The Challenge of the First Years of Marriage
Everyone thought it was a match made in heaven. The couple seemed to right for each other. The marriage had started with so much promise, but now, less than two years later, they were seeing a marriage therapist. What went wrong?
The scenario described above is not unique. Couples often experience difficulty in the first few years of marriage. In their book, The Family, Jack and Judith Balswick describe this stage of family development as the “marital dyad.” The primary task of the marital dyad stage is differentiating from the family of origin, what the Bible refers to as, “leaving and cleaving” (see Genesis 2:24). Even for the most prepared couples, this task takes about two years. It is during this time that role expectations are clarified, family traditions are started, communication and conflict patterns are established, spiritual habits are formed, sexual needs are defined, couple friends are made, financial goals are set, and in the process, “the two become one.” It is also during this time that the idealization of marriage becomes the reality of marriage. This is a very difficult stage and the future happiness of the marriage depends largely on successfully completing this stage. It is highly recommended that this stage be completed before children are introduced into the family, creating a third stage, “the marital triad.”
Some of the difficult questions that many couples face during this stage of family development are:
• Whose money is it anyway? Do we have to stick to a budget?
• Will my friends or my marriage come first? Why can’t I hang out with the guys every weekend?
• Whose career is more important? Why do we have to move for your job?
• With whose parents are we staying for the holidays? I want to be at my home for Christmas.
• Do I have to worship in your church? What about my religious tradition?
• Do you have to ask your mom about every decision we make?
• How do we disagree agreeably?
It is easy to get married, but it is difficult to create a marriage that is fulfilling and satisfying. It takes time, commitment, and hard work. Navigating the first years and creating a healthy dyad can be critical to achieving the marital harmony and success that eludes so many.