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Your wedding: You want it, you dream of it, you plan it down to the last detail. But even as you're immersed in all the delicious details, think for a moment about what happens after you say "I do." Weddings happen in one day. Marriage goes on for all the days of your life.
Today's young people, perhaps sobered by our nation's soaring divorce rate, do tend to take marriage seriously. According to The State of Our Unions 2001, a national survey of men and women between the ages of 20-29 conducted by the Gallup Organization for the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, 86 percent of respondents said marriage is "hard work and a full time job." Even if you've been a couple for years, live-in or not, when you get married you become a Couple with a capital C.
"Like any other major change in life, being married requires a period of adjustment, so allow yourselves time," says Nancy Rosenberg, author of Outwitting Stress: A Practical Guide to Conquering Stress Before You Crack (Lyons Press, 2003). "Your transition will be much smoother if you expect to have to work through misunderstandings, disagreements, and expectations," she adds.
From getting used to having Mr. and Mrs. on the same mailbox and negotiating the mundane chores, to finding the right fit with your sex life and your financial life, the first 100 days of marriage can be a minefield. Here's how to negotiate this exciting new time with aplomb.
So, you shared your digs before that walk down the aisle? Good for you -- but don't be fooled into thinking that you've got an edge over other newlyweds who didn't shack up. This may sound like your mother talking, but that "little piece of paper" does make a difference in the relationship. You may not have to adjust to each other's physical presence on an around-the-clock basis, but you do have to adjust to the idea of long-term commitment as opposed to the open-ended convenience of "just living together," says Rosenberg.
A marriage is in many respects a public event -- you get a legal OK with a license; you often get a religious blessing; and your friends and family (or even the Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas) are witnesses. Once you are publicly "sanctioned" as a couple, it just feels weightier, more important, somehow.
"Donald and I lived together before we got married," says Anne, 36, a fitness trainer in New York City. "I figured it might feel different to be husband and wife, but I was not necessarily prepared for how different it was -- in a positive way. Living together was one level of commitment. But after we were married, I felt the commitment deepen. It was like how you feel when you've been standing up for a long time and you finally get to settle down into a comfortable chair. Ahhh..."
Other newlyweds experience the sea change of living together after marriage -- and get a little seasick: "We had just graduated from college and moved from Texas to North Carolina when we got married. We were thrown into it all at once," says Rachel, 23, a newspaper reporter. "Even though I was expecting it all to happen, it was harder than I thought it would be. I found myself crying every day." For Rachel and her husband, the period of adjustment was rocky, but once they realized that their uncomfortable feelings were mostly due to moving and changing jobs at the same time, they were better able to weather the change and settle quite cozily into their new roles as husband and wife.
You'd think married sex would be the ultimate "gimme." After all, the person you couldn't wait to hop into bed with is now, well, in your bed all the time. And therein lies one of the issues surrounding married sex: Constant access can breed boredom. Another sex buster is simply the banality and bustle of life itself getting in the way.
"The raging hormones calm down, and life intrudes. You're two people who now need to go forward, work, buy groceries, and re-integrate with friends and family," says Aline Zoldbrod, a certified sex therapist and author of Sex Talk: Uncensored Exercises for Exploring What Really Turns You On (New Harbinger, 2002). So what can you do to keep things humming in the bedroom? "You have to create a sexuality that can exist in the everydayness of modern life," says Zoldbrod. Her tips:
Chores. Bills. Shopping. Laundry. The shift to "real life," after the wedding and honeymoon, can be a jolt. No more parties. No more gifts. A pile of bills. The toilet to be scrubbed. Dinner to be bought, prepared, and cleaned up. The laundry to do. You get the picture. "When we were dating, Don cooked dinner, and did the dishes, telling me to go relax," says Anne. "He still cooked after we were married, but he seemed upset if I disappeared at dishwashing time. There were some fights and some hurt feelings. When we finally talked about it, he said that he didn't mind doing the dishes, but he thought I should at least hang around the kitchen to keep him company. Funny how that changed just because we were married."
If you two are squabbling over the to-do list, and fuming in your separate corners over who's doing more than his or her share, here are some tips for getting it all under control:
Experts say that money (or the lack of it) is a major trigger of marital discord. Early in your marriage -- or, preferably, before you tie the knot -- you and your spouse should have not one but several air-clearing, decision-making discussions about your finances.
"Couples must know they are also marrying their spouse's assets and liabilities," says Sharon Durling, author of A Girl and Her Money: How to Have a Great Relationship Without Falling in Love (W Publishing Group, 2003). "This information must be made clear going into the marriage. A look at the other's financial records, like bank and credit card statements, will reveal a lot about his or her money personality." Here's a crib sheet for those talks:
No matter what struggles you may have during the first days of marriage, try to see the positive side of things. If you have a disagreement about who cleans the house, the two of you can discuss and come up with a mutually agreeable solution. And the learning process of learning to negotatiate the smaller issues in life -- like cleaning the house -- will undoubtedly help prepare you both for whatever life brings in the years to come.