Friday, August 3, 2012

Marriage: The shift from ideal to real

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.


  1. I dated my husband on and off for 20 years before we married, in 2009, and I felt exactly the same way you describe in your second to last paragraph. It was an interesting shift.

    Unfortunately, I've also felt some of the same things you described in the rest of the post, where you describe the honeymoon period being over. Actually, now that I think about it, we never really had a honeymoon period.

  2. I just read your blog, and we have much in common, late-bloomer-wise. Glad I discovered it, and thanks for commenting.

  3. The love I have now, is one that started out difficult. We had lots of issues of trust and mistrust to work through, and thankfully, we have for the most part. In so many ways, he is not the type my friends could have imagined me with...he is anxious and more of a loner than me by far. But now, there is this tacit acknowledgement we have that we love each other AND we know the other isn't going anywhere. I think some couples take that to mean it's time to take the other for granted, the little hurts and jabs and eye rolling don't count as much....and neither do the loving gestures.

    But we didn't come together to hurt each other, even though we still manage to do it sometimes. The way I see it, the couples who really last are the ones who know the other can hold their crap. I said he was a loner, but I have been single most of my life...I just had many good friendships around me. I had lots of personal demons to work out, and I much as I could on my own. At some point though, I needed a mirror to help me see things and that is what my partner does for me.

    He has shown me things about myself that are just gross, to be honest. But he's also shown me things that I didn't know were there to cherish and I've done the same for him.

    My first partner, who died suddenly and before we could get out of the honeymoon phase had parents who everyone tells me had a remarkable love affair. He told me his father never entered a room without touching his mother and that they told each other they loved each other every day. To this I added always reminding myself how grateful I am for this relationship, and how grateful and proud I am for my partner....and sometimes that is A LOT easier than at others.

    Still, I think the shift you describe isn't a loss of the honeymoon so much as a gift of longevity. Celebrate it. xo

  4. Albie--Just saw this comment. Love thinking of it not as the end of a honeymoon, but the gift of longevity. So lovely.