My husband and I recently hit our one-year anniversary. We have always heard that the first year is the hardest, so in some ways, it's hard to believe that marriage gets even better from here. In other ways, we completely agree because there was so much we needed to learn about conflict management. Whether you're a newlywed or an old pro, we hope that the insights we have gained will decrease the contention and increase the love in your marriage, too.

State your expectations

Like almost every other couple ever, my husband and I come from very different families and therefore have very different ideas of what "normal" home life is like. It took a full year for me to realize that it didn't matter how obvious a course of action seemed to be; my husband really had no idea what I thought he ought to do. He realized the same was true of me.

Be more open about the things you think are "obvious." It's as simple as saying, "I was thinking you were going to help me clear the table," and, "Oh sorry, I thought if you wanted me to help, you would ask." Your conflicts will decrease immediately and you'll have a few good laughs about it, too.

The early years of marriage play an important role in what your family culture will be. Together, you establish the value system that defines your family. The first step in this process is to make your assumptions known. This takes a lot of work. (After all, most expectations feel too obvious to even mention.) However, sharing your notions of how things "ought to be" helps you and your spouse to come to a consensus about what works best for your family.

It's OK to take a breather

Crying is my body's response to emotional stimuli of almost any kind, including when my husband and I are having a disagreement. However, my tears leave my husband feeling like a jerk and a failure. This is not the way for us to reach a mutual understanding.

For others, the issue may not be tears, but anger or confusion. It's OK to take a time-out and burn-off the emotional energy. A time-out can lead to more rational thinking and more loving feelings. When you come back, you both have gotten a much-needed break from a stressful conversation and are prepared to contribute to the conversation maturely. It works wonders.

Taking a break from conflicts allows you to focus on the issue at hand, not how you feel about it. Furthermore, if you are in the habit of taking a "time-out" in order to collect yourself, it won't be so patronizing when you teach your children to do the same.

You're allowed to have an opinion

One of the things I love best about my husband is that he is so easygoing. It's hard to ruffle his feathers and he's generally happy to just go along with what I want. However, that also means it is challenging for him to share his point of view because he doesn't get a lot of practice at presenting it. He appreciates that I have started actively asking him to make his preferences known, even if it turns out that he didn't care either way.

If your spouse is not usually the one to make decisions, she may enjoy a reminder that you want to know what she has to say on the subject. Try having a conversation where you simply learn about your spouse's feelings and philosophies. Remember, however, that your spouse still gets the prerogative to be indifferent, especially if that's one of his basic personality traits. Soliciting your sweetheart's point of view is meant to be loving, not stressful.

"Do-overs" are lifesavers

While it would be wonderful if we always said the right thing and never hurt each other's feelings, my husband and I have many moments that we wish we could take back. That's when we ask, "Can I try that again?" We reenact the situation much more favorably, employing sympathy and enthusiasm instead of indifference or condescension.

This is one of my favorite things about our marriage dynamic. "Do-overs" give closure to a situation that didn't go the way we'd hoped, not to mention giving us practice with doing things the right way. This is something we hope to implement with our children, too. After all, we all do a lot better given a second chance.

My husband and I certainly aren't long-time pros at this whole marriage thing, but we do have a happy, strong relationship that helps us to have fun and become better people. Who wouldn't want that? By being open about expectations, taking breathers, soliciting opinions, and trying again after messing up, we hope that our marriage, and yours, becomes the lasting, loving relationship we all hope and strive for.

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