Every relationship is unique. But like death and taxes, there are certain marital moments that are all-but-guaranteed. Here, our experts share five experiences — good, bad, and just plain ugly — that you can expect to have after you say, "I do."
1. The first time you must decide where to spend the holidays. Each Christmas, you're used to casually sipping eggnog by your family's fireplace, while his parents gather their entire extended family for a formal sit-down dinner. So who gets to lay claim to this sacred holiday, let alone every other? When it comes time to decide where to slice the turkey or ring in the new year, you may find yourself in a frustrating, yet totally normal, faceoff. "This will usher in the necessity of learning how to compromise," says Jane Greer, Ph.D., relationship expert and author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship. "Truly think about which holiday is most important to them to be with their family. Either rotate from year to year or divide the holidays between the two families."
2. The first time you have a really big fight. Whether it erupts while you're still on your honeymoon or as you unpack into your new shared home, "the first big fight," says Lesli Doares, marriage coach and author of Blueprint for a Lasting Marriage, "can be very frightening for a couple." After all, you may think, isn't this supposed to be the happiest time of your life? But bickering for the first time since you tied the knot is all but inevitable. "You have just learned an essential truth about marriage: The two of you, no matter how compatible and in love, are now and always will be two separate people," she says. "Once you can accept this, then you can begin to work with those differences to a common goal."
3. The first time you realize you have to check in. You're not used to giving notice when you leave your apartment for a quick run to the corner store or to take a time-consuming yoga class at your local studio. But once you wed, says Greer, "you have to be accountable to one another about your comings and goings. So while you may once have enjoyed a night out with the girls without checking in first with your partner, "now you want to inform one another about your time apart so the other person can make plans accordingly," Greer says, who suggests creating a calendar where you can write down your individual and joint schedules and that you can reference when one of you needs to know what's going on. "That way," she says, "no one will feel left out or ignored."
4. The first time you make a major purchase. Spending major moolah together could give you a rush or a real scare. "There is the potential for a disagreement if the two of you have not decided how you are going to deal with money in your marriage," warns Doares, but spending money doesn't have to turn sour. "Making a major purchase together can also be a celebration of the joining of your lives," she says. "A new couch, a new bed, or a new house highlights the new life you are forging as a couple, and it presents you with the opportunity to include both of your likes into one thing instead of choosing separate items to match your individual desires. Making room for each other in this way will help create the interdependence necessary for a successful marriage."
5. The first time divorce crosses your mind. The thought of divorce may be the furthest thing from you mind in the weeks and months after you get married. But Doares warns the "D" word can creep into your inner vocabulary "when your partner does something to hurt or disappoint you in a major way, or even as you encounter the normal challenges involved in adjusting to marriage. The more your expectations are challenged, the more likely you will question whether it is all worth it." As hard as it may be to accept, "recognize that this is perfectly normal," Doares says, and doesn't signal an inevitable split. "The key to getting through it is to acknowledge it and then take a deeper look into what it is all about."