Dueling Transitions

The first year of marriage presents unique challenges unlike any other stage of life. Researchers and counselors have found that finances, sex, and in-laws are among the most common challenges to couples in their first year of marriage. In a recent ethnography research study, Focus on the Family researchers identified a particularly challenging situation: the young couple who is simultaneously adjusting to married life and a new career change. 

Sam and Jen are each twenty-seven years old and have been married for nine months. Sam works as a general contractor in his father's construction business. He earned his bachelor's degree in real estate and worked in that field for two years; he made a career change when his family then asked him to join the family construction business. Sam sees this as a long-term career for him and he will play an active role in the future of the business. He is very passionate about his job and greatly enjoys his work life, but he sees that it is very time-consuming and takes away time from his marriage. This causes stress for Sam personally and within the marriage relationship, but he also sees the time he puts into work as a necessary means to prepare them financially for their future. Sam struggles with knowing how to balance his new career with his new marriage.

Juli works as a media specialist at a local elementary school. She earned her bachelor’s degree in childhood education and taught 2nd grade after graduating. She later completed her master's degree in education media and is now in her first year working in the school library. She feels pressure to do well in her new career and arrives at her school early in the mornings to fully prepare for her day, but this also means she leaves the house before her husband is awake.

The biggest challenge facing Sam and Jen was their work schedules. Jen had to be up very early to get to her job at an elementary school, and Sam tended to have to work into the evenings. This created a time period each day where Jen was at home by herself waiting for Sam, who often didn’t know when he would be home. Instead of choosing either work or marriage to be a priority, they tried to balance both.

Interestingly, when Jen was out of school for the summer, she was less stressed and more understanding of Sam's work. When Jen was out of town, Sam worked overtime so he could spend more time with Jen when she got home, and they were both less stressed during that time as well. When they could focus on just one of the two, either work or their marriage, they were much happier.

Young couples are often beginning new careers during their first year of marriage and they struggle with knowing how to balance their work with marriage. As presented in the case study above, many young couples feel pressure to invest in their careers early in order to attain financial stability for their futures; thus, the new career takes priority over the new marriage and adds stress to the marital relationship. However, young couples purposely choose to encounter these at the same time and wait to get married until they are established in their careers, which places the greatest amount of work pressure during their first year of marriage.

When either Jen's conflicting work schedule or the remodeling project is taken out of the equation, the stress in the marriage subsides. Thus, it is balancing of both of these new factors—a new career and a new marriage—which presents the greatest challenge to newly-married couples in their first year of marriage.

© 2011 Focus on the Family.