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First year can be tough test for marriages

Caption
(Monica Maschak - mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
Joe and Liz Bappert work together in the kitchen to make breakfast before heading off to church on Sunday, February 10, 2013. The married couple of 15 years met through a mutual friend and spent their first year of marriage battling a paternal lawsuit. "It was devastating to us," Mrs. Bappert said, but the couple persevered.
Caption
(Monica Maschak – mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
Joe and Liz Bappert work together in the kitchen to make breakfast Sunday before heading to church. The married couple of 15 years spent their first year of marriage battling a paternity lawsuit. “It was devastating to us,” said Liz Bappert, but the couple persevered.

After a fairy-tale wedding and quick honeymoon, Richmond couple Liz and Joe Bappert returned home to a surprise.

Tucked in with mail that had collected during their vacation was a letter informing the Bapperts of a paternity lawsuit. Joe Bappert’s daughter’s biological mother alleged that he was missing child-support payments.

“Our wedding went off without a hitch,” Liz Bappert recalled of her wedding 15 years ago. “We went on our honeymoon and we came back and my husband had a paternity suit in the mail. ... I said, ‘This is not cool, I can’t stay married to somebody like this.’”

So much for the honeymoon period.

Australian researchers found that the Bapperts might not be alone in a rocky first year. Deakin University’s Centre on Quality of Life found that couples in the first year of marriage struggle more than those who have made the long haul.

In the U.S., on average, one in 12 marriages will not last beyond the newlywed stage, according to Marital Mediation, a website that supports attorneys, mediators, social workers and counselors who deal with marital issues.

But it is Valentine’s Day after all, and true love really can conquer all. The Bapperts, who have weathered more than 15 of them, are living proof.

Joe and his ex were able to work it out, but not without a drawn-out custody battle. Joe and Liz both learned to listen and stay calm before flying off the handle.

Liz Bappert said she was in shock after learning about the paternity suit. But once she gathered herself, she listened to what Joe was telling her – that his ex’s allegations were unfounded. Her husband showed Liz the canceled checks he had written. It was but one of many hurdles in their 15 years of marriage.

One reason for a stormy first year is the anticipation that comes before the wedding, Australian researchers found.

“Couples build up to the wedding day as the best day of their life, and then find reality biting as they [tally] up their wedding bills and get back to work after the honeymoon,” the study’s lead author, Melissa Weinberg, told The New Zealand Herald.

Liz Bappert looks back fondly on her wedding day, but growing old with Joe is what she really looks forward to.

“The wedding experience is once in a lifetime, but it’s just one day,” she said. “Every day I look at my husband, there’s love that grows and keeps growing. There’s a sweetness and kindness there.”

Another reason for the discontent in the first year of marriage, the study found, is a change in the financial circumstances that accompany marriage.

Crystal Lake counselor Dan Blair echoed that.

“The first year is described as one of the hardest, and I think that’s because there are a lot of adjustments to make,” he said. “Of course, we all come into a marriage with expectations that are somewhat idealized. And if that does not work out, there’s disappointment.”

While living together before marriage could seem like an obvious precursor for post-nuptial bliss, that’s not always the case, Blair said.

“It’s a personal choice; however, studies show that it often does not help,” he said. “What’s needed to make a relationship work is commitment.”

Married people tended to be happier than those who are single and significantly happier than those who are divorced or separated.

The Bapperts found out that sometimes the road to lasting happiness is a little rocky.

The couple, married in 1997, have had a series of ups and downs. After the jarring custody dispute, the Bapperts found out they couldn’t have children of their own, and Liz Bappert suffered through two autoimmune diseases.

“Having such a deep love for our church, our family and for God, that’s what sustained us,” Liz Bappert said. “The thing is we didn’t go in [to marriage] with the mindset that this is going to fail. ... There’s a respect there, and I think that’s why it works.”

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