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updated: 3/2/2012 3:12 PM

OK, you just got married. Now what?

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It's been three or four months since the last guest left the reception. You've returned the tux, packed away the wedding dress and (hopefully) you've taken that long-awaited honeymoon.

In fact, by now you've begun to settle into a fairly normal routine of housekeeping, going to work, grocery shopping and all the other things that go into building a life together.

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Unfortunately, that also often includes more than a bit of marital discord.

About 49 percent of newly married couples report serious marital problems in the first 18 months of their marriages. Many of these couples express serious doubts about whether their marriages will even survive. Even those couples who remain fairly confidant in the future of their relationships report that they are increasingly critical of their spouses and argue significantly more. This is not exactly encouraging.

It also should not be particularly surprising. Most of us enter marriage idealizing our spouse and relationship. The need to love and be loved and to be in a long-term, intimate relationship is so basic to who we are that we often overlook the shortcomings of our partner, ourselves and our relationship to meet these needs. In the excitement and fulfillment (and sometimes relief) of preparing for our marriages, we may even intentionally avoid confronting the issues that could threaten our relational future.

Such issues, however, exist in all relationships and will have to be dealt with sooner or later. Even when we are sure that we have talked through any differences that might exist, others will inevitably crop up -- roles and responsibilities, money, sex, careers, in-laws, religion, friends, personal habits, balancing closeness and distance, etc. -- will always be points of contention in a marriage.

And we will probably not even agree on how to disagree about such issues; conflict management is one of the first, and most difficult, skills that newly married couples must master. It is no wonder that a good many new marriages end in divorce after a few years, or even months. Many of us are so disillusioned by the realities of our relationships -- and by just how much work it will take to make them work -- that we simply give up.

But if we persevere, there is a good chance that we can find much of the fulfillment in our marriages. Seeing those first few years as a "breaking-in" period to work at understanding our differences -- coming up with healthy compromises and taking a long, hard look at our own strengths and weaknesses as individuals -- can build a solid foundation for our future together.

Sometimes doing all this requires a bit of help (newly married couples often seek professional assistance) but it can be done. When we pledged ourselves "for better or worse," we may have been assuming that the "worse" part would be a long time in coming.

But if we accept that it will be there to deal with from the start, we cannot only survive it, but grow through it as well. And that may be the key: Our newly married struggles are as much opportunities to grow with our marriage as they are threats to nip it in the bud.

It is up to us.

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