Marriage doesn’t come with a manual.
I wish it did. Because after the engagement ring is posted on Instagram, the vows have been said, the doves have been released and the dress has been put in dry storage, comes the reality of married life.
And as much as we would like to believe it’s all happily ever after, it often isn’t.
It can be, of course. All you need is some awareness and a willingness to act.
Here are 5 key tips and pieces of marriage advice couples should know about the reality of married life before getting engaged.
1. Communication is everything.
One of the most problematic aspects of married life is that after a while communication just seems to stop.
Sure, there is lots of logistical stuff to discuss, like what time you’ll be home for dinner, where the kids’ soccer games are being help this weekend and what time you’re having brunch with the in-laws on Sunday.
But emotionally intimate communication — expressing your feelings, frustrations, hopes, dreams and longings to one another — too often ceases.
Marriage is a 24/7 commitment. Over the course of those long hours, days and years together, difficult issues are sure to arise. If feelings are left unsaid rather being addressed immediately, damaging resentment build up over time.
It may seem too scary to go there and easier to simply not say anything, silently hovering over the dishes or spending longer hours at the office — anything that allows you to avoid difficult conversations. But if you only take one thing away from this article, know that you must keep communicating.
Your marriage, and your life, will be better in all ways if you do.
2. Having lots of sex is crucial.
Newlyweds ma laugh now at the prospect of no longer wanting to have sex with their partner. “That won’t be us,” you may say. But it very well could be.
We know that anger and resentment build when feelings go unexpressed. For a men and women alike, there’s no better libido killer than anger and resentment, and ironically enough, there’s no better way to create anger and resentment than a lack of sex.
Emotional and physical intimacy are both necessary for maintaining closeness in a marriage. Touching, kissing, feeling loved and having orgasms are all a big part of this.
A marriage without sex is simply a business arrangement, so push past the anger and resentment and make love with your partner. Or, better yet, prevent anger and resentment from arising in the first place by maintaining deep communication and happily make love to one another (pretty much) every night.
You’ll both be happy you did, both in the moment and in the long run.
3. Respect for one another is key.
There is a saying that “familiarity breeds contempt.”
The idea behind this expression is that, “the longer one knows someone, the more likely that he or she will discover negative things about the other person.”
Over time, you get to know how your partner looks when flossing their teeth, that they leave their pants hanging on the door, the way they slurp their coffee or that they fart in bed. Perhaps at first these things seem cute, but as time goes by, they may drive you nuts. They might even repel you.
As psychotherapist Mel Schwartz, LCSW, explains, however, “When we honor one another, we’re not likely to experience contempt … Contempt is the emotional reaction to not feeling cared for and perhaps disrespected. When we feel valued by our partners, our relationships are inclined to thrive. At the least, this feeling of being valued tends to limit hostility and scorn. When we devalue our partners, contempt becomes very prevalent.”
Mutual respect is key in any successful marriage.
Your partner’s mannerisms or ways of doing things might not jibe with your own, which can lead to developing a dislike of who they are. And if you don’t like someone, it can be hard to respect them.
Tell your partner if something they are doing is making it difficult for you to be with them. Don’t just write them off as a lost cause, thinking, “If they loved me they would do this differently.”
We are all human beings trying to do the best we can. If you are honest with yourself, you know that they aren’t doing any of those things to spite you. They just do them.
They may change these behaviors if asked kindly and with respect. Showing your partner respect allows them to keep respecting you in return.
(And sex is way better when you respect your partner, in case you didn’t know.)
4. Extended family cannot be allowed to get in the way of your new one.
No matter how old you are when you get married, you’ll have spent many years building habits and taking in part in specific traditions with your extended family.
Holidays spent just so. Toilet paper rolled so it hangs under vs. over. Sarcasm and in-jokes shared at every family get together.
Extended family is a wonderful and important part of who you are, but when you get married, your priority should now be placed on your new family you are creating with your partner.
Of course, it’s important to respect each other’s family traditions, but if doing comes is at the expense of your relationship, the issues causing a problem need to be addressed.
If the birthday tradition on one side is the whole family gathered and lots of gifts exchanged and the birthday tradition on the other side involves quietly celebrating with friends, then a conversation needs to be had.
Both sides of the family should be told, respectfully, that while all family traditions are important, your new family needs freedom to create their own traditions. Compromises might need to be reached, but it’s important for both partners feel like their new life as a couple is their own.
5. Having a baby changes everything.
I know! Having a baby is so exciting. From “starting to try” to nine months of watching a new life grow, to baby showers and then childbirth, it’s all so wonderful and new that many partners are grow closer than ever.
Until the baby is born, and all bets are off.
From day one you’ll be flying by the seat of your pants. Many women shift their main focus from their husband to their child, with many men left wondering what happened to their old life. Yes, the child is delightful, but little luxuries like dinners out together, time with friends and free time for athletics are all suddenly gone — not to mention the sex.
It’s important to be aware that having baby will change everything so you can prepare yourselves and allow for it.
Know that everyone is going to be exhausted, things are going to be messy and the next 18 years will be an evolution, and a revolution, like nothing you’ve experienced before.
Commit to making it through those years together.
Communicate like you did when you were first married, perhaps even more so, have as much sex as you can squeeze into each week and continue to love and respect each other even as life gets challenging.
It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.