Lucy J Toms Photography

What I Learnt In My First Year Of Marriage

Is the first year of marriage the hardest? Brides Deputy Editor, Harriet Jones, reflects on what getting married has changed for her (Hint: it's not about 'learning the art of compromise'). Read on to find out what she's learnt about herself, her husband and their relationship in their first year of marriage

07 Sep 2018

My wedding speech was when I first said it out loud: my dislike of the terms 'my other half' or 'my better half'. To me, they imply that without that person you simply aren't whole – and that just feels fundamentally wrong. It goes against everything we are taught in the modern world; that you must love yourself; feel complete on your own before you can love yourself; feel complete on your own before you can love anyone else; be independent. It's that sense of freedom that I have always loved about mine and Jamie's relationship: to quote my speech, 'When I am with you... I am me, and you are you – I feel free.'

If I'm honest, I didn't imagine marriage would change our relationship at all. We've been together for seven years – we know how to live alongside each other, as do the majority of people who decide to wed these days. In fact, 89% of couples have lived together (for an average of three and a half years) before saying 'I do'. I knew it wouldn't be about who does the housework, how our finances work or 'learning to compromise'. What I wasn't expecting to experience in the first 12 months was learning to deal with a shift in my previous independence.

Maybe it's to do with the fact that, over the past year, as well as the incredible honeymoons, weekends away, laughing so much we can't sleep, and fun nights out just the two of us (the wedding anniversary that started with a posh dinner at the Ivy Café and, 16 hours later, ended with a greasy fry-up at our local caff), we've also made tough decisions that absolutely could not have been made but 'together'. Choices that may not be considered traditional for the first year of marriage.

Like the time we thought we wanted to try for a baby. Not in a 'let's-throw-caution-to-the-wind' way, but in a totally measured, planned-out, thoughtful way. Literally the morning after we made the decision (hello, stereotype), we found ourselves in the chemist's speaking to a pharmacist because we had both realised (quite painfully) that it wasn't actually what we wanted just yet. Let me tell you, that moment, standing there with our new, shiny wedding rings, being asked to explain why we needed that £30 pill, wasn't fun. But the experience made us feel more emotionally entwined than ever.

There was also the time we came to the conclusion that perhaps we needed some counselling. Since my little brother died suddenly three years ago, I had done everything I could to keep my own life of track but, in the process, had neglected to think about our relationship and how the tragedy affected us as a couple. I changed forever that awful day, so how could I have believed that it had left our relationship unscathed? Or Jamie, for that matter – what about him? He lost my brother, too, and he lost a part of me. That fact simply hadn't occurred to me before. I had only ever been worried about my own self-protection.

I was so nervous to suggest it, even though I come from a family of counsellors and therapists. Jamie has always found talking more difficult than I do, so I really wasn't sure how he would react to it. Cue the tactical car journey when I planned to bring it up (moving car + four-hour trip to Wales = no escape). No sooner than I had finished the sentence, he immediately came back with, 'Actually, I was going to suggest that myself, I think it's a good idea'. I couldn't have loved him any more in that moment. It was one of best decisions we had ever made together.

Yes, I realise that, on paper, saying that in our first year of marriage we made the decision not to start a family and signed ourselves up for couple's couselling probably won't sound like most people's idea of #maritalbliss, but those moments and their aftermath have all taught me something. That, possibly, I don't have to be as emotionally 'independent' as I first thought. That, actually, it's OK to fully need someone and to lean on them. In fact, if you both lean on each other equally, you might just find yourselves magically propped up in the world.

Relationships are constantly growing and evolving, always taking on different shapes and forms. That changing landscape used to frighten me. I would find myself over-analysing our phases, and sometimes I felt lonely in those transitions, thinking that I had to work through the feelings all by myself – be the stand-alone person I wanted to be. Now that I look back on it, during those times I could often feel like I was clinging to a rock, solo, waiting for the storm to pass before hopping back into the two-man boat. It turns out that getting married hasn't made a difference to our day-to-day life, but has changed all of this.

Perhaps it's the show of solidarity that comes from hosting a wedding, perhaps it's signing that paper: tangible ink stating that you're in this as a duo, and trusting each other, for the long haul. Whatever it was, making those vows and going through some tough decisions, it's all been a catalyst to me learning a new way of thinking and being. Like a surfer losing a wave and calmly waiting for another, change itself now feels far more peaceful. And instead of being alone in that shifting ocean of emotions, I know that Jamie is bobbing along next to me, holding my hand. We'll be waiting for the tide to turn, side-by-side.