Learn from my rookie mistakes.
I have been married for almost 17 years, which surprises me. Not because I didn’t think our relationship would survive, but mostly because, in our first year of wedded bliss, I did some really, really stupid things.
Honestly, I can’t even think about some of them without cringing.
Now they might not sound too horrific to other people — there was no cheating, stealing, or bare-knuckle boxing — but they are the sort of thing that will make any other married couple shake their heads in disbelief and mutter “Rookie mistake” under their breaths.
And I don’t blame them. Learning how to make a marriage work is hard. You can’t really prepare for it (living together first helps), so it’s a lot of on-the-job training.
Emotionally, the stakes could not be higher, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that, during your first year of marriage, you will find yourself fighting over some of the dumbest things possible.
Things like cleaning the bathroom or the logistics of Taco Tuesday suddenly take on ridiculous, life-or-death meanings, and you and your partner have to figure out how to reconcile all of those messy emotions with the day-to-day necessities of trying to live together without killing each other.
It wasn’t easy, but my wife and I found a way through it all and came out the other side. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not still 100% embarrassed about what a marriage noob I was back in the day.
So you can all learn from my early ineptitude, here are five of the hands-down dumbest things I did during our first year of marriage. (Do your best to avoid these bonehead moves.)
My wife and I didn’t live together before we got married. (Not for any puritanical reasons, we were both just finishing up internships and college before we tied the knot.) So, a lot of our first-year growing pains had to do with some pretty basic co-habitation issues. Case in point — the way I did laundry.
I’d always enjoyed doing my own laundry, but I found doing someone else’s laundry, specifically, a WOMAN’s laundry, to be unreasonably intimidating. Everything I owned was cotton, so I could just throw everything into cold and be done with it. But my wife had delicates. And bras. And things that required “pre-soak”… whatever that is. And I didn’t want to ruin anything, so I just DIDN’T wash any of her clothes. I figured, “It’s better this way. She doesn’t want me ruining her stuff.”
Turns out she was just getting angrier and angrier that I was completely ignoring her laundry. I thought I was doing her a favor by opting out, but that was dumb. So, after we had it out one dark laundry day, I manned up, started reading labels, and learned to deal with the occasional “dry flat” or “dry clean only” item.
Such a rookie mistake. Because here’s the thing — in marriage, no one EVER wins a fight.
It doesn’t happen, because, even if you “win” (i.e. your point is proven to be true and their point is proven to be false), no one is happy. Your victory is meaningless. All it means is that your partner is going to resent the hell out of you for possibly weeks at a time. And it’s simply not worth it. No victory is worth that much simmering, seething discomfort.
When you’ve been married for more than a year, you realize that you don’t want to win a fight. You just want fights to END. You will learn that working together to mutually walk away from a fight is so much better than any “I told you so” you could ever imagine.
This is a hard one — realizing that, for your own sanity, you and your spouse NEED to spend time apart. But I was just so enamored with being married. It was all so new and exciting, so I consistently turned down every invitation from my friends to go out or spend a night apart from my wife.
Cut to one year later and my wife and I both come to the realization that we don’t really have any friends anymore. I mean, the friends still existed, but we’d dropped completely off their radars. They NEVER thought to include us socially anymore, and it was all OUR fault.
Once we realized that, we started the long, hard work of being social again. We were finally confident enough in our marriage bond to spend some nights apart and it ultimately made us a lot happier.
Dumb, dumb, dumb. This was another co-habitation growing pain, but it was a bad one.
Emotionally sharing your life with one person can be difficult, but it’s not that hard (if you find the right person). But, even if you find the right person, trying to get used to one shared bank account is a total bitch.
We both had our own systems, we both had VERY different priorities about savings and checking, and we both were working at very different jobs, earning very different amounts, so we were constantly getting into “who’s contributing enough” fights. It was the single worst part of our first year of marriage.
But, eventually, we had to figure it out. We sat down and wrote out a budget — we didn’t actually FOLLOW it, but it was good to come clean and make sure that we both knew what all the bills were each month. We had to start thinking as a partnership and regarding our monthly earnings as “our” money, not “mine and hers.” It’s not easy, but it can be done.
Don’t get me wrong — getting married changes your life, but way too many people (myself included) have completely unreasonable expectations about what that transformation really will be.
When you’re young, you see getting married as this huge step towards “getting your shit together.” It’s supposed to be symbolic of being serious and settling down, maybe it’s the first step in becoming more like your parents.
In reality, getting married is different for everyone. It can be hard, easy, messy, passive. But it does not change who you are overnight. It’s a process, an effort, a journey. It takes work. It doesn’t transform you, but it does set you on a path that allows you and your partner to change together over time (hopefully, for the better).
At the very least, it taught me how to balance a checkbook and wash a blouse, so there’s that.