Age 49: Day 5
In 10 days, I will celebrate my first anniversary of marriage.
In other words, I will no longer be a "newlywed," an odd enough moniker for a 49-year-old, but still, I'm a bit sad to give it up. One thing I heard again and again before my wedding was, "The first year of marriage is the hardest!" I'd smile and nod, trying to look thankful for the advice, but inside, I felt smug. First of all, we weren't going to be living together all the time--which meant fewer arguments over socks on the floor, toothpaste caps left off, and even money struggles (not that we ever fight about the first two anyway, and as for the third, we have two households, so it's easy to keep things separate). Also, I was positively wrapped in the joy that surrounds you when you've met your soul mate. I'd done a lot (and I mean ALOT) of dating, so it was very easy for me to know, from deep inside, how wonderful the man I was marrying is. And for the first nine months of marriage, my smugness was justified: Life between us went on as always, with good talks, good times, lots of generosity and very little eye rolling. The couples therapist John Gottman, Ph.D., who, along with his wife Julie runs something called the Love Lab in Seattle, observes newly married couples behind a one way mirror. He claims to be able to predict with something like 90 percent accuracy which couples will make it, and which will get divorced. The biggest predictor of divorce? When a woman shows contempt for her husband (exhibiting it by doing such things as eye rolling). I admit it, I'm an eye roller by nature. I swear that I sometimes do it affectionately, but my husband has tried to train me not to do it, and given my knowledge of the Gottman research, I've tried to restrain myself as well. And with my s.o., there's little reason to do eye-rolling.
Except. These last few months, I've been very aware of what I call "the shift." I feel as if I'm waking up out of the la-la land that is a wonderful new relationship and new marriage and all the racing hormones and finding myself back in the real world of bad moods, stressors and irritability. (Often mine--for a while there, I thought I'd never be in a bad mood again.) Suddenly, we are having little conflicts, not over toothpaste caps or dirty socks, but over things of a similar ilk: the volume of the stereo. Whether to watch a movie or read. The ideal temperature for sleeping. What kind of couch to buy. And even, sometimes, money. These are (mostly) small things and I feel lucky every day. My husband and I have been together four years now, and this stuff has just started coming to the surface as the "being on our best behavior" phase of marriage ends. And so, I try to remind myself that we are both two people. Strong minded people. Strong minded people who sometimes have small power struggles. Normal, right? The nice thing about fighting, now that I'm married is this: When I was single, every time I got in a fight with a boyfriend, my brain went right to: "Oh, we're going to break up now." And I'd get defensive, scared, clam up, walk away and the fight generally didn't end in a way that left both parties feeling closer. Now that I'm married, whenever we have a conflict I think: "Hey! He's not going anywhere! I don't have to be scared! And I find my defensiveness dropping away, I can actually listen to him, be a good person, speak rationally in return and we end up getting somewhere. Amazing.
Any of you have thoughts on the shift? Did you think it would never happen to you, like I did? Were you smug about it? You will hear more on this topic, believe me.