Setting the Tone for the First Year of Marriage Everyone is raised with a specific set of values, but those values may clash in the early stages of marriage. Here’s how to get on the same page. BY ALYSON SMITH, LMFT
Putting the effort into your marriage early will make everything easier to deal with down the road.
“ The first year of marriage is an extremely important time, not only for the couple, but also for the overall family system.”
Weddings have become big business. Various wedding preparation books flood the market, all geared towards the aesthetics of the day. Rows of books full of decoration ideas line the walls of numerous bookstores; blogs are devoted to the topic; and multiple magazines boost insider knowledge about planning this special day.
When it is all over, then what?
Many people spend a great deal of energy focusing on making that one day perfect. Unfortunately, not nearly as much focus is put upon the day after the wedding, or for that matter, the year after. While color choices may be of great importance for some, the state of one’s union from day two on should also be.
The first year of marriage is an extremely important time, not only for the couple, but also for the overall family system. All couples, and especially newly wedded ones, must take the time in their relationship to truly work on communicating what is a priority in this newly formed system. At times, people may feel that a couple is not a family until they have a child, which is not true. The commitment to each other’s overall well being—the entwining of two lives together—is the birth of a family.
During this time, priorities need to be revamped; family of origin needs now slide into second place, making room for the newly formed couple system to claim first place. The responsibilities of being a husband or wife now supersede those of being a son or daughter. This does not mean that former roles and relationships are lost, or that one partner rules the roost with their ideas and priorities dictating the couple’s existence and leaving all other familial relationships in the cold. What it does encourage is placing one’s loyalty to the well being of one’s partner and newly formed family over all other relationships. When both mates achieve this, the result is a natural give and take. Over time, this will result in the couple viewing themselves as a family system within a web of other families, as opposed to two spouse’s trapped in a family of origin tug-of-war.
It’s also important to know where the other’s priorities lay, what one another value and how this affects the couple’s long-term shared vision. Numerous couples may express a shared vision of owning a house and having a family, but at what cost? When push comes to shove, what gets cut—the vacation home in the mountains or young Kenny’s college fund? How one handles these decisions has to do, in a large part, with one’s values.
No matter how alike a couple may seem or how similar their backgrounds, they carry their own distinct set of values, which were formulated in their own respective family of origin. With the birth of a new couple also comes the formation of new boundaries. For the most part, the formation of a couple's system is the first time each partner will have to identify their mutually agreed upon rules and roles. Up until this point, a person’s family of origin provided that context and comfort. Keep in mind that a shared experience alone does not translate into shared values. Both members could have been next-door neighbors, attended the same high school and visited the same pediatrician. It does not matter. Every person has their own perspective on this chain of events called life.
Once each spouse has a sense of their system’s values, and what steers the couple towards health, these agreed upon values can be used to guide one’s behaviors and decision-making process. If values are mutually agreed upon, a couple will have all the tools needed to face a decision that could affect their family, whether dealing with extended family or their own children.
One of the New York Metropolitan Area's most up-and-coming, well-respected Licensed Marriage & Family Therapists, Alyson Smith holds a Masters Degree in Psychological Studies and an Educational Specialist Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Seton Hall University.