes, actions sometimes do speak louder than words, but if I think that my husband is going to pick up on things that I need or want based on things that I do and don't say, I'm making the wrong assumption. In my experience, men are literal and just want women to tell it like it is. Whenever I ask my husband something in a roundabout way, he always says, "Just tell me what you need." Simple and easy.
3. Listen: So, if one person is going to speak up, the other has to listen to what the other person is saying, not what he/she wants to be hearing. There's a very distinct difference between the two.
4. Voice your appreciation for one another: Love and respect should be a given in any marriage, but it can be easy to take each other for granted. Most people just want to be acknowledged and appreciated and a simple "thank you for dinner," or "I appreciate you getting the car fixed," can make a world of difference.
5. Figure out what your responsibilities are: When you merge into one household, there's undoubtedly going to be discussions around division of labor. Who is going to be responsible for which tasks? According to Gallup's annual Social Series Lifestyle poll, "Women continue to be much more likely than their husbands to perform a wide number of household duties, with men being reported as primarily responsible for only two. Over half of married respondents say the wife is most likely to do six household chores: laundry, cleaning the house, making decisions about furniture and decoration, preparing meals, caring for the children (for couples with children under 18), and doing the grocery shopping. Respondents are also significantly more likely to say the wife, rather than the husband, washes dishes and pays the household bills." Of course these assigned tasks are not set in stone, but there should be a mutual agreement about which responsibilities, both in and out of the home, each individual is going to take care of.
6. Go on dates: Remember when you were in the courting phase of the relationship and date nights were so exciting? Establish a consistent date night routine that takes you off the couch, away from the TV and into a restaurant, a movie theater, a museum, a golf course -- however you define a good date to be. It sounds simple enough, but sometimes when we are in pursuit of personal goals, careers, degrees, we can fall into a rut where our priorities fall out of whack and working on the relationship get pushed further and further down the list. Throw kids into the mix and it can be even harder to reclaim that personal one-on-one time.
Although our newlywed year had its ups and downs, I reflect on that period in our relationship as such an important part of our history. We grew so much as a couple and really become a strong team that worked things out together. Anniversary number eight is approaching and I think we've done a good job at putting these lessons learned to work each and every day. It is indeed work and even though we are far from perfect, at least we are imperfect together.
What are some of the key lessons you learned from your early years as husband and wife?