Not too long ago, I was chatting with a seasoned wife and momma-to-be for the second time. We were talking, as wives and moms are wont to do, about how much our lives and marriages had changed once our babies arrived on the scene.
We both fell into the simultaneous baby and marriage all-in-one-fell-swoop category, with a few lines on the pregnancy test showing up before we walked down the aisle (oops).
“Yeah,” my friend said, shaking her head slightly as she looked back on the first year of marriage. “That was tough.”
I nodded, about to agree with her because, like everyone says, that first year of marriage is supposed to be the hardest, right?
But then I stopped.
And really thought about it.
And I realized that my first year of marriage was not the hardest. Not by far.
In our first year—nay, our first six months of marriage—we saw the birth of our first child, a move to our first apartment, my college graduation, the NCLEX (nursing boards for me), two hospitalizations for me with postpartum complications, unemployment for my husband, and the start of a brand new night shift job for me when our daughter was only six weeks old.
In all reality, we had plenty to be stressed about that year. Honestly, when I look back on that time, I wonder how on earth we got through all of that. Did I ever sleep? Was I insane? How did we stand each other?
I rack my brain for instances of seeds of resentment planted during that first year—slamming doors, cold shoulders turned at night, miscommunications and small slights—and I can’t think of a single one.
Honestly, that first year of marriage, with all of its craziness, was somehow one of the simplest and happiest times in my life.
It was just my husband and me, beating the odds, facing a new life together with this little girl we madly adored, laughing a little bit at the “grown-up” world we had suddenly found ourselves smack dab in the middle of. I remember lots of dinners together in our tiny apartment with the loads of hand-me-down furniture, mornings spent cuddling with our baby girl in bed, family walks down our long dirt road.
So, no, I don’t think the first year of marriage necessarily has to be the hardest.
Quite honestly, I think that the first year of marriage can be one of the best—for us, everything was still so new and exhilarating. Our first baby, first apartment, first dinner parties, first Christmas, first family vacation (well, sort of), first house.
Everything felt like an adventure and I think that had a lot to do with our sense of togetherness, like we were partners in that adventure together. It was fun, even through the hospital visits and sleepless nights and a creative budgeting.
When I think of marriage being stressful, there is no comparison to that happy little scene I remember as our first year. That wasn’t stressful.
This is stressful.
This season of marriage is the stressful one, after six years (omg, we’re coming up the seven year itch, it totally makes sense now!) and three kids and one too many layoffs. The season of pretending to fall asleep right away or did he really leave without saying goodbye? This season of the demands of young children weighing on you like a cloak of heavy, guilt-ridden exhaustion that you want to simultaneously throw off and yet treasure forever like a precious family heirloom.
I knew we would get here eventually, I suppose, but I can honestly tell you that I didn’t anticipate that marriage really would be about so much darn work. I know, I know, everyone says that marriage takes work, but they also said the first year is hard, so I thought, what do they know?
But they were right about the work part. And maybe that’s why the first year isn’t so hard—there’s not a whole lot of work to be put in. Coming home at night is still fun, setting the table isn’t a battle, dinners don’t have to be cleaned up right away in time for baths and bedtime.
Back during that first year of marriage, our lives were still about being together. Yes, we were a family, but a family that we had chosen and that we would cultivate together. As marriage evolved, it would appear that the lines got a little more fuzzy. There’s no you-me, there’s us-you-them-and-who’s-in-our-bed-again. It can be so, so hard to remember to put focus on your spouse.
Maybe I’m just abnormal in how my marriage has played out so far, but I can almost laugh when I think about calling my first year of marriage the hardest. It seems I would have had a lot to learn if that were truly the case.
But then again, looking back at that new mother and happy wife who hadn’t yet learned to place any expectations on her life—
Maybe she was a lot wiser than I thought.