Your First Fight

Not soon after the bouquet is tossed and the honeymoon is over, the real marriage starts to unfold.  In the beginning, the two of you are on “wedding high;” similar to the “summer camp high” only for couples.  Everything about that day is built to be so positive as to defy realistic expectations of the future. You just spent months planning (and paying for) a great party and your friends and family just spent time and money fueling you with positive energy.  You two were the stars of the show with expensive outfits, fancy hair and makeup, and professional photography to boot.  At the end of your reception, people told you that it was the best wedding they had ever been to in their entire lives- and you actually believed it.  But just as the summer camp high fades with the trek back down the mountain, so too will the wedding high.

Enter the first fight of your marriage.  The topic could be about anything, and while it might catch you off guard, the fierceness by which it is argued shocks you.   When this happens, you might question the love between you two, and whether it was a mistake to get married.  But don’t panic, at least not yet: conflict in early marriage doesn’t necessarily mean doom for the relationship.  Research shows that conflict styles in early marriage aren’t as influential on marital satisfaction as they will be later on down the road.   In fact, it can mean an opportunity to make your marriage stronger and more resilient to future challenges.  Couples who display good problem-solving skills (fewer commands/ultimatums, blaming, rejecting partner opinions, etc.) in the face of moderate stress early on in the relationship are often more resilient for bigger challenges in the future (such as parenthood).

Early marriage is a time of intimacy building, since major stressors such as children have not yet come into the picture.  But it’s also fraught with adjustments, and sometimes the “way in which it is done” has two different versions.  These adjustments are usually part of the learning process of living with someone’s opinions, bathroom habits, and peccadilloes.  They require compromise and acceptance by both partners in order to keep the relationship afloat.   Conflict can alert couples to the need for change in a certain area, and it’s easier to make these changes early in the marriage than years later after routines have become set in stone.

There are several key components to consider about conflict, especially during early marriage:

Is this a major or a minor dispute?  Several studies have shown that consistent conflict on minor topics might impede motivation to change, create resentment, and lower marital satisfaction.  While you may be disgruntled that your partner did not deposit an important check into your mutual account, if this was an isolated incident it might do more damage to get angry than to either let it go or bring up the topic gently.  Consider the possibility that the misstep could be attributed to circumstantial external factors affecting your partner (ran late from work, caught in traffic, fielded a call from you to go the grocery store), rather than a sudden and deliberate insensitive turn against you.  However, if the dispute is major or consistent, take heed.  When the problem is severe it’s better to constructively approach the problem and work to change it sooner rather than later.  Consistent missteps may reflect underlying issues within the foundation of the relationship.

Read about several more and how to avoid them, here.

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