5 Ways Getting Married Changes Your Relationship—And 2 Ways It Doesn't

These days, marriage doesn’t mean the obvious changes for a lot of people that it once did. Prior to getting married now, many couples already live together, share household responsibilities and finances, and are sexually active. In fact, for the majority of Millennials, it would almost seem weird not to do those things before making a lifelong commitment to someone. So when you've already incorporated so many parts of partnership into your relationship before marriage, when you do tie the knot, there might not be immediately obvious differences in how you and your new spouse interact.

Nevertheless, some things really do change once you stand up in front of your nearest and dearest and say, "Yes, I will attach myself legally and financially to you until I die or we decide to go through an expensive and painful legal separation" (or, you know, a slightly more romantic version of that). Some of these changes are awesome, and some are scary; most manage to be both awesome and scary at the same time. Here are a few ways you'll be looking at your life differently after you take the plunge—and a couple of ways that things stay just the same:

1. You fight differently

When you’re fighting with a boyfriend or girlfriend, there is always the comforting presence of that shiny, red “BREAK UP” button. If things get to be too crazy, too mean, or just too much, you always have the option of walking away. When you're married, you no longer have that safety net; leaving the relationship suddenly requires lawyers and money and paperwork. So when you and your spouse have an argument, you have to learn how to work through things, how to be respectful, and how not to burn bridges with the person you'll be waking up next to for next 50-odd years.

2. Your spouse’s family is your family

When you get married, you make a commitment to your new husband or wife, but also to your spouse’s family. This really came home to me when my sister had a baby right before I got married. I realized that my soon-to-be husband and I had both gotten a new nephew—that, to this kid, my husband would his uncle, just as much as I would be his aunt. Growing up, I never differentiated between my aunts and uncles by marriage and my blood relations. They were all simply grown-ups who loved and took care of me. I hope that my nephew will feel the same way about my husband and I, but the realization that he likely would was jarring (which, again, felt both awesome and scary).

3. You and your spouse are each other’s family

Before you get married, you might feel incredibly close to your partner, but things really do change when you are recognized as a distinct legal and financial unit, as people officially authorized to make decisions together and—importantly—for each other. A while back, my husband and I were watching reruns of Grey’s Anatomy and found ourselves discussing end-of-life choices: How do we each feel about being kept alive by machine? How do we feel about organ donation? Cremation? Heavy stuff, to be sure. To know that I might have to make these decisions for him at some point (in the distant, distant future, after we have been married for 70 years and people are driving flying cars) was intimidating. But it also felt good to know that I have someone to make these decisions for me, should I ever need him to—someone I trust completely, and who I know is my biggest advocate. (And this, of course, is one of the many, many reasons that marriage equality is absolutely essential.)

4. The future looks different

When you get married, you talk about the future differently. You and your spouse don't simply discuss plans for the next year, or the next five years—you talk about 20 years in the future, 30 years in the future—lengths of time longer than you've even been alive. You discuss children, long-term goals, retirement plans, and all with the assumption that you are still going to be together. It's really rather humbling.

5. Your relationship isn’t just personal—it’s public

Getting married means that you're taking your private relationship into the public realm. Your identity changes from a legal standpoint, but also from a social one. Simply put, the rest of the world sees you differently when you’re married. People make assumptions about who you are and what you want, simply based on the fact that you have a spouse. They assume that, if you're married, you'll have taken on your husband's name, that you suddenly want to buy a house and make babies, and that you are somehow more adult and more responsible than someone who is single. This is unfair, of course, both to marrieds and to single people, but it is common nonetheless.

Not everything changes! At least two things stay the same:

1. You still have fun together

"Settling down" is such a depressing phrase, as if people who get married are suddenly done with having adventures together. But the fun stuff doesn't magically evaporate when you say "I do." You and your spouse will still try new things together, and you'll still have stupid in-jokes that no one understands but you. You may even have more fun together, since, as I've written before, you tend to get both weirder and more honest the longer you're in a relationship.

2. You are still your own person

When you get married, you become half of new legal and social entity. However, you are also still an individual, and so is your spouse. You will both continue to have separate thoughts, separate feelings, separate desires, and separate fantasy lives. In a marriage, you both have to work together to integrate all of these differences into something that works for you, but that doesn’t mean you stop being you, or that you stop advocating for yourself.

Images: Dennis Skley/Flickr; Giphy (3)