After the Wedding: What to Expect During the First Year of Marriage
By this time, most of us have probably attended at least one wedding this summer. I went to one last weekend, and my dear friends Lauri and Jeff, the co-owners of TherapyLinx.com, will be tying the knot in just a few weeks. That got me to thinking how these happy, glowing effervescent brides’ and grooms’ lives will change (even if they have been living together for years and they are quite sure they won’t.) I’ll tell you what I came up with, based on my own two marriages and what I’ve witnessed over the years. Know someone who just got hitched? Have them read our blog for a short course on what’s next. Meanwhile, we hope you’ll tell us what happened for you. . . .
I. The Wedding Hangover. Even if you haven’t had a drop to drink, there’s no escaping the wedding hangover. Even if you’re an attention hound and love all those squeezes, camara flashes and one hundred of your closest friends telling you how beautiful and happy you look, it’s hard to take all that in. We need to decompress. Which is why not one couple I know will even try to convince anyone they had a great first night in the conjugal bed. My advice: forget any idea of sex until at least three days after the wedding. You’ll just be too exhausted. This is what honeymoons are for, but give yourself several days before expecting to be able to move.
II. Buyer’s Remorse. Sorry to be so unromantic. Most of us go through this, and it can last anywhere from a week or two to the full first year, intermittently. There is no three-day right of rescission, and suddenly those cute little snorts your partner used to do are coming through the Fanny Fun House of Mirrors, and yes, you did say Till Death Do Us Part. Do some deep breathing and distract yourself by going through wedding pictures, and you’ll remember why you chose this person of your dreams. And when you do remember, write it down so you’ll remember the next time the BR kicks in!
III. Reconfiguring Your Identity: It’s Not Just a Name Change. Whether a person changes their name getting married or not, there’s a lot more to that ring on your finger than gold. For one thing, it will now require a lot more hassle to change your status. There’s a sense of finality to this long-awaited dream come true: you’re married. Often couples focus so much on the wedding that once it’s over, they don’t know what to do with themselves. Now what? Some will be ready to take on new projects, like making babies or getting a promotion or buying a house. For others the only change they see is a drop in the frequency of sex. My advice: work hard to pretend you’re still courting, and NEVER STOP. Dating is the most fun part of being a couple, which is why most marriage therapists ask, Do you still go out on dates? Finally, give yourself a full year to let your new status sink in. After the Buyer’s Remorse, you’ll start to discover the hundreds of myriad ways life does feel better (as in, richer, deeper, more meaningful) being married, and you’ll see the world responding to you differently, too.
IV. Roles Change Too – Change Them Consciously! From daughter to wife, from brother to husband, you have not changed roles in a vacuum. Some people (like fathers, perhaps?) will give you more than a nudge out of the nest. Some people won’t be ready for you to give up a role that has made you primary in their lives. Best friends, siblings, even parents have a stake in you being there for them, and sometimes they can’t handle you leaving them behind for married life. Hopefully you won’t leave anyone behind (other than former lovers perhaps) once you get married. But successful marriages rely on each partner being willing to make subtle shifts of importance from other close friends and family to their new marriage partner. This requires diplomacy but not without firmness. No, Mom, we’re not coming out for Thanksgiving this year, we’re serving dinner to the homeless. Or, Sorry, guys, enough volleyball for tonight. I’m having dinner with my wife. It’s a balancing act, not a life sentence of Lent.
V. Discover Your Expectations . . . and Let Go of Them! This is where it gets dicey, because whether we admit it or not, we all come to marriage with expectations. And the first year of marriage is where they get played out. I just expected that once we were married you would . . . This is the time you get to discover what your expectations are, because some of them will be met, but many won’t. Don’t feel bad when they don’t – it’s what marriage is all about. (It’s also why dating after marriage is so important, because when you’re not dating, you’re working hard on learning how to speak to your mate – the very thing that made you feel so close to begin with.) Think of the easiest job you ever had – was it satisfying? Now think of the most satisfying job you ever had – was it easy? Great marriages don’t just happen because two great people love each other. They are built through years of working hard to get to really know and accept each other, to meet challenges together, to grow individually, and to make the relationship a priority. Use your discovered expectations as information about you, and look to your past to see where those expectations were born. Most importantly, talk about it. Just make sure to leave out those words that say should.
The First Year: A Foundation for Your Legacy. Above all, remember to keep an eye on the big picture. The first year may be full of challenges, but when you give yourself and your partner latitude to adjust, the pay-offs might surprise you. Here’s a comment from a husband in his sixth year of marriage that might give you a little inspiration: When we first got married, I thought my life was finally complete. After the first year, well, I was exhausted from all the hard work. But now, my wife is more than my best friend: she’s my rock. She’s also the reason I do all this, because we’re building something together, that’s bigger than me, bigger than a home and a family, even bigger than our relationship. I’d never imagined it this way before but I think we’re actually building our own little piece of the world, and together we’ve got a chance to do so much more than I ever could have alone. It’s not always peaceful, but then, I didn’t sign up for boring. My wife, she makes me grow.
May all your years of marriage take you to new heights.
Beth Strong, MA, LPC
303-322-4224 – Office