One of the most interesting facts I learned in a social psychology class in school was this: what you do in the first few years of a relationship sets the tone for the rest of your life together.
Rebecca here on the blog today. Now that’s a lot of pressure on the beginning stages of a relationship! But what psychologists have found is that if you set up good habits in the first few years, you set yourself up for a lot of success later in your relationship. Those first 3 or so years set your foundation–and there’s a lot you can do to make sure it’s a good one!
So I wanted to talk about 10 of the best decisions you can make during that first year of marriage to set you up for success. And this one is going to be a long one, so let’s just jump into it!
1. Get your money in order
Money is one of the most common sources of tension in marriages. If you can get your finances sorted out early, not only will you save yourselves a lot of stress, but you’ll also be setting yourself up for a great financial situation down the line! Here are 3 main things you can do for your budget when you first start out to set you up for success:
Don’t buy a new car. If you can’t buy outright, don’t buy it.
If you’re just starting out, why pile on even more debt that you don’t need? You could buy a new car and have a car payment coming out every 2 weeks or you could just save up for a little while and then buy a used car outright for $5,000 that lasts you for years.
Pay off student loans before buying a house.
Student loans have become almost the status quo–we expect to be paying off our loans for decades!
Now, I recognize this is much harder in the US, where tuition is really expensive. But here in Canada the average student graduates with about $25,000 of student debt. Now, $25,000 is actually not very difficult to pay off. But it’s a heck of a lot harder when you add on a car payment and a mortgage for a house you were only able to put 5% down on.
Take a few years and pay off that debt. Live on next to nothing until you are in the green. Then look at these “adult” purchases–don’t buy them on borrowed money.
Learn how to budget together.
Can you trust your spouse with money? Are you trustworthy with the finances? These are things that are easy to nip in the bud but difficult to deal with after 10 years of careless spending. Get in the habit now of living on a budget–especially since that first year is usually one of the tightest financially! Connor and I used to get out $50 each in cash and that was all of our spending money for the entire month. Yep, the entire month. We did that for almost 2 years of marriage, until we started making more money and didn’t have to pay tuition anymore. And that year and a half of having almost no money really trained us early on to be able to talk about finances and make plans together without feeling overwhelmed or stressed about money.
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2. Sort out the housework early on
Figure out what your expectations are early on. Split up all the chores with clear expectations–cleaning the bathroom for some people includes the tub, whereas other families have that as a completely separate task. When does it need to be done? How often?
More than that, though, make sure that both of you are able to do all of it yourself. You never know when someone will get sick, and won’t be able to shoulder their load for a while. You are a team in everything–including the home!
3. Discuss boundaries with in-laws
What are some boundaries that need to be in place so that your in-laws aren’t overly involved in your marriage? What is realistic in terms of the amount of time you spend talking to them? What would be too much? Are there specific topics that need to be completely off the table when talking to your in-laws or your parents? Talk about it together, figure out what works, and recognize that it’s going to take some trial and error to find the right balance.
4. Make sex a real priority
I’m not saying “just have sex.” I’m saying make having a sex life a real priority. When you’re first married, it seems easy–you’re in that honeymoon phase! But when you start to exit that stage, make sure that you don’t leave sex at the gate.
Take time to learn what works for you, how to make it a priority, and how to enjoy your spouse. Not just how to enjoy sex–but how to truly enjoy your spouse.
5. Have clear expectations around time-wasters
My husband is a gamer. I like to knit and binge Netflix. We have these conversations a lot.
I learned quite quickly that when my husband starts playing mutiplayer games later in the evening, it ticks me off because it interferes with my routine. If I want to go to bed at 10:30 and he starts a game at 10:15, he’s not coming to bed until 11 at the earliest. So we decided that if he starts a game after 9:00 he has to ask me first. I’m not controlling him, but it gives me a chance to say “I wanted to spend some time catching up tonight, is it OK if you don’t this time?”
Likewise, I try to watch my shows while he’s playing his games. We get our goof-off time done at the same time so that we can spend time together. But most of all, we’ve made it a priority to spend time together first before we turn on the PS4 or log into Netflix.
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6. Make having fun a part of your routine
Some time spent gaming or watching movies is alright, but make sure your marriage becomes more interesting than that! Connor and I realized we were getting really boring recently, so we started taking some classes individually but also scheduled more time to do things together. We’re going to start going rockclimbing again every month with another couple friend of ours, and we are starting to have more people over for games nights.
But more than that, it’s about having fun in the mundane, day-to-day activities. Have a bubble war when you’re doing the dishes! Play-wrestle when you’re folding laundry (and have to do it all over again as a result)! Don’t be afraid to be silly and dance like a goofball to cheesy disco music in the kitchen. Just have fun together, and a lot of that is about being silly!
7. Learn to catch him doing good things
What you focus on grows, and if you can start out your relationship focusing on his good traits and all the things you love about him, it really does grow. Too many times, though, we get caught in a rut of only seeing how he could be better, or where he’s not living up to our expectations.
Learn to train yourself to catch the good things. This isn’t natural for us–psychologically speaking, we’re far more primed to the bad than the good. That’s because focusing on the bad is more important for survival–does it really matter if you notice the pretty flower as much as if you notice the panther about to jump out at you? But because we’re so primed to see the danger, we start seeing things that aren’t even real threats as huge monsters! He leaves his socks on the floor–he doesn’t appreciate me and is using me like an object. He doesn’t call back immediately–he’s so inconsiderate and immature, I bet he let his phone die again for the fifth time this week.
What could your marriage look like if you trained your “good” radar to be as strong–or even stronger–than your “disappointment” radar? Start exercising that part of your brain now! It really does change everything.
8. Invest in a support system
The vast majority of people will deal with at least one world-rocking tragedy in their lives. Discovering a spouse’s porn addiction, dealing with sickness, facing infertility–whatever it is, you will need people around you who you trust, who care about you, and who can be your support.
Invest your time and energy in finding some core friends for each of you and for the two of you together so you can know that if you need support, you have people who can gather around you to keep you accountable, pray for you, and help you however you need.
9. Learn to daydream about your spouse–and to not daydream about anyone else!
I’m probably going to write a whole post about this someday soon because I think it’s just so important, but here is a summary of my thoughts on the matter:
Fantasizing is not wrong. God gave us imaginations! But we need to learn how to harness that imagination and channel it towards our spouse. Learning how to daydream about your spouse and not let your mind wander to anyone else–no book you’re reading, song you’re listening to, or movie you’re watching–is such an important discipline. You have this awesome person who is completely yours and who you can give yourself completely to! So don’t muddle up your mind with images of other people, or compare your spouse to anyone else. Learn to revel in complete vulnerability and intimacy with your spouse, and to completely turn away from any sort of fantasy or curiosity about anyone other than him.
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10. Learn to talk to God together
As you’re adjusting to all of these new things that come with marriage, give your spiritual life together some special attention. Take the time you need to figure out how to pray together, what works for you to grow spiritually together, and how you can encourage and strengthen each other.
If you can start your marriage being able to communicate about the important things–including your walk with God–you are set up for so much more success than if you push these conversations under the rug. So let’s get them out into the light and start talking!
What are some of your best tips for newlyweds? What were some things that you did in the first years of marriage that you are so happy you are grateful for? Let’s chat about it in the comments!