You often hear newlywed life is a breeze. It’s sugar and spice and everything nice. It’s why the first few months of marriage are called “the honeymoon phase,” a period when couples are passionately in love and blissfully happy.
But the honeymoon phase isn’t all sweets and delight. It, too, comes with bitter moments and potential problems, according to Christina Steinorth, MFT, a psychotherapist and author of the book Cue Cards for Life: Thoughtful Tips for Better Relationships.
Newlyweds have to navigate a variety of sensitive issues, such as finances and family, in their just-married life. And it’s easy to make mistakes. Below, Steinorth shared her tips for managing common mistakes and improving your marriage for years to come.
- Address issues head-on.
“[O]ne of the most common mistakes newlyweds make is not addressing important issues as they arise — rather, they kind of bite the bullet, so to speak, and hope that in time the issues will work themselves out,” Steinorth said. But this only creates resentment when a partner feels their needs aren’t being met, she said.
It’s also common for couples to bicker about things that actually have nothing to do with what they’re upset about. Steinorth gave the following example: One spouse buys a pricey phone, which upsets the other spouse. But, instead of confronting the issue, the other spouse starts getting angry about everything else. And the core issue never gets resolved.
Spouses also might make little digs. These seemingly small passive-aggressive comments can destroy relationships, she said. If a partner continually hears criticism and below-the-belt insults, the last person they’ll want to spend time with is the one dishing them out, she said.
- Let little things go.
Even though you’re very much in love, getting on each other’s nerves is inevitable. It’s also common for partners to want to control each other’s behaviors, Steinorth said. “But try to put the issue into the context of your entire relationship and then pick your battles wisely.” Before getting into an argument with your spouse, pause and ask yourself: “How important is this?”
- Discuss the details.
Steinorth suggested discussing the “nuts and bolts of marriage,” including finances, family and daily life, “in as much detail and as thoroughly as possible before you get married.”
However, if you didn’t have these conversations before tying the knot, have them now.
For instance, money is a common source of stress for couples. When talking to your spouse about finances, focus on your budget. “Include everything,” Steinorth said. Your list might feature: rent or mortgage; utilities; groceries; car, home and health insurance; pet needs, including food and vet appointments; savings for emergencies; and expenses for kids, if you plan on expanding your family.
Also, figure out how you’ll pay for things. Will you use cash or credit? How much is too much to charge on your cards? “Everyone has a different tolerance level for debt; one person may be comfortable having a high credit card balance, whereas the other never wants to buy anything on credit.”
And discuss your short-term and long-term financial goals, she said. For instance, you might talk about student loans, mortgage, travel plans and retirement funds.
- Confront conflict constructively.
Conflict isn’t a problem if it’s done right, Steinorth said. “[I]t usually leads to some type of resolution.” However, the key is to handle conflict constructively, so you don’t damage your relationship.
Steinorth gave these suggestions: Don’t name-call, or bash your partner’s character. Talk about the conflict when both of you are calm. Minimize distractions (such as TV and telephone), and genuinely listen to each other. “Make eye contact. When you’re talking, if something isn’t clear, ask for clarification.”
- Don’t fight in front of others.
Another common mistake newlyweds make, Steinorth said, is fighting in front of others and dragging their loved ones into their disagreements. The problem?
“[Y]our family and your friends only see your spouse for a limited amount of time and they form impressions of your spouse and your relationship based on the interactions they see. If they see you bickering a large portion of the time, they may start to form a negative opinion of your spouse and not be very supportive of your marriage.”
While not everyone cares what their families think, for some people, disapproval can stress out a marriage, she said. “Play it on the safe side and if you must bicker, do it in private to help keep everyone’s general impression of your spouse and your relationship positive.”
- Deal with your own family.
Even in the healthiest families, issues will arise. And either of you will get your feelings hurt, Steinorth said. “If your relative acts in a hurtful manner, it’s your responsibility to address the issue with the offending family member and, if warranted, to ask that person to apologize to your spouse.” This not only helps to solve the issue, but it’s also respectful to your partner.
- Don’t take your spouse for granted.
Tell your partner that you love them. Regularly. Tell them when they’ve done a good job or something you appreciate, Steinorth said. “While I understand that it’s impossible to act loving 24 hours a day, seven days a week, keep in mind it doesn’t usually take dramatic, expensive or complicated things to keep a relationship happy.”
Little daily gestures, such as “rubbing your partner’s shoulders, doing things to help out around the house [or] fixing your partner’s favorite meal,” help to boost relationships.
And remember that “healthy and happy relationships don’t just happen,” Steinorth said. They require consistent work and effort.