Why Are the First Years of Marriage so Hard? 5 Tips for a Strong Love

The love at the core of any marriage needs frequent renewal to be sturdy. It is a continual work-in-progress. And with the divorce rate over 50%, newly married couples may worry whether they have what it takes to make it through the first rough patches, and build a happy relationship that endures.

In order for a marriage to last, couples need to maintain emotional connectedness and remain responsive to one another.

Responsive Partners Grow Strong

After your married life together begins, your attentiveness to each other is bound to wane. This becomes a problem when, instead of recognizing and addressing this, you let resentment and disconnection grow. This happens when partners are not sure how to talk about their needs and concerns with each other.

Establishing healthy, positive interactions and building on goodwill is crucial. Psychologist Dr. John Gottman discovered the key importance of respect, humor and fondness to the success of a long and happy marriage. His long-term study of couples shows that maintaining a deep understanding of your partner’s history, dreams, likes and dislikes creates a strong foundation for happiness in your future life together.

How to Communicate Effectively

Often we don’t talk about concerns, difficulties and hurts, because we’re afraid it won’t go well. But tough conversations can happen in a productive way. Gottman identifies four signs that communication is headed for disaster, which partners must avoid for effective communication to occur:

  1. Criticism – Blaming your partner for not doing something often turns into an attack on their personality instead of the deed itself.
  2. Defensiveness – Making excuses for your actions can breed resentment.
  3. Contempt – Mockery, harsh comments and name-calling can cause things to spiral out of control, and leads to your partner withdrawing.
  4. Stonewalling – Tuning out of the conversation(acting like a stone wall) is one way people try to keep a conflict from getting worse. Communication needs to be two-way, so withdrawing will not solve anything.

Instead, we recommend these positive steps to keep your relationship moving toward happiness:

  1. Ask nicely – Make requests out of your complaints.
  2. Affirm feelings – Acknowledge that your partner has a right to feel the way they do.
  3. Temper anger with love – Remind yourself how much you love your partner and how much they love you. Express your anger without attacking.
  4. Engage – It takes courage to step back into discussion when you are protecting yourself from blame or feelings of inadequacy, and yet that’s what needs to happen.

More Ways to Build Enduring Love

To help yourselves through a rough patch anytime in your marriage, open yourself up to your partner. Ask questions, learn, and share what’s important to you and what hurts. Work to create healthy compromises that recognize the things that matter most to both of you.

Try to identify patterns in your arguments, so you can try something different to keep them from escalating. If you feel negative emotions building, take a break. It is important self-management to recognize you’re getting too upset to talk. When things are calmer, find ways to make friendly physical contact. This will often help reestablish the connection you need.

Making repairs is really the art of keeping love alive. A heart-felt, “I’m sorry I hurt you” begins a great repair. In fact, we need miscommunications and then repairs to build a sturdy love. Hurtful incidents are bound to happen in any relationship. What matters most is your ability to recover from conflict and return to building a love that grows through missteps.

And it’s not all about words! Psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson encourages couples to reestablish connection by taking time for cuddling. She reminds us that cuddling is something humans enjoy and has a soothing influence for both people.

If We Want More Help What’s Next?

Conflict in the early years of marriage often occurs because you may not realize that you both need to keep attending to relationship as you did during courtship. If you’re having trouble reestablishing your connection with your partner, it may help to learn what you can do to re-start positive and helpful interactions.

Is your partner willing to discuss disagreements with an understanding attitude? You can turn trouble around if you take time to learn ways to listen for each other’s needs beneath the original concern.

An approach that counselors find most successful in helping couples grow healthy bonds comes from Emotional Focused Therapy. EFT, primarily developed by Dr. Johnson, helps couples work through relationships in distress, with the goal to create enduring bonds between partners. The method has enormous success rate in facilitating emotional bonding required for successful relationships. See the Mount Vernon Family Therapy Resources page for books, workshops and articles we recommend.