10 Surprising Things That Change When You Get Married
For better or for worse, tying the knot can shift how you think, what you do, and how you feel in ways you may not expect.
How you see you
I becomes we, me becomes us: that seemingly simple shift in pronouns can stir a whole mess of different emotions. “Couples are often surprised within that first year they have almost an identity crisis,” says Michelle S. Park, MA, licensed marriage and family therapist in NYC. Part of it may stem from the realization that your life is now intertwined with another; that you made what will hopefully be a lifetime commitment and are, in a sense, responsible to that person, she explains. Plus, there’s wrapping your head around what it means to be “husband and wife,” and who you are outside of that role, adds Park. For some couples, the decision to share a last name is part of that identity shift: “I didn’t realize how difficult it would be,” says April M. “It took me 10 months to actually change my name.” And six years later, she still misses it. “But, it makes sense now that we have kids,” adds April, who continues to use her maiden name professionally.
Your sassiness in the sack
When you vow to be together ’til death do you part, that kind of commitment provides a sense of security and comfort—which for some couples, could be a game changer in bed. Feeling safe in a relationship may allow for more experimentation, says Susan Heitler, PhD, clinical psychologist in Denver and author of The Power of Two. You might feel freer and more confident in the bedroom—and not just between the honeymoon sheets or during the can’t-keep-your-paws-off-each-other phase that follows. Over time, you become more connected and comfortable together, says Park; as that emotional intimacy grows, sex can get even better.
How often you do the deed
Chances are it’s less—and that’s probably not so surprising. But what’s worth noting is that a lull in your sex life does not mean that your game is gone or your groove is lost. “Dry spells will happen,” says Park, “but less frequent sex does not signal the beginning of the end.” Sex can become about quality over quantity, she says. And it’s important to make sure when you’re not doing it, you’re still doing something to connect—hugging, holding hands, kissing. “Even if sex is happening only a few times a month, you can still have intimacy,” she says.
Your need to mind-read
Sorry, your wedding band doesn’t come with telepathic superpowers, nor does it grant you the ability to decipher every brow furrow and eye crinkle. And when you try to guess what’s prompting the tick, twitch, short response, or prolonged silence, chances are you’ll presume the worst case scenario. “The antidote is to ask,” says Heitler. “And good questions begin with one of two words: how or what.” No matter what follows, neither can be answered with a simple yes or no; and both can help get to the real root of the issue. (Instead of “are you mad at me?,” ask “what are you thinking right now?”) Oh, and by the way, your spouse’s ring is made from mere-mortal materials as well: He can’t read your mind either. “Being married doesn’t mean you can stop articulating your needs,” says Park. “Let go of the idea that if you have to tell him what you want, it’s going to be less meaningful in some way.” Preferences change over time—both yours and your spouses, she says, and if you say what you need and the other person responds, it can mean even more because you know they heard you. Learn the little things you can do to make your marriage happier.
Where you celebrate Thanksgiving
Holidays can reach a whole new level of complicated when “Thanksgiving is always at Aunt Susan’s” meets “we have to go to my dad’s.” That was a reality Ricardo L. didn’t expect. “I spent some holidays with my wife’s family before getting hitched,” he says, in part for a few brownie points during their courtship. But once they were officially married, figuring out how to split holidays—like Christmas and Thanksgiving—became a point of contention. “Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays—not just because I have a large family (she does too), but mostly because my old man can make a mean turkey,” he says, one that puts other birds to shame. Their solution: alternate the big holidays, a plan he says they’ve stuck to for the past 12 years (and one that includes asking his dad for turkey leftovers). Other couples may opt to visit both families on a given holiday, or host it themselves and start new traditions.
Research from Ohio State University found that women are more likely to pack on pounds after marriage, while men are likely to gain weight after divorce. Scientists looked at survey data from more than 10,000 people and found that the chance for the largest weight gain was highest after age 30. The study didn’t delve into the why, but experts have their theories: As you get older, a sudden change (like marriage or divorce) can be a bigger shock than it would be when you’re younger, and that can really impact your weight, suggests one study author. “Joy and grief are strong emotions that can also lead to an increase or decrease in appetite,” adds Heitler.
The freedom of your time
Before Courtney got married, she considered her time her own: She’d make her plans for the day—which always incorporated seeing her now-husband, but they were still her plans. After they got married and moved in together, free time became about ‘what we’re doing,’ not ‘what I’m doing,’ she explains. “It was weird shift for me at first, almost like I lost a little control of my day.” She enjoyed doing things with her husband, but still craved time on her own. And that need for space and “me-time” is both normal and healthy, says Park. You can love your togetherness, but it’s important to have the alone time to do the things you enjoy—not only for your own well-being, but also for the health of your relationship.
Your role in the relationship
Mom always took care of this in your family, while dad handled that; you and your hubby, however, may have different definitions of that and this. “People assume their role as husband or wife will mimic what was modeled growing up,” says Park. Experts agree it’s best to assume nothing, and instead talk about your expectations. Some couple may take similar roles that their parents did, says Heitler; others may find that who does what evolves gradually, with both people pitching in. But even if you vow to keep the division of labor equal, it’s likely that certain to-dos will move from his list to yours: “Somehow, I was suddenly responsible for remembering birthdays, anniversaries, and buying Christmas gifts for another entire family,” says April. “He pretty much just handed it over.”
Your sense of security
Adrienne C., and her now-husband had been together for close to 15 years before getting married. They lived together first with roommates, then as a couple, and eventually became parents. “Marriage was never high on my priority list,” she says; “we were committed and happy and didn’t feel like we needed anything more.” But for health insurance and other reasons, they made it official about four years ago. “We wanted as little to change in our relationship as possible,” she says; what she didn’t expect was the added sense of comfort that came with the legal document. “I felt more secure in terms of if anything should happen to either one of us.”
Where the laundry collects…
…or how towels are folded, which wall the TV hangs on, or anything else that falls under the “our house” category. “Even couples who lived together beforehand are surprised at different issues that need to be addressed once they’re married,” says Heitler. With the committed partnership comes a shift in thinking—from “his way/her way” to “our way.” Take, for example, the laundry and your spouse’s inability to get it into a bin: when you were dating and he dropped it all over your shared apartment, maybe you let it go; if you didn’t live together, maybe you didn’t know. But now, the random dirty clothes piles grate your last nerve. Instead of criticizing or blaming, each partner should look at what they can add to a new plan of action, says Heitler—a process she calls the ‘win-win waltz’ in her book Prescriptions Without Pills. Maybe you agree to get additional laundry baskets, and he agrees to toss his clothes in. “It’s not exactly his way or her way, but both are adding to a shared solution.”