First year of marriage for an independent woman

What’s it like for an independent woman who gets married? I just did it. Got married last year at age 40 (yes, for the first time). Over my lifetime, I’ve had 3 proposals, two engagements. One made it down the aisle. So after year one of nuptials, I’ve got plenty of lessons learned to share that I think my fellow independent sisters might find extremely valuable.

They say that the first year of marriage is the hardest.

I cannot TELL you how many times I’ve heard that – unsolicited – from various married people this year. Do I agree with it? Ask me in Year Two when I have another year of marriage to compare it to. But after making it through this first year, can I understand it? Absolutely.

I knew marriage would be work going into it – definitely not so young and naïve to have thought otherwise. But the kind of work needed – perhaps that’s not what I was prepared for.

So before we dig into the lessons learned in this first year, let me first explain:

Why I waited…

Like all my many cousins and sisters, I grew up in a family that knows no divorce. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, parents…no one has divorced. Feels like an anomaly these days compared to the national average of a 50% divorce rate and the typical marriage ending after one year. That was in my head with my first engagement in my young 20s. Once I knew that one was wrong, I quickly ended it before it ended up in a divorce later. I think in general, there are a few reasons us independent women don’t get married earlier. Here are five main reasons (as I see it):

  • Not wanting to get it wrong: as just described, we don’t want to get it wrong. Sometimes that might lead to analysis paralysis or perfectionism paralysis in relationships. I don’t think anyone goes into marriage wanting to get it wrong, but the longer you’re in dating world, the more you see of what you don’t want (as opposed to what you do). Also, I could not accept single-motherhood life. I know many women make it happen every day, but I just couldn’t see myself doing it. So I didn’t.
  • Not willing to put up with…anything, really. As I saw it, the more established in life I got, the bigger my network got, the more I realized my own “power” so to speak in terms of what kind of path I could create for myself in this world, the less I was willing to deal with any kind of drama. Anything that didn’t add to my life was something I could easily cut out. And that included relationships. So rather than work with people, as soon as a (relatively major) issue popped up that I didn’t want to deal with, I didn’t. I let them go. Because I could. And why not? There were always eligible people to choose from at all times – whatever city I was in.
  • I enjoyed the dating world! Dating was fun! Going out for cocktails, dinners, to various events together. You always saw the best of people and it always made for a great time. Who wouldn’t love that?
  • Knowing it takes money (a LOT of money) to have kids: sure, you could practice birth control, but I personally got off of that a long time ago – just not wanting to tempt fate with hormone control and breast cancer history in my family. And I knew once I was married, it was gonna be all green-lights for kids. You kinda think to yourself: “What’s the point of being married when everyone can barely take care of themselves, let alone kids?” The economics of today are off for young marriage.
  • Moved around for my career a good bit: my career (before I became an entrepreneur a few years back) moved me all around my city, then around my state, then overseas. Not to say I couldn’t have paused to get married during all that time (two proposals happened during all that moving), but I will say that had I been married with kids, my career would not have been what it was – nor would I ever have the business I have now.

A lot of mindset changes happened for me before I met my husband. Meeting Marc was – as with most people – by happenstance. I actually found him through work. You can hear about our story here:

Atlanta Love Therapist Chantel Cohen interviewed me about how I met Marc (my then fiancé).

Moving in together before the wedding (during the pandemic!)

We actually moved in together when the pandemic hit (summer of 2020), so a year before we planned to get married (just ended up working out better financially for us as we were wedding planning). And by now, we all know the stresses that came with living house-bound during the pandemic – let alone combining our things when we weren’t quite ready to do it yet. We got officially engaged in Feb 2021 (Valentine’s night – yes, I know, so romantique) – and then the wedding planning was on from there to get to a 10-10-21 wedding date.

So the pandemic house-bound period came with its own stresses, moving in together for the first time had its own and then wedding planning on top of that also had its own. After our wedding, you might think that things pretty much stayed the same – since we were already living together before. That’s also not true. Because once you’re legally married, responsibilities elevate and so do expectations. My husband wasn’t so big about that expectations conversation beforehand (even though I tried to get him to do it back when we knew we were going to get married). I don’t think he saw the point back then (having already gone through a long-term first marriage before), but he definitely gets it now.

Top lessons learned from the first year of marriage as an independent woman

Can you still say you’re “independent” once you get married? I think that depends on your mindset and what you define as independent. For me, independence (for men or women) means you always have the capability to take care of yourself – i.e. you don’t depend on someone else to live financially or otherwise in this world.

1. We should redefine independence in marriage

For me, I think it’s still possible to maintain a level of independence in marriage, even as you’re allowing yourself to become dependent on your spouse in some ways.

FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE: So far, he and I still haven’t formally combined our finances. We’ve basically determined who will handle what bills and they get handled as per the usual. At some point, maybe we’ll find a reason to commingle funds.

SOCIAL INDEPENDENCE: I think socially it’s important to maintain some independence. He still has friends, I have mine. I think I realized that I didn’t necessarily have any “couply” / married friends that we hung out together with beforehand. Not really. So now I find myself being more intentional about doing double-dates with people, just to get us around other couples sometimes, which I think is nice and healthy for us. Marc’s a bit of a loner anyway – needs lots of quiet time to himself to unwind, reflect, work, etc. It’s fine by me, because I’m perfectly happy to have my alone time, too.

2. If you think you know someone, try being married to them.

I’ve known Marc for over 7 years now as friends and we formally / officially dated for at least 2 before marrying. I thought I knew him pretty well before even thinking about getting married. Going through the pandemic together, even getting COVID together, living in the same house and planning a wedding together showed me whole new sides of him. And likewise, it showed him whole new sides of me. I think this hearkens to the idea that you can never really fully know someone. And truthfully, how fully do we ever really know ourselves? We’re constantly evolving and changing and new situations can bring out new or perhaps latent sides of us.

What I’ve learned in this year of official marriage together is that Marc is not the verbal communicator I am. So I can’t rely on him to always be able to verbalize what he’s feeling or thinking. Instead, I’ve begun to learn to pick up on other ques. Everyone’s love languages are different, right?

We’re always operating out of one of two places: fear or love.

3. There should be a “Fear Languages” book to accompany the “Love Languages” one.

And similarly, I think there should be a book called Fear Languages. Everything in life is one of those two things, right? Love or Fear. We’re either operating out of one or the other at any given time, ultimately. So if there’s a book on Love Languages, I think similarly there should be one on Fear Languages: how we express ourselves when up against something we’re afraid of.

Fear can manifest itself in a number of ways for different people. In marriage, it can show up as an argument over something seemingly inconsequential or small, but it could actually be a “trigger” for another person’s fears. It’s making them think of something they don’t want to happen, or something they might have always been afraid would happen. The narratives people tell themselves in their head about what’s true in a situation or relationship have real effects and consequences for what’s experienced by both. Ever heard the phrase that there are three sides to the truth: yours, theirs and what actually happened? That’s 100% true. My reality and how I can experience it can be vastly different from his and what he experiences. And yet, we both experienced the exact same thing – emerging from it with two completely different truths.

So navigating those waters has spurred a great journey of introspection, reflection and change on my part. And on his. Ultimately, it’s for the better. This is all a part of us learning each other. Which leads me to my next big lesson:

4. I am in the School of Marc and he is in the School of Andrea.

I loved this lesson so much from our pre-marital counselor. She said “from this point forward, you are always in the School of Marc. And he is in the School of You.” We are never done learning about each other – not really. Because the moment you think you’ve fully figured someone out, personal evolution can happen (they’re growing, they’re changing) and you have to be able to accept that. Grow with them. Change with them – if needed. That is one of the best pieces of advice and mental frameworks I ever received during my counseling time with Marc and I’ll never forget it. Which leads to my next big lesson:

5. Counseling is a must.

I think for independent women in particular (and the men they marry) this is certainly a must. It’s a must for everyone – we all have things to work on, tools and skills to add to our emotional intelligence toolbelt and relationship savoire faire. But I think independent women in particular truly need it. Why? Because there’s a bit of a mindset shift and a whole lot of evolution needed to go from living completely independently to now being able to trust someone else enough to rely on them for some of the things you need. Why should we do that when we already know we can do it for ourselves? The answer: because no one truly wants to be independent forever.

Independent people actually still need other people.

6. Just because we can be 100% independent doesn’t mean we should (forever).

Just because we can doesn’t mean we should. We were made to be interdependent beings. That’s not just for women, it’s for men too.

Marc doesn’t want to be independent. He loves a monogamous relationship. And now, having lived with him for two years and been officially married for one, I can see where he needs help in this life. My organizational skills, décor and big-picture-planning, for example, are all areas where I lead. His financial investment / planning skills, technology and willingness to handle the minutiae of bills and money – all areas he owns. And those are just a few examples for both of us.

7. There is no singular leader in the relationship. We lead where it makes sense (where our strengths are).

The other night he showed me this viral video he found of a man (halfway joking) saying that “whomever is expected to take a bullet for the other is the ‘leader’ of this relationship.” Meaning, if there was an actual scenario where the two of us were held at gunpoint, whomever was expected to sacrifice themselves for the life of the other was the relationship leader. So he asked me: “Who’s that person in our relationship?” My cheeky answer: “I expect both of us to drop to the floor and run. Overtake them. Both live…” – and on and on. Not accepting the fact that anyone had to die unnecessarily.

I don’t subscribe to the philosophy that there’s a singular leader in a relationship. I think we lead where our strengths are. In today’s independent world, that only makes sense to me. I’m the cooker most of the time, but he’ll cook sometimes. He washes the dishes most of the time, I pitch in when I know he’s struggling with it. I keep our social calendar for the most part. He drags the garbage bins up the driveway hill each week (for the most part). I helped him make the latest big move in his career. He helped me even have the confidence to know I could be an entrepreneur in the first place.

We all have our roles to play. I don’t think there’s a singular “leader.” I think it’s just knowing eachother and supporting each other where it makes sense. Leading where it makes sense.

8. Keep other people out of your messes.

I said messes as pleural on purpose. I’m a pretty transparent person (as evidenced by the existence of this blog), but that doesn’t mean that you hear about every horrendous argument we’ve had. Not at all. Leave the messes to work out with your counselor and each other. But once one of you loops in family or friends in your mess, their ability to look at you and your spouse with hope and positivity severely diminishes. Sometimes you may feel like it can’t be helped but to involve your close circle. I get that. But in a perfect world: everything gets handled between you two and your counselor.

9. Trust and respect are necessary.

Marc and I disagree on this one. He feels trust has to be earned. I feel trust should be freely given – particularly in a marriage – lest you give me a reason to take it away. Respect, on the other hand, has to always be there. I think every couple goes through a time where they feel disrespected in one form or another. How you choose to respond to that disrespect is the element that’s within your control. Use it wisely. BIGGEST lesson of the year for me (see item 3 above regarding Fear Languages).

There are levels to love. Year One is about growing beyond infatuation and beginning to grow into something more solid, deeper and real.

10. Let go of the perfect picture of marriage in your head.

We all have this picture of how our marriage life should go and it revolves around the expectations we’ve created for ourselves – based on our upbringing and based on our dating experiences (what we do and don’t want, what we will and won’t accept, etc.). What I’ve learned in this first year is that it’s not that we can’t have expectations. My closest-in-age-sister (who’s been married over 15 years now) once told me I’d be much happier if I just let my expectations go. Expect nothing. Then you can’t be disappointed. And when something good happens, it’s like a nice “surprise.” That just made no sense to me. I got what she was saying, but that made it seem like you could marry just about anyone in this world and make it work. And we all know that’s not true.

Here’s the realization I came to that does make sense for me: know that it’s OK to have your expectations – and likely the reasons for your expectations are rational / perfectly reasonable to expect. However, you have to leave room for something new to develop. You are two organic beings – coming together as one. There is no rulebook for this. There have never been two individuals just like you – at this particular moment in time nor in this particular zip code nor with your unique experiences, skillsets and more – that have been married before. It just has never happened. So what your marriage becomes can and should be something quite unique to the two of you. And no one can tell you how to do that. It must be learned. and that learning is only enabled by your willingness to try. The desire to make it work has to be there.

So as long as you have the desire to make it work, you can create a marriage like no other. But that can’t happen if it’s being restricted by your pre-existing expectations. Again, not saying you shouldn’t have them. You should just have an open enough mind to know your marriage could potentially grow beyond your expectations into something you never knew could exist (and I mean that in a very positive way).

Overall, after surviving the pandemic together as well as our first year of marriage, standing where we are now, I feel hopeful that we are moving in the right direction together. As long as we stay in the School of Each Other, as long as we maintain trust and respect for each other, as long as we leave room for what our marriage could be (versus what we feel it must be), I think there’s always hope for something amazing. Those are my biggest lessons learned after this first year.

So what about you? What are your biggest relationship lessons you’ve learned in this past year – from marriage, dating or otherwise? Let me know in the comments below!

6 responses to “First year of marriage for an independent woman”

  1. What an amazing story. This has helped me so much. I recently started dating someone and I never thought I would date a woman with children. Some of the things that you pointed out is what we’re experiencing now in a relationship. You have so many great points and you’ve helped so many people with this article. The best thing is about letting go of your independence on both sides and learning that people have different ways of communicating. This article is absolutely amazing. I’m going to share it with so many people. Congratulations on your first year of marriage.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Congrats to you on your awesome new relationship! Totally understand what you mean about kids. A long time ago, I reasoned to myself that – at a certain point (I think I was 30 back then) – most people had kids by now. Maybe a divorce (sad but true). One hundred percent spot on about communication styles. So important to figure out!!! Mission critical, right?? Thanks so much for sharing and here’s wishing you many blessings for growth together in your relationship! 💗💗


  2. I am so inspired by your story. I am nearing 52 and after declaring myself more likely and more willing to be hit by a car than find love again, I find myself hugely infatuated with a man 8 hours away. We were introduced by a mutual friend and continue the long distance adventure waiting on the “right” time to meet. I was enamored with the distance between us, but he hit me with the “I date with a purpose” thing after the 3rd conversation. It made me want to block his number to be honest, but he is scaling the walls of my cynicism with confidence. We are taking things really slow, but I can see myself building something tangibly beautiful with this man. He is the first man to speak life into me and back it up with scripture. After reading your story and following your journey, I want to create a beautiful journey of my own with this man. Your transparency gives me hope that we are on the right path and that love can be beautiful after 50. Thank you for sharing your story and incites with the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so touched that you found this blog!! And thank you for sharing your story! This is truly my purpose for creating the blog in the first place: to give women like us HOPE. There are so many Old-Maid / Spinster-naysayers out there that feel if you haven’t gotten married in your young 20s / 30s it’s over for you. You’ve wasted the best years of your life. Or perhaps, like many, if that divorce happens – good luck on finding another partner when you’re now a single mom. The odds may be perceivably stacked against us, but I’m convinced that a miracle is a shift in mindset. Just the mere idea that you now feel love can work for you means that it WILL!!!! Wishing blessings and good fortune your way my dear. And even if your current love ends up not being the right thing for you (which I hope it is), know that you are worthy of love wherever you are, in whatever city you’re in. And if you believe it, you’ll find it yet again – promise you that. Cheers to your journey and please keep me posted! I’m @andreatheojohn on all social media platforms.


  3. So true I got married at 42 yrs old and happy I could be. I am six months in. I am blessed to have him.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So happy to hear that Keisha – thanks for sharing your story!! (And cheers to the 80s babies!!) #xennialsrock


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