6 Things I Learned During My First Year of Marriage

This post is written from the perspective of a 30 something-year-old Christian woman from the U.S. who is married to a 30 something-year-old Christian man from the U.K and got married less than six months before the start of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

A lovely wooden plaque we received from Andrew’s uncle this past summer (2021) as a belated wedding gift.

September marked two years of marriage to my wonderfully imperfect perfect husband.

I truly cannot tell you where the time has gone (or explain the state of the world we now live in post-lockdown). While we only got to taste a little less than six months of what a normal newlywed couple’s first year of marriage could be like, having this type of support and love in my life during such a turbulent time in history has been an enormous blessing.

And a tremendous stress reliever.

Especially in hindsight, since we were teetering on the edge of becoming a 2020 bride and groom had we gone ahead with our backup plan of planning our wedding for June 2020 instead of September 2019. I am eternally grateful that I did not have to experience canceling my wedding due to the repercussions of a global pandemic. Knowing how much I have been through thus far and how much I overthink almost everything, it would not have been a good look. And I’d probably feel a lot older than I do now in my early thirties (or maybe not that much older because pandemic fatigue is real).

If you are reading this and you did get married at some point during this pandemic (which is still ongoing for the time being), know that I am very sympathetic towards anyone who also hasn’t had a normal wedding planning or newlywed experience that other couples had even like three years ago had.

La Basílica del Pilar (Zaragoza, November 2019). The only weekend away trip we managed to go on as a very newlywed couple that year.

However, there are still lingering effects from the pandemic that are affecting couples who got married in late 2019. Not all of us who got married before it went into this thing unscathed.

Andrew and I have actually yet to take our official honeymoon. As someone who absolutely loves travel and has dreamed about taking this once-in-a-lifetime trip with her new husband practically her whole life, that delay has still been the roughest bump in the road of our married life together thus far. Not to mention missing out on half of our first year of making memories outside of our apartment, in our city and in and around Spain and beyond.

I even have a friend from California who married a Galician guy at the courthouse in late 2018 and had a plan to do their big Spanish wedding in 2020…yet they still haven’t been able to organize and go through with said Spanish wedding plan. And they’ve had issues with deposits and getting refunds.

Anyway, on to the more heartwarming part of this post. I must confess that I did give myself about a year and a half to gather these marriage lessons but can you blame me when this particular experience has basically been nothing but normal?

1. Love is exponential

This is something I wished I had learned as a 20-something in the dating world. Growing up in Christian circles and in an American Pentecostal church affected me both positively and negatively. I lived through my teenage years at almost exactly the same time the purity culture movement was rising to popularity (the early to mid-2000s). It was an evangelical moment that promoted the biblical view of purity by having young girls pledge abstinence until marriage to their parents and often times being gifted a purity ring by their dads. (Linked is an amazingly real yet very kind discussion about the culture and the trauma it caused for many women who are now in their late 20s, 30s and early 40s today.)

I heard so many mixed messages about love, dating and marriage and was led to believe several things about love in particular that I later learned to be false as an adult through my experiences. The interesting thing about love itself is that in many ways it’s objective but what it looks like for you specifically is subjective. Marriage has shown me that I love physical touch far more than I originally thought I did.

Walking hand in hand with my new husband (and his new ring) around his hometown of Ballycastle, UK a few days after the wedding festivities (September 2019)

My husband’s hand entwined in mine, his thumb gently and intentionally rubbing circles on the inside of my palm makes me feel so relaxed and loved. That might not be your preferred way to receive affection but that’s one of mine.

It’s very important to note something that was never spoken of in the Christian circles I grew up in: love is actually exponential. I was told the opposite many, many times throughout my single years during most of my teen and 20-something years.

You needed to pray for your future husband and save up and store away as much love for him as you possibly can before you meet him.

You shouldn’t show affection to or kiss anyone who is not (or will not become) your husband.

You want to be able to offer your future husband your whole heart and not give pieces of it away to other guys before you meet him.

(A friend in our 20s told me this one day before I moved to Spain):

You have the opportunity to save your first kiss for your husband.

I was in my mid-20s at the time and had yet to kiss a guy. Nothing wrong with that.

“Let love grow.” A concept that I had to learn through pain and heartbreak over the course of my many years as a single woman. However, once my friendship with my husband changed and feelings developed, I clung to this beautiful phrase.

Seeing all of these phrases again and remembering the moments in time when I heard and felt those words just baffles me.

The truth is love can be multiplied. A perfect example of this comes from something I read a few weeks ago. If a parent has one child and loves them with their whole heart and then, later on, they have a second child, will their heart be split in two? Will they love the second child only 50%?

No!

They will love both of their children wholeheartedly and their love for both of them will grow in leaps and bounds as time goes on, just like it would for their husband or wife.

The main thing I’ve taken away from this lesson since I got married is that you can really only truly experience love if you choose to show it to someone first. And you can only learn how to express love to your spouse by first expressing it – albeit in different ways – to your immediate and extended family, friends, pets, classmates, coworkers, strangers in need, to name a few.

The beautiful anniversary card my parents sent us in 2020. The first year is special but don’t really expect to receive cards from family every year. Be open to surprises, though.

The same goes for affection and communication. If you never express affection towards anyone or anything, how will you learn how to express it at all? And if you don’t communicate your boundaries or listen to what someone else’s are, how will each of you know what the other wants?

Instead of getting caught up in the world of preservation and prohibition, I chose to work on developing how to love someone, how to be affectionate and how to communicate my boundaries. This resulted in some heartbreak before my husband and I ever got together but I always learned something from each interaction I had with other guys. And those lessons were invaluable. In fact, they were lessons I needed to learn before I actually could get into a relationship with my husband. And I wholeheartedly still believe to this day that God does not waste our pain.

Ultimately, we both worked on developing self-control in our lives both individually and then later on together, while we were dating and engaged. This is something the church neglects to teach more on and equip young couples with practical advice and tools but that’s another topic for another day.

2. Share less on social media about your relationship

Instead, tell your husband/wife what you love most about them face to face or in note form – and often.

That’s the short version of the story but it’s also an important lesson. Being married is really great and you’ll feel incredible at times but not everyone needs to see all of the big or small moments you guys will have. You don’t have to post about how amazing your husband or wife is every time you feel a surge of emotion or a rush of love for them.

(This will happen often in your first year and if you’ve chosen your partner well, it will feel like you both got knocked on the head again with the same feelings of infatuation that you did when you first started dating and falling in love with each other.)

One of my favorite quotes of all time integrated into one of a few posts I made on Instagram. Remember that what you see on social media are the highlights but I do like to keep it real from time to time.

Even people in relationships (hi!) won’t want to hear about that amazing thing your husband did for you on a weeknight just because or the awesome anniversary gift he got you. They are nice and wonderful gestures, of course, but not everyone will understand just how much your spouse doing act of service or giving a special gift means to you.

(Spoiler alert: You don’t even need to give big gifts to each other in the first few years when you’re just starting out. And I need to have a word with whoever started this traditional anniversary gift list for couples. I think I know who – I’m looking at you, Martha Stewart. *shakes fist at sky*

Everyone will basically understand that, unless you post otherwise, you two are enjoying your wedded bliss and working on merging your two lives together. It’s going to take time and it’s not exactly a seamless transition!

Better yet, don’t think about what other people are thinking about your relationship. They’re not in it with you. That advice is good for any relationship at any stage.

Basically, if you do post about your partner know that there may always be one or two comments or messages that will rub you (or someone else) the wrong way. If you don’t want anyone to comment or make their own assumptions, what I’ve learned is that it’s best not to post.

(And I have always, always made it a point to ask him – during any stage of our relationship – if I could post a photo of him before I upload it.)

One thing I kept off social media was the fact that for most of our first year of marriage, Andrew often referenced the line from Borat where he says “My wife,” when talking to me. Or when he was reminding me that I am indeed his wife. It most likely all started because before our Northern Ireland ceremony I had him call me his “almost wife.”

Take advantage of the fact that this is one of the only times in your life that most people (unless your family or his family are nearby and one side has a tendency to be nosy) will leave you and your new spouse alone.

We have struggled with wanting too much time alone sometimes where I will not reply to messages for a while or make plans with anyone else (or I’ll be writing a lot and not wanting to be bothered). I did become aware that we have not had that “do not disturb, out of office” experience that is usually your honeymoon so, in a way, we were overcompensating. (And even into year two, we see this behavior crop up. Or maybe it’s pandemic fatigue?)

But, the takeaway from this lesson is to value and protect your privacy. And the privacy of the person you married. If you both have really intense jobs or run blogs or online communities, remember that you both need to have a personal life, a weekend off and that not everything you do or say needs to be shared on social networks.

3. Living together for the first time is most likely what people mean when they say “marriage is hard”

For years and years, I, for the life of me, could not figure out what couples (usually the wife) meant when they said: “marriage is hard work.”

My first reaction was always, “Well, why did you get married in the first place if it was more work than you bargained for in the beginning?” And the second: “What exactly do you mean when you say it’s ‘work’?”

I never wanted to pry into a married couple’s life especially since I hadn’t been in any long-term relationship for most of my twenties. I also thought I might be shooed away or belittled for asking that since I was just a single girl (which implied I didn’t know anything about relationships – tsk, tsk). Please don’t make someone feel that way.

However, now that I have had a taste of marriage myself, I’m 99% sure that these Christian couples (the demographic that I was surrounded by for a good portion of my single years) meant that living with another person was what the “work” part was all about. I always wondered, “Would loving and taking care of someone as their wife end up becoming such a huge task and burden in my life?”

(Any relationship does require a lot of time and attention. But, if the person with whom you share a strong connection and the fact that they are someone you truly and unconditionally love, it will be worth it.)

As seen last year on billboards in Spain from Idealista, “I love you a lot but I need my space.” I don’t blame some women for wanting to live in a separate home compared to their husbands, just to get that coveted alone time, haha.

I will have to call anyone out on their bluff if they ever say during their first year of marriage that they absolutely love living with their husband or wife and wouldn’t change a thing about their setup. It’s even less believable if you’ve never lived with your partner or anyone else before marriage and are over the age of 25, maybe older.

You’re most likely lying but still trying to be polite – especially if you’re posting about this on social media or talking about it to a friend, close or not.

My husband knows I love him muchísimo and I know he loves me so, so much but…living together as a newly married couple in our thirties has not been a complete walk in the park. It wasn’t going to be, was it, given we got married much later in our lives? (according to our countries’ averages)

I will straight up admit that I’m annoying at home and I require lots of attention. I was never truly aware of that before we got married and this whole experience was what it took for me to really understand myself on a whole new level and better figure out what my own personal needs were.

And what’s more, is I’m also inflexible when it comes to doing certain household tasks that I’ve done for over a decade now and have developed a flawless-to-me system to get them done and I don’t want to compromise. Yet relationships involve both compromise and sacrifice. (Not too much of one or the other or else one or both of you won’t be honoring your true selves.)

My husband really would like to do whatever he wants, when he wants to (beware of marrying of an only child, readers), but he knows to check in with me on days he’s out on the town – only during the day unless he’s found some way to go to a primetime La Liga match.

Who doesn’t love a good solo wander around a new city or a city you love?

But are any of those things deal breakers that we should’ve known about before we married each other?

To be honest, no.

My personal beliefs aside, I think modern relationships where dating couples live together first to see whether or not they are compatible lose that element of surprise that used to only come after a couple married. We did experience what I’d almost coin the “post-wedding-aah-we’re-living-together” shock after the I dos were said and the cake was cut.

(In our case, we also had to get a major jump start on finding a new apartment for ourselves here in Madrid immediately after the big day so we had to be very flexible in the first couple of weeks of our married life.)

Looking back on that first month even and how it took us until October 1st before we really started sharing the same place together (albeit temporary), the shock came as a big surprise. It was a nice surprise in many ways, but, in other ways, it was indeed, shocking.

Yes, it has taken quite a bit of time to get used to living with – and sleeping in the same bed with – the love of my life but I’m really glad that I didn’t have that experience with anyone else before him.

While it was something we had agreed upon during our first weekend going out and what we believed to be the right thing to do, not living with each other really spoke of our trust in one another. And while it’s not something the rest of the world agrees with and I know people can hide who they truly are outside of the house but, it’s something I’d definitely recommend. Or at least spend a few weeks apart from one another and not sleep in the same place before the wedding. It will make the day that much more special and unique compared to any other day of your relationship.

4. Marriage will show you just how selfish you really are

You will never be more aware of your own self-centeredness or selfishness while being married to someone.

Case in point: this breakfast plate is all mine. 😛 (Taken in Mazál Bagels & Café)

Now, don’t take this the wrong way and jump to conclusions. I’m not judging myself or anyone else.

However, since you will be sharing a new house or apartment with your new husband, you will be seeing each other every day now and you both will have daily needs that will need to be met. By default, you will want to meet your own needs first, wake up at your regularly scheduled time, pour yourself a cup of coffee or make a cup of tea first, be the first one in the bathroom or shower and fix yourself your own breakfast.

It’s only natural that you will be thinking of yourself first because after all, you have to make sure you are alright and feel ready to tackle the day. Don’t pour from an empty cup as the saying goes. But, once the wedding reception ends and you drive off into the sunset, everything will have changed.

You will never stop thinking about your spouse, whether you are physically present with them or not. If you think the lovey-dovey stage was intense, when you possibly struggled to remember when to eat, sleep and shower, from now on, you will always have them on your mind. There won’t be a day that goes by when you won’t think of sending them a picture, picking up something at the store or doing something for them just because.

Sharing a dessert will actually sound like a good idea when you’re in a relationship, even to a habitually solo girl like me.

However, when it comes to deciding who will get up first from underneath the warm blanket on the sofa or who will go get dressed again and brave the cold to take the trash out, that’s when your selfishness will come to the surface. It’s so easy to push the task off onto your spouse or make up an excuse as to why you can’t do something. This does come as second nature to us as humans but marriage teaches us a lot about sacrifice. Putting someone’s else needs before your own and sacrificing a bit of your own comfort to make sure the other person is taken care of and protected.

On another note, in order to be able to take care of someone well, you need to make sure you’ve dealt with your own issues and are able to present a mature and emotionally intelligent version of yourself to your spouse. (You can also work out a lot of issues within your marriage but it involves less pain and discomfort if you work on that side of things while you’re single or dating, preferably single – which is what I did.)

At the end of the day, your spouse’s happiness and overall well-being should be at the top of your list, only second to your relationship with God and your own personal well-being. You won’t be able to love your spouse and understand the way they need to be loved unless you first take care of and learn to love yourself.

5. Work out all major issues and disagreements in the first year (or two)

This will help you avoid preventing those issues from becoming ingrained habits. It can also stop your personal emotional baggage from staying in and affecting your marriage. Develop the habit of solving major issues when they arise -or close to that timeline- in order to avoid developing grudges, resentment or any negative feelings that could damage your relationship with one another over time.

Era Uma Vez O Amor by Gustavo Santos – a book I picked up during a visit to Porto that talks about teaching kids a healthy perspective on love. Start early with this theme and you won’t regret it!

Without going into too much detail here, I’ll give one example of what I mean by this. You might be thinking: “but aren’t you supposed to work out all your issues, know everything about the other person and get on the same page before you get married?”

Yes, you are supposed to (and highly recommended to) do those things. But, remember: we are all only human. And you can talk about everything under the sun (we certainly have and yet we still have lots more to talk about!) but some small things might get overlooked. It’s only natural.

However, in my case, I took something my husband had said while we were engaged to heart and brought that same sentiment into our marriage, perhaps by accident. We were really stressed during most of the wedding planning process and I was trying to juggle the rising costs and the responsibilities that come with being a freelancer here in Spain. The two of those things made me cry a LOT more than I usually did in previous years. He told me that it made him really sad when he saw me cry so I tried to work on not crying as much if I was talking to him about something emotional or difficult. That resulted in me suppressing some of my emotions and only letting myself process them much later. Other times I failed to hold my feelings in (it happens when you’re a very sensitive person like I am) and he saw me at my worst many, many times but he still stuck by my side.

That was what meant the most to me leading up to the start of our marriage. We made it through the sometimes turbulent period of engagement, which I would recommend you plan for it to last almost a year to really see if you two have what it takes to overcome all the obstacles life will through at you. (And there will be a lot when you’re engaged!) Maybe you want to hurry up and get married already but trust me, you will never regret taking your time to truly get to know someone and see them through many different types of trials.

Due to using obscene amounts of hand sanitizer (which has given me flashbacks to the US in the early 2000s), I made the decision to take off my engagement ring until the pandemic lessens significantly. It’s not something I ever imagined doing but I want to preserve the ring and the metal and I don’t want to misplace it while taking it off and putting it back on. This post explains more of my thoughts.

We all carry some form of emotional baggage in life but the important thing is how you deal with what happens to you. Eventually, if you are actively working on your own internal issues and how easily you can let things go, some of that baggage will go away. In my case with showing more vulnerable emotions in front of a partner and not being able to go to my own room for complete privacy, it’s okay to grieve the loss of that. And a lot of people don’t take time to really feel the effects of transitioning from being unmarried where you have access to unlimited privacy and freedom (you decide how much or how little) to married where you will always, out of courtesy and love for your spouse, have to check in or let someone else know what you’re doing.

I’m really glad I’ve taken the time and actually had the self-awareness to process and grieve in a way my transition from a single woman to a married woman. It can be pretty intense especially if you’re an introvert like me but it’s well worth the effort. While you and your partner can and will work out issues that arise throughout your marriage, how much you work on yourself even after you get married can only improve your relationship and the relationship you have with yourself.

The best advice I can give comes from something I read in a post recently. If you’re still thinking about something 24 hours after it’s happened or it’s been said, say something in the next 48 hours. Don’t wait for the moment or pass you by and let the whole thing leave you bitter, resentful, regretful or all of the above.

6. Prioritize time together and time apart – and communicate your expectations clearly

The short answer to this lesson is that you simply cannot spend every waking moment with the person you marry.

It’s not humanly possible nor is it healthy. Fight me on this but you will later learn that this is true.

Katie Couric interviewed her in-laws for a special Valentine’s Day feature story in February 2021. The thing I loved the most about the advice this couple shared is that “the two become three” and focused on how it’s just as important to continue to be individuals as it is to be a couple. Their words and experiences are powerful and worth a few minutes of your time. 💕

Communication is at the heart of every relationship in our lives, with family, friends, co-workers and significant others. Without proper and intentional communication, any great relationship will fall apart.

Alone time and communication have always been at the heart of our relationship. While we share the same native language, our accents and the words we use haven’t always lined up. Simply put, just because two people speak the same language doesn’t mean they will automatically understand each other. Life just doesn’t work that way.

I most likely don’t talk about this a lot but I spend a lot of time on my own during the day and into the afternoon. That part of my life hasn’t changed too drastically since I worked from home part-time before I got married and then after the fact, the pandemic has had me working from home on projects and teaching classes full-time, except for one day a week when I go to an academy. My husband is working some mornings and afternoons four times a week. We are both more awake and alert in the mornings but we don’t regularly eat breakfast together.

Fridays are usually the days where we have our own time apart. It’s a time where I can get administrative and household things done and spend a bit of free time doing what I enjoy. We have lunch separately or we both go out to different restaurants or cafés. Whatever we need to meet our core nutrients as the lovely podcaster and business owner Mel Wiggins puts it.

On our only long trip during our first year of marriage: a week-long trip to Porto, Santiago de Compostela and La Coruña, August 2020.

It helps that we come from similar countries and backgrounds but we are still not naturally going to lean towards how the other person thinks. Knowing someone and understanding their point of view only come from taking the time to learn about them. There isn’t a wrong way of doing things when we’re talking about preferences (don’t confuse them with personal beliefs) so what I do in my relationship may not be what you’d prefer to do. That’s perfectly okay because relationships consist of billions of different people who are all different.

I had always wanted to find a life partner who would not only let me be myself but also let me continue to maintain my own individuality. In the past, I was put off by couples who seemed to lose themselves in each other and their interests merged each and every time like peanut butter and jelly. I wondered if there was anyone out there who also didn’t want to lose who they really are in a couple and well, it took over 26 years to even meet him but I did! And words cannot describe how grateful I am for that meeting that one rainy Thursday night in Northern Spain.

Sometimes I put a hyper-focus on communication in our relationship but it’s only because my ultimate goal is to understand. Granted we do code-switch (using words from a foreign language while speaking a completely different language) sometimes when we can’t agree on what word is the correct word in English 😛 but it’s all in good fun.

Always make sure needs, wants, desires, boundaries and consent (yes, consent in marriage is important although many Christian marriage books omit this!) are communicated clearly. If you’re unable to communicate something, take time to find the words or courage to do so in your own time. It will only help you grow into a stronger, more mature person over time. It will be difficult at first but you will be rewarded with richer communication, understanding and a deeper relationship with your husband.

To be continued…

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