Living Together? Just Married? The First-Year Challenges

When you look at statistics of divorce rates the highest rates are at the 7-year-itch mark (7.6 years to be exact), which is tied to normal developmental changes at that time (see my article on 7-year-itch for more info). But the second highest rate is during the first year of living together or being married (think Kim Kardashian, 72 days). Why? Because this time of transition is fraught with major challenges. Here are some of the most common ones:

The logistics of sharing space

Or rather Whose space? Whose bed do we use? Do we buy a new one? Can I put my gun safe in the living room or put my huge dresser from my childhood in the bedroom? How do we decide on whose dishes we use, who uses what closet, do you really need all those clothes? 

Clashing routines

The early-riser, in bed by 9 meets the night-owl. The breakfast eater vs. only coffee, thank you, partner. The afternoon nap or lazy weekend vs. go-go-let’s-go-do-stuff-get-out partner.

Clashing habits

Slop meets OCD. Dishes left on the counter vs. tidied up and in the dishwasher before the meal is over. Empty toilet-paper rolls vs extras stacked up on back of the toilet. Clothes on the floor vs. ironed and lined up by color in the closet. Loud music vs. meditative silence.

Individual vs. couple time

Do I still go out with my friends on Thursday night or go out for a drink after work? Do I still work late because I want to get stuff done or need to show up at 6 for the dinner that’s on the table? Do I work in the garden by Saturdays by myself or do we go for a hike?

This seems like little stuff and at some level it is, clearly first-world problems. But underneath are several tensions coming to the surface:

You’re seeing everyday life

Even if you talked about each other’s daily pace and habits, now reality hits, all very different from dating behavior, even with long weekends together that were all about us. Nuances and little-known stuff comes to the surface that you didn’t know about or didn’t think would matter, now do.

Expectations and visions shift

Each partner has expectations and a vision of how life will now unfold and again reality takes hold: He is on his phone more than you realized, she is more energetic and demanding than you thought. Talking is different from living it. 

Conflict, pet peeves increase, sex goes down

When you’re dating you easily use distance to avoid conflict. Yes, she left her clothes on the floor and it bothered you but you’re out and back in your own place the next day, and don’t need to deal with it — now you do. Because you just can’t pull away, the rubbing of each other’s lives is a source of conflict. Sex goes down often as a result because of these tension, as well as because it is often more available, less exciting and no longer driven by the separation from each other.

Loss of freedom and control

If you want to have total control, you need to live alone. If you live with someone else there is the pressure to be more of a couple, to accommodate, and you need to compromise. The Thursday night friends’ group or working late gets old, again clash of vision / expectations and reality. The gun safe, the dresser, the bed now become big deals because you understandably feel like you are losing parts of yourself.

What to do

It’s all too easy to begin battling and power-struggling from the start or for both or one to walk on eggshells and give in. Neither is a good option. It’s time for adult conversations, to accept that this is a new challenge to a new stage in the relationship that needs to get sanely worked out. Here you have the roommate meetings about the dishes on the counter, clothes on the floor, the music, the Thursday nights, the dresser.

Expect these challenges and proactively decide what is top priority you need to fight for and what you are willing to let go of. What you don’t want to do is be passive aggressive, drop “subtle” hints in hopes that the other person will get the hint and make the change. Time to get the small stuff on the table, negotiate.

And if you can’t, because you avoid conflict or conversations too quickly go south, get help — short-term counseling, mediation with minister or professional mediator. Don’t be the victim or martyr, don’t sweep it under the rug, don’t take everything to Def-com 10. This is not about dressers or clothes but about your ability as a couple to solve problems. These are the ones you have to deal with now, later it may be about kids or money. It’s normal, but important. If you can’t do it now, bigger problems await.

Step-up, talk, resolve. Repeat.

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