The First 100 Days of Marriage: A User's Manual
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The First 100 Days of Marriage: A User's Manual

So, the afterglow of the wedding is just winding down. What to expect now?

Congrats -- Now What?

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.

Marriage vs. Live-In

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.

Married Sex: Hot or Not?

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:

  • Don't play the blame game. "If sex isn't happening as often, isn't as exciting, or doesn't happen as 'naturally' as it did before, don't feel as though either of you is 'defective,'" says Zoldbrod. Be open to planning times for sex, experimentation, etc.
  • Learn how to resolve conflicts in other areas of your marriage -- families, money, chores -- that can get in the way of sex. Fighting can poison your sex life.
  • Talk about sex -- as often as you can. "Start these conversations with positive comments about what you enjoy about your partner's lovemaking, not with problems," says Zoldbrod. And be as specific as possible about what turns you on, and under what circumstances. What used to be a surefire trigger for you early in your relationship may not work as well anymore, and make you feel like sex just won't be as pleasurable. The key is to talk honestly about what feels good now.
  • Confront any mismatch in desire between the two of you. It happens, says Zoldbrod, but it need not be a sex killer. "If the desire discrepancy is sizable, know you will have to split the difference in some ways," she says. Perhaps the more amorous of the two of you will be content with some cuddling and sex play. And again, talk about the issue without assigning blame.

Real-Life Routines

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:

  • Figure out what you're each best at. Is your spouse a fabulous cook? Then maybe meal prep is his arena, while you shoulder the dishes, laundry, and the checkbook. If you both equally hate certain duties, make up a chore roster and share the load.
  • Have a conversation about your "dirt tolerance." If he simply doesn't "see" grime and dust like you do, then you can't fault him -- and maybe you're the designated toilet-scrubber. By the same token, he may hate clutter. In that case, he would be better suited to putting things away and carting off the recycling.
  • Life is short. If you can afford to, hire help. A good cleaning service has helped save many a marriage.

Money Matters

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:

  • Get financially intimate. Be open about both of your assets and liabilities before marriage. Take a look at each other's financial records (bank and credit card statements). "It will reveal an enormous amount about your personalities," says Durling.
  • Discuss how you feel about money: the level of financial risk you're comfortable with, how much debt is acceptable, expectations about who will handle the finances, what your spending patterns are. Come to an agreement on things like who'll balance the checkbook and who will care for a child versus who might stay home. You can always change your minds, but it's important to have all these cards on the table so there are no unpleasant surprises.
  • Decide if you'll commingle your assets or keep them all separate. This is a completely personal decision, and many couples end up feeling comfortable with some joint accounts -- checking for their regular expenses or savings for long-term goals -- while also maintaining separate accounts for personal spending. But many couples do blend it all. According to a recent survey of Bridal Guide magazine readers, 78.5 percent of couples will merge their accounts. Keep retirement accounts separate, however; you should both accrue as much as the law and your employers allow.
  • Spending is another issue. If one of you is a big shopper while the other is an avid coupon clipper and leftover-eater, you may be setting yourself up for disagreements. A good compromise: Agree that either of you can spend up to a certain amount per week depending on your situation ($25, $100), without guilt, but must check in with the other before going over that limit. You'll feel more like a team.
  • If you are making unequal amounts, it might be a good idea to put an amount proportional to each salary into a joint account. Money is often perceived as power in a relationship, and the last thing you want to do is set up an "I make more than you so I make all the decisions" power struggle.

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.