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6 tips for surviving your first year of marriage

April 14, 2017

Did you catch this morning’s anniversary shoot? We shared a little q/a on marriage + creating a home together, and why stop there? Especially when we have journalist + travel editor Jo Piazza’s insight on that most anticipated first year after I Do. Her latest book, How to Be Married, covers her own experience as a newly married and all that she learns from traveling to 20 countries to find out just what modern marriage is all about. Read her 6 tips for your first year of marriage below!

6 tips for surviving your first year of marriage

6 tips for surviving your first year of marriage

Nearly every romantic comedy ever made ends with the engagement and leaves out the most interesting part—the marriage.

If the wedding is the fairy-tale ending then what is the marriage?

A sequel?

What do we actually do after “I do”?

Everyone tells you marriage is hard, but no one tells you what to do about it. I wanted to figure out what to do about it. After kissing every frog in New York City, I met my own prince on a boat in the Galapagos islands during a reporting assignment. Talk about a fairy tale ending. But I wanted to figure out how to be married, how to be a good partner, how to successfully navigate the world as a pair without losing myself in the process.

Marriage experts call the first year of marriage “the wet cement year,” because it’s the time when both members of a couple are figuring out how to exist as partners without getting stuck in the murk, without being trapped by bad habits. It’s a time to set and test boundaries and create good habits that will continue for the rest of your marriage.

Through my job as a travel editor I was able to crowd source marriage advice from around the world during my first year of marriage. I interviewed thousands of people from Maasai tribeswomen to Israeli Orthodox Jews to very fancy Parisian ladies who lunch and still smoke very thin cigarettes to help me figure out how to make my first year of marriage count, how to create good habits for the rest of our marriage. The result was a book, How to Be Married: What I Learned From Real Women on 5 Continents About Surviving My First (Really Hard) Year of Marriage. I truly had no idea what I was doing when I got married. I didn’t know how to take care of myself, much less another person. But I figured it out, with a lot of help. Here are some of the best things that learned from around the world about how to survive your first year of marriage.

1. Take Care of Yourself. You know that thing flight attendants tell you in the airplane safety instructions no one ever listens to? “Secure your own oxygen mask first before helping others.” It’s true in life too. If you don’t make sure to keep taking care of yourself, there’s no way you can take care of another person. The most sage advice I got about this came from a woman named Chana, an Orthodox Jewish wife and mother in Jerusalem who was my age, but raising six children in a city constantly roiled by political conflict. “It’s easy to lose yourself in a marriage,” Chana told me. “It’s easy to nurture your husband and your relationship and forget about nurturing yourself. Take the time off to reset and your marriage will be better for it.”

2. Don’t Stop Adventuring. I got really depressed on my honeymoon. And then I got depressed about being depressed. Isn’t the honeymoon supposed to be the happiest, greatest, most Instagrammable vacation of your life? Turns out the post-wedding blues are a totally normal thing. After the excitement and planning of the wedding it’s only natural to feel a dip in your emotions once the big day is over. But how can you keep that excitement in a marriage? Keep adventuring with your spouse. The anthropologist and relationship guru Dr. Helen Fisher put it best when she explained that “Research shows that novelty—taking risks or trying something new—can trigger the release of dopa­mine in the brain. I’m not just talking about novelty in the bedroom (although that would be a good start). You can get the same effect from sampling a new type of cuisine together or riding the roller coaster at an amusement park.” Relationships thrive on newness and the ability to keep learning and growing together.

3. Make Your House a Home. We spent a lot of time in Denmark learning about the concept of hygge, the idea of cultivating warmth, happiness and coziness in all aspects of your life, and figuring out how this applies to a marriage. The Danes believe in creating a cozy and happy home in order to have the kind of space you want to nest with your new spouse. When I first got married I was working 80 hour weeks. We’d just bought our first home and had no furniture (because we used our entire savings to buy the house). The Danes taught us to take the time to make our home a place where we wanted to be, where we could have dinners just the two of us, and completely let go of the stress of the outside world to truly connect and enjoy ourselves.

4. Put Your Phones Away. This was yet another tip from the Danes who were horrified with how much time most American couples spend on their phones while they’re together. Plenty of research shows that real-life interactions suffer when one partner is constantly on their phone rather than interacting with the other. “Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel,” the author and aca­demic Sherry Turkle wrote in the New York Times Sunday Review. The phone and screen habits you set early on in a relationship will set the tone for the long-run so make a conscious decision for how and when to turn it all off and devote your attention to your spouse.

5. Keep the Mystery Alive. “Stop peeing with the bathroom door open,” a very sophisticated French woman with very sophisticated short-cropped bangs told me. “Maintain some mystery in your marriage.” I was also informed to stop walking around the house in dirty sweatpants. “Walk around naked instead. Much sexier,” the French ladies told me. And “spend a night a week apart and never sit next to one another at a dinner party. Don’t complain about the small things and keep the conversations interesting.” The French told me to behave as if I were my husband’s mistress (which to be honest sounded exhausting). But there was something to maintaining that sense of allure and mystery that existed in the days before we got married to keep from falling into a rut and taking one another for granted.

6. A Marriage Takes a Village. “Do you want a co-wife?” a stunning Maasai woman asked me when I met with the polygamous tribe on the Maasai Mara in Kenya. My husband with other women? I wasn’t into that. But what did stick with me from that trip was how the Maasai women stressed the importance of having a strong community around you to nurture a marriage, to having other couples, both older and younger in your social circle who can help you to keep things in perspective and provide a sounding board when things get tough.

Thanks to Jo Piazza for sharing!

Photo by Bremnes Photography from this artsy home tour.