Our culture is obsessed with falling in love and weddings. In endless films, TV shows, books, magazine articles, blog posts (and on and on and on), we work out the logistics of, first, finding The One, and, second, throwing a big, beautiful party to celebrate it. What is much less discussed in the media or portrayed in fiction is what happens after the wedding — what the day-to-day life of a married couple is like. This may be because the day-to-day for most married couples is probably pretty boring (unless you’re both secret agents or professional stunt performers, in which case, GOOD ON YOU). While falling-in-love stories follow a clear narrative arc, with major highs and lows, and a big pay-off at the end, marriage is different: There are good times, bad times, and, rather unexciting-ly, OK times. There’s no culmination at the end, just continual work of maintaining a relationship over the long haul.
When you think about it, getting married is a really strange thing to do — with the exception of having children, when else in our lives do we make a decision that affects who we are and how we live for the next half century or more? It’s a big deal. The truth is, marriage can be wonderful and rewarding, at the same time that it’s challenging, complicated, and, sometimes, really hard. No matter how prepared you think that you and your partner are to make the step into legally-weddedness, you can't anticipate how being married will affect your relationship until you're actually in it. Of course, everyone experiences married life differently, but these are 11 things about marriage that my own life has taught me:
1. It Changes Things In Ways You Wouldn’t Expect
By the time a lot of people get married these days, they have already started integrating their lives together; they might already live together, make decisions together, and share finances, so it’s natural to expect that marriage might not change how you and your partner relate all that much. And to a certain degree, that’s true — your day-to-day routines might not suddenly alter just because your partnership has taken on a more formalized dimension.
But things will change in a lot of ways that you might not expect. Having signed some paperwork might not seem like that big of a deal when you’ve already committed to someone emotionally, but being legally tied to someone — for life! — is a major step. You’ll look at your future differently, knowing that the decades ahead will be filled with this person, and conflicts between you will take on a new dimension (There’s no “maybe we should just break up” safety net anymore). The way that other people think about you and treat you will change as well; in the public eye, you’ll now be seen as part of a unit with someone else, and the people around you will make certain assumptions about what your married status means and what it says about you.
2. Marriage Doesn’t “Fix” Your Relationship Or Your Life
Romantic comedies and fairy tales usually end with an implied or literal “And they lived happily ever after!” But life doesn’t end after the wedding, and all of the problems you had before the marriage — both as a couple and as individuals — will still be there afterward. Marriage isn’t a magical solution to anything; in fact, it’s another responsibility that you take on when you say your vows. That’s not to say that it isn’t really rewarding — it is — but it’s also hard. Marriage is like any other part of life: imperfect and complicated — even when it’s also really good.
3. Your Spouse Is Your Lover*, But He Or She Is Also Your Roommate (Which Is Totally Unromantic But Also True)
Romance and attraction don’t just disappear when you tie the knot, but there are definitely going to be times (a lot of times) when your main thoughts about your spouse have less to do with how great he or she looks naked and more about how irritating it is that he or she gets toothpaste all over the bathroom counter and insists on hiding dirty socks in random places around the house.
*pronounced “LuvAHH,” with drama, please.
4. “Never Go To Bed Angry” Is Bullsh*t
Some clichés are completely true (“Actions speak louder than words,” for example, and "Everyone loves cheese"), but the common adage that a couple should never go to bed angry is terrible advice. Of course, one shouldn’t let an argument fester indefinitely, but, sometimes, exactly what a fight needs is for the two combatants to calm the hell down, go to sleep, and wake up with more level heads.
And it’s not just me saying this; SCIENCE(!) agrees: Research has shown that a night of sleep can improve people’s decision-making skills, which means that when you and your partner wake up well-rested, you might be better equipped to find a solution to your problem. A study has also revealed that even a single night of bad sleep can lead to more fights in the future.
5. “Love Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry” Is Also Bullsh*t
There’s a reason that this saying became famous because of a movie and not real life: In reality, it’s bad advice. Marriage teaches you that, in fact, love means having to say you’re sorry — a lot. We should love our partners unconditionally, and we should be able to expect that kind of love in return, but unconditional love doesn’t mean that you never have to apologize. Really, it means that you make an effort to recognize when you have been wrong, unreasonable, or unkind; you own up to it, even when it’s uncomfortable for you; and you do your best to not make the same mistakes again.
6. You’re Marrying An Entire Family, Not Just Your Spouse
Of course you know before you get married that your future in-laws will be your family, but it might not be until you’re actually married that you fully realize what that means. Becoming part of your husband or wife’s family can be a truly wonderful thing (who doesn’t want more love in their lives?), but it also means that your priorities change, that you have to create more room in your life, and that you have to learn to negotiate the needs of your spouse’s family alongside that of your own parents and siblings. Figuring out that relationship can be complicated, but also totally worth it.
7. Your Marriage Will Have Bad Days (But It Will Also Have Great Days)
Sometimes, you’ll have days when being married is not your favorite thing in the world. But you’ll also have days when it is your favorite thing in the world, and you think it was the best decision you ever made. Both of these days are going to happen, and both are OK. In fact, knowing that there are good days ahead can help to get you through the bad ones; one bad day here and there doesn’t equal a bad marriage.
8. You And Your Partner Will Both Crave Alone Time
Last year, I did a training course that required me to be out of the house every other weekend for a few months. My husband loved those weekends — not because he doesn’t love me, but because he got to have some real time to be in our home by himself and do whatever the hell he wanted to do (which was “watch World War II documentaries,” apparently). And I completely understood that feeling because I feel the exact same way when he skips town for a conference. (The way things usually go is that for the first two days he’s gone, I’m having a blast on my own, and then by the time a week rolls around, I’m lonely and wailing “All by myself,” all by myself.)
Wanting to have time on your own doesn’t mean that you don’t like your partner — it just means that you’re human and sometimes you need space.
9. Sometimes You Will Not Be A Very Good Partner, And Sometimes Your Spouse Won’t Be A Very Good Partner
Of course, you want to try to be the best partner that you can be, but the fact that you are human means that some days you will not be your best self. Once in a while, you are going to be a jerk, and once in a while, your partner is going to be a jerk. That’s OK. This is why No. 5 is important — when you are not a great partner, you will apologize, forgive yourself, and try to be better in the future. We’re all human — that’s all we can ask for, from our partners and from ourselves.
10. You Still Have To Date
Because your spouse is also your roommate, your financial partner, and maybe your co-parent, it’s important to make time for yourselves to also wear the label of “romantic partners.” You have to date. This might mean that you go out to dinner, or to a concert, or on a long walk together. Maybe you simply set aside time to make dinner together after putting your phones away and vowing not to talk about whose turn it is to do the laundry. The form isn’t really the important part — hanging out together simply because you enjoy each other is.
11. It’s Fun
A lot of discussions of “what marriage is really like” tend to be rather dreary, as their primary purpose is often to deflate the impossible romantic fantasies that a lot of people have about long-term relationships. But I think it’s also important to let you in on the secret that marriage is fun. Like, really fun. It’s not easy or perfect, but you’re spending your life with someone you love, and the two of you know each other better than anyone else. You’re going to have weird in-jokes and strange habits, and you’ll both send each other into fits of uncontrollable laughter on a regular basis. Sometimes, being married really is just the best.
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