Marriage is easy when life is going smoothly. Couples are often on their best behavior in the first few weeks or months of a union because they don’t want to burst the bubble of perfection. They are more patient, more forgiving, and more polite in those early days, but how long can that situation really continue?
One can never really tell if a marriage has what it takes to last “till death do us part.” Still, there are some with a slightly better sense of a married couple’s chances—because they’ve seen firsthand what drives couples to divorce.
Here are the biggest mistakes couples make in the first year of marriage, according to divorce attorneys:
Avoiding the Money Talk
It’s not the most romantic topic—especially when you get the bill for your part of the wedding finances and your honeymoon—but it’s an essential one. Once you’re married, you’re tied together legally and bound to responsibilities that will impact your ability to buy a home, save money, and more.
“Talking about money is difficult,” divorce attorney Morghan Leia Richardson shares. “People tend to avoid it, especially in a romantic relationship or new marriage because it can lead to arguments. But one of the benefits of marriage is the financial partnership that’s formed: Two incomes and shared expenses. Couples who don’t talk about finances establish a bad pattern where one of them is in the dark about their money. The marriage suffers; resentment and distrust build and the marriage fails.”
Learn to be open with one another. Take the time each week (or month) to discuss finances and bills. “Establish when and how to talk about the finances early so that, years down the road, everything is manageable and everyone is on the same page. Many times the partner who doesn’t want to talk money is the wife. Women: Money isn’t boring and just because he makes more—statistically a likelihood—doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to be informed about it,” Richardson says.
Unequal Household Responsibilities
It’s important to establish a routine when it comes to chores, errands, cleaning, and other daily tasks. Create a routine of whatever works for the two of you: Perhaps you always load the dishwasher and fold the laundry and he always picks up groceries and takes out the trash. Richardson warns that an established routine is important—especially before you have children.
“A common problem is the ‘second shift,’ the time when all the household chores should be done daily and weekly,” she says. “Generally, women are more tidy and organized at home. Initially, before kids, this might not create much more work for one partner or the other. The couple may justify it: Maybe he earns more or doesn’t clean as well. But these tedious extra chores can take on a life of their own once kids are involved. If you’re a working parent, the effort you put in at work and with your kids is tremendous. Then there’s the little matter of the laundry and the dishes and the cleaning. The resentment of doing it all while the other person watches television can break a marriage. Let me tell you, the day my ex-husband apologized to me and said ‘I have no idea how you’ve been doing this all,’ was one of the greatest days of my life because I was able to let go of my resentment knowing that he finally understood how much work I was doing for our life. Don’t wait until you have kids to divide up the chores. Do that early so you have shared expectations.”
Neglecting Small Gestures
The simple, small gestures you started when dating can keep you continuously attracted to your partner once you’re married. It could be picking up her favorite ice cream when you spot it in a store or buying him a silly pair of Star Wars boxer shorts because he’s been obsessed with the saga since childhood. Or, perhaps, the quoting of a favorite movie line in the middle of a stuffy dinner party that makes you both laugh inappropriately. Remember: The little things can become more important during stressful times.
“I believe that sometimes people stop trying as hard after marriage because they no longer feel the need to chase after their significant other because they already have them. So they might stop sending flowers, having date nights, and giving little gifts for no reason,” comments Gabriel Cheong, Esq. “These things don’t have to stop because you’re now married and not dating. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep doing these things after marriage and after settling into a life together. With all the stresses that come with a new marriage and, perhaps, with children, it’s important to remind each other why you started this family.”
Not Making Your Own Way as a Couple
Let’s don’t beat around the bush: You need your own place. You both may be tempted to save money for your dream home by living in your in-laws’ basement, but don’t be fooled. These first crucial months of a marriage thrive on having the space (and privacy) to work out the little idiosyncrasies that come with a new living arrangement.
“I’ve found that living with parents during the first few years of marriage could lead to the end of the marriage,” warns Cheong. “The first few years of a marriage is a time of adjustment for couples who didn’t live together prior to marriage. In addition to merging their lives together, couples are also adjusting to each person’s little annoying habits. Having another adult in the home, especially a parent, is a recipe for failure. Couples need time to bond with each other as married partners. They should try their best to avoid living with others during the first few years of marriage.”
Most churches require couples to attend pre-marital counseling well before the wedding ceremony—with good reason. This type of counseling can help a couple get down to the “nitty-gritty” details of what life together might be like. One of the most important topics to cover is money. Once you’re a couple, his debt no longer belongs only to him—you now share that as well. Each partner has a right to know where the other stands when it comes to debt to avoid nasty surprises in the future.
“Most couples never discuss their debts and liabilities before marriage,” says Kemie King, Esq. “It’s important that couples fully discuss topics such as: How many credit cards each party has and the balance on each card; if they have student loan debts and whether they are current with student loan payments; any bankruptcies or judgments against them; and any tax liens. These are just a few, but they’re important to discuss before getting married. These issues will affect the couple’s financial future together. For instance, if one party has judgments or credit card debts, this may prevent the couple from purchasing a home together. Or if one person has a tax lien, the couple may not want to file joint tax returns. It’s important to know the financial position prior to the marriage.”
Not Addressing Annoying Habits
No matter how much you love and adore your partner, she will still have habits that drive you insane. Before marriage you may already know she never uses a coaster or throws away a magazine, but, after marriage, you may also discover she likes to eat peanut butter straight from the jar or that she never remembers to turn out lights before she leaves the house. It’s amazing what you discover about a person after you begin living together.
“There’s nothing cuter than the honeymoon period of a relationship,” explains Jacqueline Newman, Esq. “So what happens when a couple has their first disagreement about leaving a cap off the toothpaste or dirty socks left on the floor? How can they stay cute while still expressing their displeasure about simple living habits? Some couples keep quiet and think they will lead by example and always put the cap back on the toothpaste so it does not spill all over the counter or are passive aggressive and have the laundry basket block the bathroom door so no one could miss it. Then, when the hints are not picked up on (or simply ignored), the offended spouse becomes angry. Things that were once cute are not so cute anymore because, while he still brings you flowers, all you see is a bouquet of dirty socks.”
This buildup can make you doubt if you married the right person, as the romance fades and daily life and responsibilities settle in. Talk to your spouse about the little things that drive you crazy. Ask them to tell you what habits of yours can drive them to madness. You both may find that listening to each other and making a few simple changes can greatly diffuse the situation.
Not Learning to Fight Well
Couples must learn to accept each other’s faults, but should also be able to communicate how those faults make you feel—good or bad. Arguments in any relationship are unavoidable, but couples should learn to fight fairly and honestly to avoid serious marriage conflicts.
“Younger couples who may not have as much experience in relationships or are under more stress because they have these ideals in their minds that are not being met, may be nasty when fighting,” Newman warns. “While you may feel what is said in a fight does not really count, it doesn’t really work that way. People may forgive, but often do not forget. Be careful what ammunition you give your spouse early on in the marriage because, no matter how many years later it may be, a good insult or attack will be regurgitated for years to come. Fight clean. Be communicative about your feelings, but say things in a respectful way. It should not be the job of your new spouse to try to find ways to hurt you (or vice versa)—even in a fight. You should always remember that you and your newlywed are always on the same team.”
For more information or to schedule a consultation, please contact Greene Crow & Smith by calling (252) 634-9400 or visiting nctriallawyers.com.
(Sources: Bustle; Prevention Magazine; Forbes Magazine; The Huffington Post; Berkman Bottger Newman & Rodd, LLP; Infinity Law Group LCC; and King Lindsey.)