7 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Getting Married

7 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Getting Married

This month, my husband and I celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary. A dozen years is both a long and a short time to be married, depending on how you look at it. Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about marriage I didn’t quite expect. Here are the things I think every single person should consider getting married.

Marriage Is the Final Frontier

7 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Getting Married

Most of the things I’ve learned (below) apply to both cohabitation and marriage, except this one: getting married really is different than living together unmarried even for many years (maybe only Goldie and Kurt are the exception). It’s not just the many legal and financial benefits of marriage though. There’s a psychological difference.

My husband and I lived together for several years before getting engaged, and dated several years before that, so it’s not like there was much to adjust to after getting married. But maybe it’s the months of preparing for a wedding (and investing thousands in it) or the knowledge of how difficult (and also expensive) divorce can be that makes the commitment more ironclad, for both you and those around you. This is it. As soon as the wedding vows are exchanged, you’re on a different, accelerated life path. Before, you were being nagged about when you were going to get married. Now friends and family will be asking when you’re going to have a baby (a life changer on its own). Once you have that baby, you’ll be asked when you’re going to give the kid a brother or sister. Everyone’s in such a hurry.

Even if you’re really ready for marriage and can picture the entire rest of your lives together, it’s normal to wake up some days and think, “Holy shit, I’m married forever and ever??” Everyone knows marriage is a big commitment, of course. But even when getting married is a natural step in your happy relationship, years later when you’re more appreciative of the decades you have ahead of yourselves, you can be floored by how extraordinary it is to commit the remainder of your life to one person.

You’re Not Just Marrying Your Partner, You’re Marrying His or Her Family Too

7 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Getting Married

You know the saying “We’re not losing a daughter, we’re gaining a son-in-law”? Well, it works in the reverse too: You’re inheriting the obligations, stresses, and, yes, benefits, of a whole new family. You might get along superbly with your significant other’s family now, but once you’re married they could transform into the in-laws from hell, because now you’re cemented to your partner and they claim you as one of their own.

I’m the quiet sort of person who needs her space, but my husband’s family is full of extroverts who don’t really understand that perspective. That’s caused a lot more grief over the years than it should have (I wish we had this article back then), but I’m lucky that my husband understands me and mediates when necessary. Others aren’t so lucky. I’ve seen couples on the brink of divorce over in-law issues rather than problems specifically between the couples themselves. So my advice would be for both sides to imagine each other’s family at their worst and how you two might handle any issues before they got bigger than the both of you. And, to be fair, know that bonding with your partner’s family at a deeper level and becoming the daughter/son/sister/brother they always wanted is another surprising perk of marriage.

Say Goodbye to Taboos

7 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Getting Married

There’s a scene in This Is 40 where Paul Rudd’s character forces his onscreen wife Leslie Mann to inspect his naked bottom for haemorrhoids. It might not be as extreme as that for all couples, but after being married for some time the raw and crude things are no longer, well, raw or crude. In fact, they’re like curiosities and, sometimes, obligations.

You might ask or be asked to evaluate nose hair or pull off a blackened fingernail — things you would never do or ask while dating — because now you two are one and almost nothing is embarrassing anymore. It’s nice to always have someone there to tell you if you have broccoli between your teeth and not feel judged by it.

The Little Things Matter a Whole Lot More

7 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Getting Married

I used to think that the best test of whether you could live with someone else forever is to ask yourself if you could put up with his or her biggest flaw — or the worst version of this person — for the rest of your life. I still think that’s a good exercise, since people become more themselves as they age — their desires, strengths, and flaws get sharper. If your partner is somewhat of a curmudgeon now, he or she will probably only become crankier and more stubborn as the years go by. Conversely, the best things you love about a person could hold you steady through the inevitable tough times.

But now I think that it’s the little things you have to look for, because in the day-in/day-out of marriage, the little things add up. Little annoyances like a nail biting habit or leaving filled water glasses everywhere are really easy to overlook during a relationship when the bigger things — the way your partner makes you laugh or how beautiful you feel around him or her — attract your attention more. When we’re “in love” we tend not to notice the small things that could drive you crazy months later, like hanging the toilet paper the wrong way.

On the flip side, it’s also the small acts of everyday kindness, respect and love that keep a marriage going. Romantic gestures like buying flowers or a surprise date out are great, but they don’t hold a candle to mundane things like unclogging a drain or taking over child-bathing duty. Doing chores becomes sexy in a way you would never imagine.

You Both Have to Change to Make the Marriage Work

The old adage that you can’t change someone by marrying them still holds true. You shouldn’t fall prey to “fixer-upper bias“, and you probably don’t want anyone to change you either. The truth is you’re probably both going to have to change or adapt, as a choice, to keep the energy and love alive.

The two biggest things are learning how to fight more productively and how to communicate in ways that might not be natural to you but make more sense to the other person. Gary Chapman, who literally wrote the book on what people should know before they get married, says that people have different “love languages” or ways they express and receive love best. I’m not naturally a “toucher”, but I am learning how significant just holding hands can be. It can take a long time to learn what your partner’s silences mean (and don’t mean), that grudges can kill a relationship, and how to adapt to the ups and downs that life is going to throw at you both.

I think every couple should go through at least one really tough time together before they get married, just to see how the other person handles such things.

There’s No Just You Anymore

Paul Reiser in Couplehood explains it pretty well:

The problem is, when two people live together, there is no more Business of Your Own. Your Own Business is closed. You’ve merged and gone public. You have to run everything by the partners. And if there are too many conflicts of interest, the business may go under, freeing the partners to once again open up smaller concerns by themselves.

Like all businesses, couples engage in endless meetings to discuss areas of management concern and division of labour.

“You know, we really should call the post office and tell them to hold our mail while we’re away.”

“We? You mean me, don’t you?”

“No, I mean we. I didn’t say ‘you.’ I said ‘we.’ You or me.”

“Oh really? Are you ever going to call the post office?”

A moment to think. “No.”

“Then you mean ‘me,’ don’t you?”


Being part of a permanent team has its benefits. You come to rely on the other person to remember and take care of certain information (Psychologists call this transactive memory). I don’t have to worry about making plans with our friends or not getting lost when driving, and he doesn’t have to worry about the bills or after-school activities. (Also, I wish I had known at the start that there were some things he’ll willingly do that I just assumed he hated, because I hate them: things like grocery shopping and getting rid of telemarketers. I would’ve had him do those things sooner.)

On the other hand, now you have to put the marriage above everything else, and might even forget what you were like when you were single and “free”. It’s not a bad thing, necessarily. It’s just a lot of responsibility, being responsible to someone else.

It’s a Constant Work in Progress

You might think once you’ve finally settled down you can relax and live happily ever after, but nothing can be farther from the truth. The years jumble together, and if you’re not careful you’ll easily take the marriage for granted. I didn’t know it over the years, but I think the thing that’s made the most difference for my marriage is our regular holidays and other traditions — things that force us to take stock again in our relationship and reconnect on a deep level. Just “being in love” isn’t enough to make a marriage work.

Even after decades of living together, you’ll be learning things about your partner, bit by bit, that might surprise you — or they’ll suddenly change or have different priorities and needs (“Really, you want to become a scuba diver now?” and “How come you never told me you don’t like olives?”). It’s like a dance, and you both have to keep up with each other. But what a beautiful dance it can be.

Photos by nick farnhill, lisaclarke, Jsome1, BrianKhoury.


    • This!

      Been with the same woman for 18 years, been married for 6, Since buying a house, getting married and having a child our relationship has gone from good to absolute crap. if we ever get divorced (which will probably be soon), I will NEVER walk that plank again.

      • I’ve been with my wife for 14 years (married for 7). Best thing I ever did, not a single regret. Although we don’t have kids, so maybe that’s where it all goes wrong… Just the thought of it makes my blood run cold 😛

        • I’m a bit younger than most of the guys I work with – a common thing that seems to pop up from talking with them is how when kids came along, their marriages deteriorated. I’ve been married six years and happily so, but we’ve not procreated – could be something to it. I think articles like this should focus on the kids aspect a bit more, as it seems to be quite the upheaval for a lot of people.

      • Out of curiosity, if you don’t mind sharing, have the reasons for the deteriorating relationship been due to the external pressures or reasons within the relationship itself exclusive to being married? I’m curious because this isn’t just a case by case thing, but a greater social problem in all countries and as a young male, I’d appreciate the insight and thoughts.

        • as someone who just got married im going to hazard a guess that these guys all expected to get laid on demand or something with no limits
          cause the marriage certifate is a ticket to the bedroom buffet

          then they started to realise they have all these responsibilities and they arent as free as they were as single

          and the wife just doesnt understand how they feel that they need “me time” too

          something along those lines

          usually marriages break down either because:
          1) physical abuse
          2) selfishness, focusing on your own desires and needs, even if you do realise that it involves sacrifice. people find it easy to accept in concept but difficult to accept when faced with it in reality
          3) superficiality, regret that you didnt hook up with the other hot girl from highschool, regret that you cant pick up that new girl in the office/bar, regret that you are now mid life and your wife looks like a prune

          • While I appreciate the response, those reasons weren’t exactly what I was looking for namely due to the fact that they’re pretty much the standard answers from any sort of article regarding relationship breakdowns etc.

            The two posters above have been in relationships well over a decade, so what I was specifically seeking was whether marriage in and of itself does something that changes the relationship that wouldn’t have otherwise happened had they say, chose the live together de-facto route. Or, whether changes in the relationship are due to external factors such as mortgages, children etc compounded with the lack of something like communication.

      • Don’t listen to them. I’ve been married for 3 years (together for 10) now we have a child and it just keeps getting better.

        • I just mailed out the invites out today, so it’s pretty hard to go back now anyway! And yeah, I’m not worried, I have a secret marriage weapon!

  • Lol marriage is the classic example of the hegelian dialectic.. Especially “gay marriage”

    If you love someone its between you and them..And noone else, particularly not the state. And most definitely not the church!

    You don’t need a big narcissistic ceremony to show someone you love them, it won’t solve any problems you’ve been brainwashed to think you have.

    • Completely agree. Though if you love someone why would you be scared to legally that they own half your stuff you own half their stuff. I mean, if you’re never going to divorce there are only legal and tax benefits to be had by marriage so it is in your best interest to be married.

      • There are also certain financial downfalls in marriage, certain land property law taxes can be negated if the couple are not married.
        If you feel the need for some kind of bond, form your own legal contract that more suite the individuals taste, prenups are always an option for peace of mind.
        If more people looked at everything like running a business there’d be more financially stable people.

        • there are also certain tax/finacial winfalls to being married or paired up. Its not very romantic but consult a a financial planner when thinking of getting married 🙂

  • Is it that you just don’t get to spend time together like you used to? We had a baby a year ago and I know how tough it is, things certainly changed for us but I make sure we keep making time for just the two of us to go our together, its really like date nights all over again.

  • Sounds like marriage didn’t ruin your relationship, but rather the added pressure of having a mortgage and a child. It’s tough once you add those things – especially a kid – into the mix because it’s no longer just about the two of you.

  • Coming up on 26 years together – well we would be if the Christians in our country were not so insecure. Either way, we wed on May 4, 1988, and while we can’t sit and enjoy our grandkids, I think we know a lot of what youse guys know.

    What surprises me about this article is it’s lack of import on communications. Maybe it’s something people learn at year 2, or 7 or 12 or 15 or 21, but unless you are willing to swallow your pride and darned well talk, honestly, openly and be prepared to live with the work that the level of required honesty sometimes cause. Well.

  • Married for going on 18 years now and we have had some fantastic times and some gut wrenching bad times. She has always been my best friend and I hers. We disagree sometimes. We argue sometimes, but I have never been temped to break the promises I made when we wed. For better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.
    A strong marriage cannot be based on emotions which are always in flux, but a choice to commit to these promises for life.

  • After 20 years since we met and 13 years of marriage I would have to say that children are a big game changer. They alter the amount of time you have for each other which, in my humble opinion, is probably one of the hardest things for people to cope with. You have to remain committed to each and make time for each other. Sometimes the kids don’t come first and the relationship / marriage does!

  • I became a father at 20 and got married when I was 21.

    I also became a millionaire at 22.

    Becoming a young father inspired me to take action.

    I have learn that you must take 100% responsibility for your marriage.

    Don’t EVER blame your children for a deteriorating marriage. Quit making excuses and quit blaming everyone else.

    Only YOU can ensure your marriage works by leading by example.

    My marriage almost hit divorce because I was too caught up in blaming my wife and son for our marriage failing.

    • That’s it. Communication communication communication. That’s all there is to it. Stop being the broken record…talk to your partner. LISTEN to your partner. Its not easy…but as long as both of you know where the other one stands, wants and needs, it should be whole lot smoother.

    • Can I just ask – what was the relevance of becoming a millionaire? Did that affect your getting married at a young age or was it added in merely to boast?

  • My husband and I have been married for 12 years also. We thought it as no big change after six years of living together, but I agree it was hugely different. We have three kids and have been through some very challenging times, to the brink of asking ‘do we want to continue with this’, but the answer has always been yes. Children do create challenges in a relationship, but so do any other big things in life – big moves, new jobs, losing jobs, etc – but children add far more to a marriage and life than they take away. Thankyou for this article. I agree with so much of it, but I’m not sure I could have really understood it back then.

  • If anyone said that any type of long term commitment is no work and all play, or that its all rainbows and honey pots is lying. Most of the tips in this article are spot on. Everything in life is a compromise and effort of sharing, caring, trust and love. No matter how much you earn, if you dont have these things in your life, you have NOTHING, regardless of your status.

  • We had been together 2 years, and I was going to see give it another 2 years before I popped the question. Figured that if I felt the same way after 4 years, then I was on to a winner. Well, then we had a surprise pregnancy (complicated), and basically sped up the proposal.
    Without sounding too melodramatic, the 18 months that followed I spent in a state of shock, depression, and generally felt like my life was over. She wasn’t coping very well either, but probably better than me (I was 30 and she was 35 at the time). It was very hard on both of us to say the least, and our relationship was very miserable at times, but we persevered. Our son is now 19 months old, and things are easier. We’ve learnt to share the load of parenting, we (I) communicate a lot more openly and controlled, and I think most importantly we have routine; I.e. she has her own time, I have my own time, we have our family time, and we have our relationship time.
    In short, these last two years have been the biggest learning experience, as well as the best and worst years of my life. It’s getting better though, and I think a big part of that is due to parenthood getting easier, and our son is more & more fun every day.

  • Agree completely. Both people need to understand and be willing to work through these things (especially the willingness to change and viewing the relationship as a partnership).

    If you are unable to work on the relationship together, it’s bad news. Divorce is surprisingly easy and while not cheap, it’s not crazy expensive either.

  • There’s no need to rush into it. Most of my childhood male friends who got the hot girls and married in their early 20’s are now divorced and on their second or third attempt. Most of the rest of my group who looked like we were getting left on the shelf up till our late 20’s early 30’s are still happily married to our first wives.

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