This piece was originally published on YourTango, 10/28/16
When I got married a little over a year ago, I assumed nothing would really change in my relationship post-nuptials. After all, at that point my now-husband and I had been together 3 years before we got engaged, and 4 years total before we said “I do.” And for two of those years, we lived together, sharing a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. So wouldn’t marriage simply be an extension of the life we had already built together?
In many ways, the answer to that question is yes—for me, marriage did not change the day-to-day of our relationship, and I suspect that would be the same for most couples who cohabitate before matrimony (as half of American couples do). But in other ways, I did feel changes to our relationship, albeit subtle ones that had more to do with how I felt about things rather than the circumstances or logistics. I also think that the lessons I learned can apply to any long-term committed partnership, not just a marriage. After all, some of these changes were lessons that I was learning over time throughout the relationship, but that solidified once we married. So here are 4 ways my relationship has changed in the first year of marriage:
1. I learned the importance of picking your battles
No matter what stage of a relationship, a couple can benefit from the mantra, “pick your battles,” and, I would add—pick them wisely. When you share a life together there are bound to be disagreements, conflict, and frustration. I learned early on in my relationship that not every disagreement is worth arguing about, but this lesson only intensifies in a marriage. I guess it’s the feeling that because you’re in it for the long-term, keeping the peace and limiting negative energy is just necessary. This does not mean I would ignore my feelings if my husband did something to bother me, but it did mean that I could no longer speak without a filter, as I had done for a long time. Taking a step back or a deep breath before you decide to bring up an irritation or perceived wrong can go a long way toward keeping the marital accord.
2. I learned what acceptance means
A corollary to the lesson of picking your battles is the idea that acceptance of your partner’s ways of doing things is essential, and goes a long way toward minimizing conflict. For example, while I thrive on checking things off my to-do list, my husband often completes projects or tasks in a round-about, drawn out way that usually takes a lot longer than if I had just done it myself. If I asked him to put up a piece of artwork in our apartment, for instance, it would get done, but not right away and not without several reminders from me. At first, I would take his slowness and laidback attitude personally—like he didn’t care I wanted something done and would do it in his own sweet time. It really irked me and was the subject of several battles, especially when we bought a house and fought over the length of time it was taking to complete the renovations. But I began to realize that my husband’s way of doing things is just that—how he does things, how he lives and operates in the world. He does not value efficiency as I do, but he does prize doing things well and right, even if that means it takes more time. Sometimes those values compete with each other, but that’s OK. And neither way is right or wrong—they’re just different ways of living. Accepting what’s important to your partner and allowing them to live the way they want to live (so long as it’s not destructive) prevents strife, and is one of the greatest gifts we can give to our partners.
3. Our fights became “cleaner”
I’ll admit it, my husband and I have had some pretty awful fights. The ones that you don’t get over the next day, the biting words of which you carry with you, breeding resentment. Those are the worst kinds of feuds—the ones that linger, and—if left unchecked—can poison your relationship. Once we got married it became more clear to me than ever that these kinds of altercations—the ones that inflict relationship damage—just can’t happen. When we’re angry and hurt, it’s easy to want the other person to feel as bad as we do, especially when we blame our partner for making us feel that way. But in long-term relationships, one of the best things a couple can learn is how to fight “clean”—that is, how to express disagreement without going overboard and causing damage to the relationship. When my husband and I married, I think we both realized the importance of tempering our arguments and not saying things that we would later regret.
4. My notion of “winning” changed
In a marriage or long-term partnership, there is no individual “winning” anymore—you’re now a team, and the happiness of both people is necessary in order for the relationship to work. In the past, I thought that winning meant convincing my husband to do what I wanted to do, or persuading him to see things my way. That’s no longer true, because I found that winning in a relationship often means compromise. My husband and I are very different in certain ways. Take our vacationing styles for example—while I am perfectly content relaxing on the beach with a good book all day, my husband likes to do more cultural activities and explore the surrounding area. In the past, I would try to convince him that because we work so hard in our normal lives, a vacation means time to unwind, not walking around museums. But laying on the beach all day didn’t make him happy, and when your partner is unhappy, that affects the overall health of your union. So now on vacations we do a little bit of what we both like—a few days on the beach, a few days in museums. Instead of fighting against each other, we have embraced our differences, and have learned to navigate them in ways that make us both happy. And while true happiness may lie within one’s self, life is a lot better when your partner is happy too, and making that effort to address their needs will not go unnoticed.