Too many people go into a marriage thinking that it’s going to be great fun and not much different that any old long-term relationship. Living together with another person, who is both a lover and friend, has its ups and downs, and it is certainly a whole lot different than regular dating. Experience comes with time and plenty of couples eventually learn to live in relative harmony with each other, but it always helps to get a basic understanding of what you are getting into beforehand. With a few years of dating, five years of marriage under my belt and a beautiful daughter to show for it, I have learned a few things about marriage that people don’t tell you when you are young. Here is a list of ten things I wish I knew as a newlywed, as they would have saved me plenty of time and nerves.
1. Living with a partner can be much more difficult than you think.
In the beginning, i.e. your first year or so together, it can all seem like sunshine and rainbows between the two of you. Your relationship is still fresh, you are slowly learning about each other, you have sex all the time and you spend some time away from one another regularly, so every time you see each other, there is plenty to talk about. However, once you start spending all or most of your free time with someone and living under the same roof, you suddenly become a strange mixture of friends, family and roommates.
The thing is, you are both used to a certain lifestyle and like things to be a certain way, which can cause a bit of a problem if you aren’t able to back down. My wife and I had plenty of arguments about choosing the right color for the walls or arranging furniture, and there will always be debates about leaving the toilet seat up, throwing towels on the floor, not doing the dishes after a meal, etc. Just know that these things are a part of being married and that both of you will need to change a few things about yourself, which takes a bit of work.
2. You’ll need to learn to handle constant meddling and tips from your family.
Everyone will want to give you some advice, whether they have been there and done that and know some things about marriage or have just heard of a study on TV or read something online. Your single friends will get on your nerves from time to time with gems of wisdom on married life, and although you’ll know they just want to help, it won’t make things any less frustrating. When it comes to meddling and unsolicited advice, the worst offenders are the in-laws. We all know how difficult our parents can get, particularly if you come from a cultural background where families like to stick together and everyone abides by the “it takes a village to raise a child” mentality.
Now imagine having to deal with two sets of parents who don’t seem to realize that you are grown adults and insist on giving you advice on everything from basic things like doing your laundry and choosing furniture, to important issues related to planning your future. The way my wife and I deal with such meddling, apart from occasionally reverting to sarcasm or losing our temper, is to acknowledge their input and agree to consider their suggestion as a valid option. Shutting off your brain, nodding politely and letting them finish their tirade, followed by a quick change of subject is also a great strategy.
3. The question about having a baby will be brought up by others frequently.
This ties into the last paragraph, but is a big enough issue that it deserves its own place on this list. Not a month will go by after you’ve exchanged your vows and people will already start to give you the old “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” routine, asking if their might be a third family member on its way any time soon. Comments can be simple, like when our friends commented on us buying a house: “A beautiful home—spacious too. Plenty of room for one or two more (nudging and winking go without saying),” or even serious and somewhat worried inquires like when my parents asked us when we were planning to have our first kid.
This kind of behavior is understandable—after all, your folks are getting older and want to have a chance to play with their grand kids while they still have plenty of life energy left—but it is incredibly infuriating. You will feel like you are being pressured, like it is expected of you, but ultimately, it is your decision whether you want to have kids now, later or ever for that matter. Take your time, get settled in and when the right time comes, the two of you will come to a mutual decision.
4. Married sex often lacks spontaneity and you’ll need to work at keeping the passion alive.
All the movie clichés and standup comedy routines aside, married sex becomes less spontaneous and more predictable over time. It can be both one of the best and one of the worst things about marriage—you fall into a routine and because you know each other so well you start approaching the subject casually. Young couple sex comes straight out of the bloom, gets hot and heavy quickly, with very few words spoken or can be a long and delightful game of teasing leading into a big finale. Married sex can sometimes come down to:
Person one: “Wanna do it?
Person two: “Are you that horny? I’ve got to be at work in an hour, and we haven’t even had breakfast yet.”
Person one: “Oh, come on, there is plenty of time.”
Person two: “Alright, alright, we’ll just have to be quick. And you’re making breakfast afterwards.”
There is nothing inherently wrong with a bit of routine or scheduling sex around your daily obligations, but by breaking the taboo and being somewhat formal about it can kill the passion to an extent. Married couples need to pick up a few tricks and learn to keep sex interesting. You can role-play, dress up in sexy costumes, try something different or schedule a romantic evening where you court each other and take things nice and slow. It is just something you’ll need to work on.
5. You’ll need to accept that you and your partner enjoy different things.
While having a lot of things in common can bring the two of you together, it’s impossible to have the exact same hobbies and interests as another person. Your significant other might be somewhat of a slob and you may be a bit of a control and hygiene freak. One partner may enjoy listening to loud music while doing chores around the house and the other might prefer peace and quiet. You might enjoy most of the same things, but hate the fact that your partner watches a boring and predictable TV shows that just has to be on every single night. They are probably aware of all the plot holes, broken laws of physics, quasi science and faulty logic, but enjoy the show regardless, so pointing all these things out serves no purpose. Learn to accept your partner’s interests and be tolerant of them—you don’t have to like the same things, but don’t complain about the things they like and try to be supportive and understanding.
6. A good marriage is all about compromising and doing your best, and not about “being right.”
Let’s first say a thing or two about an overwhelming sense of entitlement many people today feel. A big part of growing up is about learning that no one “owes” you anything, that you can’t claim to “deserve” anything and that a “right” to do something needs to be earned and protected, and can easily be taken away by others, whether it seems fair or not. That’s another big one—life isn’t fair and it’s all about giving it your best, hoping nothing really bad happens and surviving catastrophes when they happen and moving on.
This is true for all aspects of life, but relationships in particular. You can’t act like a petulant child and throw tantrums or get mad and put every time something isn’t going your way. However, there will be moments when one partner is simply too emotional and irrational, just looking for a fight or a way to blow off some steam by yelling at whoever is closest to them. In such cases you need to swallow your pride, forget about being right or fighting for justice, and focus on keeping your cool and doing damage control. Most times a simple compromise or leaving your partner alone for half an hour to cool off is going to be enough to keep the peace.
7. It’s easy to misinterpret your partner’s actions and overreact.
You will have plenty of things on your mind at times and an innocent comment from your partner might set you off. You might feel angry, tired, undervalued, self-conscious, etc, and this will cloud your judgment and determine how you interpret what has been said. There were times when I came home from a very long and frustrating day at work, did some more work at home and was in a very depressed mood, when something that was meant as joking comment—a sort of good-hearted lover’s banter—threw me over the edge to the point where I was raising my voice and trying to defend myself from the perceived insult.
With time, you learn to pick up on the things that easily trigger you to go overboard (body image issues, low self-esteem, feeling inadequate in a professional or social sense are the most common triggers) and work on controlling your anger and coming to terms with the underlying issues. You can also let your partner know which comments are off limits and set some boundaries. In the end it’s all about not letting your fears and doubts get the better of you.
8. Fights over all kinds of things are common—learn to swallow your pride and apologize.
Even when you learn to let things slide, stay calm during an argument, and become incredibly understanding of your partner, you will still get into an occasional fight. This is very healthy for a relationship, as it means that you are both playing with your cards open and don’t keep your feelings bottled up so they can fester and ultimately cause you to explode. There are certain common “scripted responses” among higher primates as social creatures, which allow a unique scenario to play out and keep the group together even when faced with big problems. It goes something like this:
- Two people have very strong opinions on a matter and don’t want to back off..
- Both people want to assert their dominance and things start escalating to yelling
- Posturing, loud noise and aggressive language persist until one of the two comes out as a clear “victor” or someone storms out.
- In the end either the dominant person or the person who has messed up extends an apology, which is then accepted.
Even monkeys end serious arguments with an apology and make up, so think about this the next time you want to keep pouting and keep refusing peace offerings from your partner because you feel you were wronged on a non-issue like who is going to do the vacuuming.
9. You don’t have to do everything as a couple and some alone time only strengthens your bond.
When you get married you start to do a lot of things as a couple. You go shopping together, you relax after work together, you go out with friends as a couple, etc. However, your schedules won’t always overlap and neither will your interests, so it is a good idea to do some activities on your own. You may want some time alone with your friends, or one of you may just want to sit in front of the TV all day while the other wants to go swimming. This is where friends and family come in—you can get someone else to go with you and your partner can spend the afternoon doing what he or she enjoys. In the end you both get some alone time, you recharge your batteries and you have something new to talk about when you see each other again.
10. It’s important to take time off from the mundane life every now and then.
It’s easy to get into a rut after a while. Your mundane life can quickly bore you and cause you to be lethargic and even depressed. Most people enjoy a change of scenery every now and then, and as a married couple, you’ve got plenty to worry about both at work and at home. This is why an annual vacation is important. You can even have a few mini-vacations during the year. You can go on a weekend getaway, go camping, drive to another city and check into a hotel for a day or anything else that seems fun and exciting.
I’d like to end this article by saying that, despite it being a lot of hard work and a constant balancing act, marriage is a true blessing and it affords you some extremely wonderful moments that cast a huge shadow over all the little problems and squabbles. I am a better man for having spent all this time with my wife and I look forward for what is to come.