For many couples, the first year of marriage is by far the messiest. When Shan Boodram, sexologist and intimacy expert, took to Instagram to share the reality of her first year with her husband, the comment section quickly filled with ‘IYKYK’ comments and anecdotes of viewers’ own messy years. Boodram revealed that the first year of marriage is rife with mess, be it through having to maintain balance in the marriage alongside outside relationships, work, kids, and wellness or through managing expectations. Boodram made a point of opening up about her relationship and intimacy as a way of destigmatizing it online. She describes marriage as a challenge, likening it to playing the childhood game of ‘keep up’.

The first year of marriage is traditionally the ‘paper anniversary’. There are several theories about why paper is the chosen symbolism for the first year. Maybe the everydayness of paper is foundational, just like the first year. Through rewriting and honoring their own rules, the first year can help newlyweds transform marriage into something less tricky and much easier to navigate. 

Why Is The Paper Anniversary Tricky?

Typically, the first year of marriage prompts couples into a deeper union where their lives are much more intertwined. Things like discussing finances, balancing responsibilities, managing a household or even living together for the first time suddenly come into play at a greater scale. 

Psychologist and Sexuality Empowerment Expert Jasmonae Joyriel interrogates exactly why people feel that the first year of marriage is tricky, messy, or even anti-climatic.

“I’m not sure that the first year is the trickiest as much as it’s one of the first periods that draws attention to how the relationship is progressing,” Joyriel said.

The first year shines a light on things that may had been less evident during the courting or dating period. In this sense, newlyweds learn in the first year that marriage will not “fix” things or people. 

“As couples embark on the first year, they quickly realize that a ceremony is not a sufficient catalyst for change,” Joyriel explained.

The other major factor contributing to stress in the first year is rapid integration of lives. For instance, Joyriel explains that many couples may cohabitate but often take a roommate approach instead of a married couples’ approach. This may present as operating individually rather than seeing the home as “ours.” This can be a jarring shift and bring about a lot of stress and conflict if communication and expectations aren’t clear-cut. 

“It can feel easier to leave a newly formed union before significant portions of one’s life are impacted by another’s. The longer couples are married the more likely, careers, finances, children, belongings, social circles, families are interwoven making separation and divorce a much more complex and messy experience for both people,” Joyriel said.

Mistakes Typically Made In The First Year of Marriage

The paper anniversary is all about the giddiness of being loved on by your spouse, but it is equally about making the necessary mistakes. Mistakes are natural, factoring them into the first year of marriage is a must to take a more realistic approach to the bond. Some typical mistakes may include poor communication, difficulties with syncing up social lives, different work ethics which infiltrate into personal lives, and so much more.

Sometimes, a huge mistake is conflating the idea of a marriage with the idea of a wedding, which invites all sorts of complications.

“The biggest mistake I see couples make is conflating the event of a wedding with the experience of marriage. Most couples can go into excruciating detail about how they want their wedding to look and feel but fall silent when asked how they want to experience their marriage,” Joyriel shared from experiences working with couples. “Many newlyweds fail to set up a solid communication and conflict management system.”   

Tips For For Navigating The First Year of Marriage 

Being married may take more time, attention and adjustment than you anticipated. This is completely normal and actually a great reality to accept. Joyriel shares some expert tips to make the transition in the first year easier.

Define Marriage

Defining marriage from the jump will help keep things transparent. Ask questions such as, what does marriage look like? Which roles will each of you take? How will you navigate finances? How will you approach significant changes like a career move? What does it mean for things to be “ours?”

Confront and Address Current Undesirable Dynamics

It’s no use avoiding undesirable dynamics and behaviors. The best approach is to address it, avoiding vague and emotionally driven responses. Instead, be clear and specific in your approach to resolution. Consider what it means to you if it never changes.

Set Up a Communication and Conflict Management System

Every newlywed should have a structured approach for how they want to check in about the impact marriage is having on their lives. This includes new insights, new approaches to day-to-day living, etc. Couples should also have a plan for approaching conflict. Marriage can be surprisingly stressful with all the changes and couples should normalize those moments too. 

Changes Take Time

Marriage can be an emotional, psychological, financial, spiritual, and physical change. Try to focus on one or two impactful changes each year and work to let the rest go. The best marriages have spent years perfecting and settling into their relationship. Giving yourself the patience to grow will also give you the stamina to endure the inevitable rocky times that also lay ahead.