What changes when you get married?
April 9, 2011 6:35 PM   Subscribe

What changes after you get married*?

I am engaged to be married this fall, and lately I've been wondering what will change. We already live together and share a checking account, and we've taken care of each other through some significant life changes, so in some ways, it's tempting to discount the weight of the actual marriage. But that's silly! Marriage is important and momentous and changes things, right? Or am I totally wrong?

I'd love to hear especially from people who live together before marriage, or otherwise acted like they were married. Good things and less good things, surprising things, things you never thought would change but did.

*For the purposes of this question, marriage = a formalized, public declaration of lifetime partnership, whether religious, civil, or otherwise.
posted by charmcityblues to Human Relations (73 answers total) 102 users marked this as a favorite
Less sex and more fighting.
posted by TheBones at 6:38 PM on April 9, 2011 [18 favorites]

People will stop asking you when you are getting married and start asking when you'll have kids (or the only slightly more innocuous "do you have any children yet?").

You will spend less energy explaining your relationship.

Your taxes will likely go up. You'll have more protections/control in the event that something catastrophic happens to one of you.

How you each react psychologically is harder to predict. For me, the surprise was that really not that much changed at the time. Years later it did make a difference for me in terms of recognizing that there was a defined history there to cherish and work on when things are rough.
posted by meinvt at 6:40 PM on April 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

It depends on your relationship. Depending on what page both of you are on - and depending on whether it is even the same page - it could be a lot.

At a base level, you are committing to this person. That may include the beliefs that you want to buy a home together, that you trust their financial instincts, that you think that they would be a good parent, that you are willing to fight for and with this person over large life financial decisions, that you want this person beside you while your parents die, that you want this person beside you while your children are born, that this is the person that you want to make the tough decisions together, that this person understands your desires regarding end of your life, that this person has the strength to either pull the plug or not to dependent on an unexpected illness... I could go on.
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:45 PM on April 9, 2011 [13 favorites]

If you put a penny in a jar every time you make love during the first year of marriage, then take a penny out of that jar every time you make love for the rest of your marriage, there'll still be enough money left for the flowers at your funeral.

I think my mother told me that.
posted by joannemullen at 6:45 PM on April 9, 2011 [26 favorites]

In my experience going from practically married to actually married is not that much of a change. Going from childless to having kids on the other hand, is a completely different world.
posted by shopefowler at 6:46 PM on April 9, 2011 [13 favorites]

All the sudden you have a whole other annoying family to deal with, the in-laws.

Because apparently one crazy family isn't enough, now you have to deal with the fact that great-aunt Erma is secretly racist and your mother-in-law wants to be a grandma... and would like you to get on board and make that happen for her.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 6:47 PM on April 9, 2011 [8 favorites]

Less sex and more fighting.

You're doing it wrong. If you're stuck with someone until you die, you might as well clear up the fights quickly, so you can get back to having sex.

You'll probably feel different, what with the formal ceremony and the legal implications and actually being able to utter and introduce the other person as "My spouse". This may make you feel like more of a unit.

Society in general and your circle of friends may treat you differently, since you're now an official unit. It depends on whether this is good or bad.

But if you're already leaving together and sharing a checking account, a lot might not change. Time will tell.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:48 PM on April 9, 2011 [9 favorites]

I've read that 'everything changes' after marriage, but in my experience as a pre-co-habitating-long-engagement couple, that was not true. We had a great party and a pretty nice vacation afterward. Peers in similar situations confirm.
posted by bq at 6:48 PM on April 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

If you put a penny in a jar every time you make love during the first year of marriage, then take a penny out of that jar every time you make love for the rest of your marriage, there'll still be enough money left for the flowers at your funeral.

The flowers at my funeral are going to be donated, then. And they will be made of money.

Marriage changed nothing, and that's why I wanted it. I wanted the government to know about this wonderful thing that had already happened.
posted by heatherann at 6:49 PM on April 9, 2011 [26 favorites]

Less sex and more fighting.

Only if you're doing it wrong.
posted by anniecat at 6:56 PM on April 9, 2011 [30 favorites]

People will stop asking you when you are getting married and start asking when you'll have kids.

This seems to be the most obvious change so far for us.
posted by schyler523 at 7:01 PM on April 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

You start adopting some of your mate's mannerisms, sometimes even things you don't particularly like. This is for both behaviour and speech.

Your tastes broaden. Again this applies to things you thought you'd never want to try.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 7:02 PM on April 9, 2011 [4 favorites]

On a practical, day-to-day basis, little changed. (We were already living together, and had a cat together, etc.) But it suddenly became more *real*. It's, forever, for real, and everybody else knows now, too because you stood up in front of the world and said it out loud. (After almost 3 years my husband and I still will occasionally look at each other and say "Holy Shit! We're married!"
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 7:03 PM on April 9, 2011 [8 favorites]

If you put a penny in a jar every time you make love during the first year of marriage, then take a penny out of that jar every time you make love for the rest of your marriage, there'll still be enough money left for the flowers at your funeral.

That would suck. If we had done this, we would be many dollars in the red now. The sex only stops if you want it to stop -- the sex police don't visit and cut you off after the wedding.

For us, not much changed between us, but a lot changed in how society interacted with us. Things like, calling up the bank: saying wife/husband gets a very different reaction than saying boyfriend/girlfriend, in my experience.
posted by Forktine at 7:08 PM on April 9, 2011 [8 favorites]

In my case nothing changed except people call me his wife instead of his 'missus' and I get to wear a shiny ring. It doesn't even really change things legally in my country, since living with someone for three years makes you a de facto whether you want it to or not. Plus I kept my maiden name and finished my PhD so don't have to be called 'Mrs', which would have been the biggest change for me.

But we'd been together for over 16 years before we got married, living together for fifteen of them. We didn't have a 'wedding' as such so there was no rite of passage, and the marriage is mainly to legally formalise the relationship since we're moving overseas. Oh and everyone knows we don't want kids so no change there. Apparently we're unusual and weird and being married changed things in all kinds of ways for other people that would never even occur to me to care about. But I still see no reason why anything should change if you don't want it to, particularly if you're already in a fully committed relationship.

Several of the answers so far seem to miss the part about living together before hand. Why would being married change your sex life or make you act more like your mate or whatever when you already live together?
posted by shelleycat at 7:12 PM on April 9, 2011

[Dear beloved mefites, please stop being jerks to each other and answer the question sincerely. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:14 PM on April 9, 2011 [27 favorites]

You don't mention your age, but we were engaged and married in our early 30's and very little changed for us after marriage. We mostly lived together, but maintained separate residences up until we married. Saved a ton of $ by consolidating households. I'd imagine the experience would be different in your 20's. Having kids was a much bigger life-altering event in my experience. Married > 11 years now, 2 kids, sex on average twice a week, often hot!!! No complaints here.
posted by sharks don't eat potatoes at 7:14 PM on April 9, 2011

You will spend less energy explaining your relationship

Oh yeah, This, by the way, is both true and awesome. Being able to sit in a job interview and blithly say 'my husband' was worth the price of the license on it's own.
posted by shelleycat at 7:15 PM on April 9, 2011 [8 favorites]

I'm permanently single so what do I know, but I was reading a thread elsewhere the other day where a bunch of women were saying that they get a lot more respect than they did before marriage. Somehow this does not surprise me.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:18 PM on April 9, 2011 [7 favorites]

Society in general and your circle of friends may treat you differently, since you're now an official unit. It depends on whether this is good or bad.

Yes, this. My wife and I are 26, but since we got married a month ago, people treat us like we're several years older.
posted by supercres at 7:20 PM on April 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm writing this from a lodge where my wife and I are celebrating our 13th anniversary. I guess I'm just very, very blessed because our friendship is stronger, which has a lot to do with the fact that we have a shared history. One of the best things about friendship of any kind is that it is so wonderful to have someone to say, "Hey, remember that time when..." and they do.

Maybe were are an anomaly, but the sex is more and better than when we were first married.

Making and raising kids together is a lot of fun.

We can still talk for hours, and we stil do.


It could have been much better when we first got married. For example:

I worked too much, as if marriage shouldn't have any effect at all on my schedule.

It took us a good few years to settle into each others' habits and patterns, and we fought over stuff that we don't know. I guess we have learned to meet in the middle: she doesn't treat the dishes as a religion and I do my best to keep them clean.

I realized (finally) that surfing the internet to read gadget reviews isn't as great as falling asleep together.

We are both better at letting the little stuff go and focusing on what is important. We are both better at grace.

We did not live together before we got married, so obviously that changed all sorts of stuff.

Marriage was much, much harder when we first started, but we both (and I just confirmed this with her) have found it gets better and better. I guess what changed the most was that we both learned what it really means to care for one another and create a new narrative together. Writing this, I realize I'm the luckiest guy on earth.
posted by 4ster at 7:21 PM on April 9, 2011 [66 favorites]

Your parents and other older relatives will take your relationship more seriously, and they will treat you both as grown-ups in a way they didn't before. I was pretty surprised by this.
posted by milk white peacock at 7:21 PM on April 9, 2011 [20 favorites]

We lived together before we got married, and I have to say, not a single thing has changed between the two of us. Nothing. Exactly the same. I'm pretty sure we're not doing it wrong, but who knows.

I haven't noticed a significant difference between how people treated us before we got married and after, but (a) people do ask you when you're going to have a baby and (b) I got more flak than I expected for not taking his name.
posted by crankylex at 7:40 PM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm (amicably) divorced, but: as far as how you interact with each other (including in the bedroom) it only changes if you want it to change or let it change. The fun and the sexytimes do not by any means have to stop.

Have you talked to your future spouse about what each of your expectations for marriage are? If not, do it now!

Being together for a long time means that you will have to weather the rough patches together, and maybe get creative to keep things interesting, but that happens regardless of whether you're married or not.

I'm copying this excerpt from Michele Wiener-Davis' excellent article on the stages of a marriage (not every marriage goes through this, but I wasn't prepared for it in my own marriage, and I've seen friends' relationships go through a similar stage):

[R]eality sets in. The little things start to bother you. [...] Although you once thought you and your spouse were kindred spirits, you now realize that there are many, many differences between you. You're confused. You argue about everything. [...] Ironically, it is in the midst of feeling at odds with your once kindred spirit that you are faced with making all sorts of life-altering decisions, such as whether and when to have children, where to live, who will support the family, who will handle the bills, how your free time will be spent, how in-laws fit in to your lives, and who will do the cooking. Just at the time when a team spirit would have come in mighty handy, spouses often start to feel like opponents.

That last bit is what I hadn't been prepared for - the possibility that you won't always get along, and that it can happen during a time when social forces (in-laws! children! job changes!) put stress on your relationship and raise the stakes beyond what you encountered previously. You may (hopefully!) have talked about all of the Big Things, but what if things change? What if one of you changes their mind?

Again, this isn't particular just to marriage - but looking back, I think I'd have wanted to have a heart-to-heart with my spouse and really hash out what commitment means to them. If you're in it for life, you'll have to handle the differences not by taking a spouse vs. spouse approach, but a problems vs. our marriage approach (and work as a team to solve said problems). It's a good idea to be on the same page about that ahead of time.
posted by AV at 7:41 PM on April 9, 2011 [7 favorites]

What milk white peacock says. It was amazing to me that I could hang out with my parents and get treated like a peer, only months after I had tied the knot.

A couple of other changes:

The limit on your relationship is now infinity (a deal's a deal, after all), and you need to start acting accordingly. That might mean less sex, it might mean watching TV you might not be that in to, it might mean going to doctor visits even though you're terrified of doctors (I resemble a couple of those).

Accordingly, it's also time to start making compromises. You're not going anywhere now, and it's time to settle up. That's taken a lot of maturation on my part, and I'm not claiming I've mastered it yet, but I do know what the score is, and so does the missus. We stumble a lot, but we do it together, and we always take our partner into consideration with every move.
posted by Gilbert at 7:41 PM on April 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

I've read that 'everything changes' after marriage, but in my experience as a pre-co-habitating-long-engagement couple, that was not true. We had a great party and a pretty nice vacation afterward. Peers in similar situations confirm.

This was my experience, pretty much.

And I agree that there was a tiny bit of let-down, in that. Much like the OP, I thought, "Marriage is important and momentous and changes things, right?" So, in the days and weeks right after, when I was the same and my life was the same, that was a wee bit... not shocking, so much, as just noteworthy.

For me, getting engaged felt more like Big Changes—since I began thinking in earnest about joint finances, and I had a new piece of daily jewelry to wear and watch out for, and began to really refer to the "we" instead of "me", and began the cohabitation. The actual wedding was just a formality, for us.

But frankly, the days right after our wedding reminded me much of the days right after the first time I ever had sex: Though *I* had been through a momentous life-changing experience, I was really still the same person, and strangers weren't actually able to look at me on the street and somehow know that I was no longer a virgin single.
posted by pineapple at 7:41 PM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I come from an environment that privileges marriage, and so I felt MUCH much more comfortable and stable and secure after I was married, because in my family, People Who are Going To Be Together Forever Get Married, full stop. I don't know if my husband felt the same way though.

He had really stellar health insurance, though. That was the biggest change; my monthly health care bill went from about $210 to $0.
posted by KathrynT at 7:52 PM on April 9, 2011

The biggest change for me personally was that I was able to completely offload that part of my brain that handles social interaction onto my wife. I can say, "He was the guy with the thing that we met at that place with those people," and she'll fill in the blanks, know who I'm talking about, and remember his kids' names and their birthdays and everything, while I'm still at, "I think his name started with 'J'."

So that's nice.

I've yet to figure out what she gets out of the deal, other than first dibs on my admittedly excellent chicken salad.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:58 PM on April 9, 2011 [33 favorites]

for us, it's honestly almost all been better.
(...except for those extremely rare fights where I have the urge to head for the hills, but realize a lot more paperwork would be required.)
posted by changeling at 8:01 PM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

First marriage: we were quite young and lived together a while before getting married. We went into it with the "piece of paper that just officially shows we love each other" idea. The surprising and disconcerting thing was how other people (not just our families) treated us afterward - assuming a lot more about our roles to each other and how we should be behaving (it was my job to keep the house, invite his family over and make them dinner, "take care of him", why was I going out with friends but without him?, why didn't I change my name?). It was unpleasant for both of us - we really didn't realize these societal assumptions existed and/or would apply to us (young, naive, quasi-hippie kids that we were) and it strained the marriage right away. We should never have gotten married in the first place, though, and if we'd thought about that, we wouldn't have.

Second marriage: having kids changed things way, way more than marriage did, although yes, getting married made everyone take our relationship a lot more seriously than they had before. I've often said if I could go back I never would have gotten married (and should this marriage end for whatever reason I'm almost certain I would never marry again) - when we had kids, being married made everything feel much less egalitarian than we had assumed up until that point, which required a LOT of negotiation, and, well, still does. But I have to admit that, BECAUSE of the kids, we're traditionalist enough that the security of the formal, recognized commitment makes a difference to us.
posted by flex at 8:01 PM on April 9, 2011

Last year I went to a Vipassana retreat and I was surprised by how many couples there were. My flatmate for the retreat period was with a woman who practiced the same meditation and he was doing it to be closer with her. I am not saying do meditation, but learn each others' work.
posted by parmanparman at 8:07 PM on April 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

The biggest change for me has been the fact that we really actually made the commitment--not just, "I want to spend the rest of my life with you" but "I'm going to spend the rest of my life with you, and I said so to the government and all of our friends." I can't quite put my finger on it except to say that before we married, I thought of our long-term plans and arguments in terms of, "We need to work on XYZ in our relationship" whereas now I think in terms of, "If we don't work on XYZ in our relationship, our marriage could fall apart." And that second half of the sentence feels different than I thought it would.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:09 PM on April 9, 2011 [11 favorites]

I sometimes slip up and call my spouse "my boyfriend", to everyone's amusement, so I guess not too much changed internally.

In our case, the biggest change was that my spouse got health insurance, so he could see a doctor and get new glasses and such. Filing taxes became slightly harder for me because of some investments he brought to the marriage, but easier overall to file jointly.

We didn't change our names so we still get to giggle when hoteliers assume that his name is "Mr. MuddGirl" or my name is "Mrs. MuddDude."

Disclaimer: neither of us were big daters - not even serial monogamists, just straight up monogamists if you get my drift. Also, neither of us placed a very high intrinsic value on a marriage itself outside of the party and the honeymoon - although both our parents stayed married we grew up in the kind of world where marriage doesn't have to be forever, so I think that takes some pressure off us. So we're probably pretty unique.
posted by muddgirl at 8:23 PM on April 9, 2011

Older family members seem less nervous. They understand married, in a way they do not understand cohabiting.

There's a lovely sense of security and permanence.

We file our taxes jointly now.
posted by freshwater at 8:27 PM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's a safety that comes with being with a partner who has made a commitment to being with you. Outside of marriage, there's the option of leaving. Inside marriage, it's not quite so simple. The institution of marriage exists to both protect you and keep you inside of it. Leaving it isn't quite so simple as throwing your partner's clothes out the window like in an Italian movie. The dating pool is still all around you, and leaving marriage means being thrown back into the DNA rat race again with its stresses and isolation. Being in marriage gives you a quiet place to have someone who's got your back. Of course there's the danger of living with frustrated expectations, but that's more of the human condition than something unique to marriage.
posted by diode at 8:28 PM on April 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

After living together for a decade, and having a lovely child together, my SO and I got married, mostly just for paperwork/logistics kinds of reasons. We said we didn't care, but then we both got weepy at the ceremony. Nothing really changed for us, I mean, we were already parents together. It's a relief to just say "husband" and it's just that. I'm glad to be done with the explaining.
posted by upatree at 8:33 PM on April 9, 2011

Everything changes, but not all at once. Obviously, if nothing changed, there'd be no need for it, now would there?

IME (34 years worth with two wives, first deceased), I'd say the biggest thing that changes is a drastic decrease in personal independence. Then, after a while, a drastic increase in personal independence.

After two marriages, totalling about 2/3 of my life, I don't think I'd do it again. I am a big fan of being together as long as it's mutually satisfying and growth producing, but not because of some lame ass social convention someone else invented. That's me, though. A lot of people aren't comfortable inventing their own life and have to rely on the purported wisdom of the ancients, whose solutions were dictated in the pre-silicon era, when short lives, agronomy, large families, and strong social bonds were the rule. Just like today. (JK).

If anything, marriage is an evolving institution. Who knows what yours will be like? Certainly not you. And if you don't, you can damned well bet no one else here knows what your married life will be like, either. All we can relate is our own.

Good luck, though. Love is a wonderful thing, and good, strong love is great. I wish you many years in successful union. Be prepped for hard work, the unexpected, and for joy, disappointment, salvation and stress. If I had once piece of advice, it would be to be honest, even if it hurts YOU and be kind with the soul who shares your nest. He/she is just as fragile and precious and uncertain. Hold hands as you greet the crushing burdens of the human condition, and lick up the joys like a cat with a bowl of milk.
posted by FauxScot at 8:37 PM on April 9, 2011 [10 favorites]

Nothing changed for us. We'd been living together for several years, and just kept on truckin'.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 8:39 PM on April 9, 2011

Thank you for all of the interesting responses so far.

If it's relevant, I will be 24 and he will be 29 on our wedding day. Our culture values marriage tremendously. In our social circle, I am considered way too young to be getting married, and I wouldn't be surprised if some family members are secretly less than thrilled. Our immediate families and close friends (who actually know us well) are very happy. And so are we!
posted by charmcityblues at 8:51 PM on April 9, 2011

We're only three months in, but so far the biggest changes are more jewelry and a lot of time spent changing my name and getting on his health insurance. We have much nicer stuff in our house now, too, thanks to incredibly generous relatives and friends.

I think the biggest adjustment has been things we've agreed on going from theoretical to practical -- now, "We'd like to start trying for kids later this year" means doctor's appointments and any number of other things, not just talking about when we'd like to maybe have kids.

But I'll agree with what a lot of people are saying -- while you may not really feel all that different, other people will treat you differently, as though you're somehow more adult and legitimate now that you're married. It's a little disconcerting, and I'm still not quite sure how I feel about that.
posted by ThatSomething at 8:54 PM on April 9, 2011

Less stress. More contentment. A greater willingness to work things out. A sense of permanence and a heightened awareness of your entire family. Knowing you will never be alone.
posted by Go Banana at 9:06 PM on April 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Go Banana: "A sense of permanence"

True for me as well, but in a more "Holy shit, what have I DONE??" kind of way. A few months after our honeymoon, after one of our first big fights as a married couple, I sat on my back porch and just trembled, that I was STUCK with this jerk for the f'ing rest of my life and ohmyjesus his weird family too and it's too late to get out of it now and what about all those wedding gifts and AAGGGHHHH!!! It's FOREVER!!!"

The permanence factor was pretty scary at first, but eventually it becomes a lot more like a sense of security than a life sentence.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:18 PM on April 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

You'll also need to add an extra step to your pre- and post- swimming, gardening, heavy lifting, sports participation, etc. routines, i.e. taking your ring off and putting it back on. This is probably not the most significant potential change, but I know a couple for whom the loss of the ring while surfing set in motion a comical and ridiculous series of arguments which ultimately led to divorce, so it's worth remembering!
posted by doublehappy at 9:40 PM on April 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Absolutely nothing, for me (together for 8 years, married for 1). Except people finally stopped bugging us about when we'd get married - that always was a major pain in the ass for me, and in a sense it still annoys me that people don't accept relationships as completely committed if you're not married (even among quite progressive/liberal people). We'd been absolutely committed to each other since about 6 months into our relationship and it hurts me that people - family, even - would somehow still doubt whether it's forever unless you buy each other gold rings, or whatever the current fashion demands.

Oh, and congratulations!
posted by The Toad at 9:40 PM on April 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

There is economic power in pairing up with a spouse. Pooling financial resources and being able to afford a better quality of living is nice. You'll probably start filing a joint tax return. If you combine your checking and savings accounts, you'll need to communicate about making big purchases.

You have the option of getting on your spouse's health insurance if you suddenly lose your job. Having a husband means we are there for each other in medical situations...someone to go to Dr. appointments with you and hold your hand (if you want) and someone to help remind you to take care of yourself.

You'll have more of an obligation to deal with each others' wacky families. It gets complicated if there are remarriages and step-parents to coordinate holidays with. There have been some holidays where my husband and I have attended 4 separate events so that no family members felt left out. It gets even more complicated when you have kids, because everyone wants to see the grandkids.

Sexless marriages, drama-infused marriages are not the norm. It doesn't have to be that way. Money is the #1 thing that married couples fight about, so get everything financial worked out before you get hitched.
posted by pluckysparrow at 9:53 PM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

We didn't get rings or change names. We'd not only lived together but owned property together before getting married. So for us the only thing that changed is that a whole lot of legal and bureaucratic issues got streamlined, and that's exactly how it was intended. And maybe our relatives treat us differently, but I haven't really noticed because I don't really care. Now that my wife is pregnant a whole lot of things are different. I think you are in control of what those sorts of social conventions mean to you in your own life. I am extremely indifferent towards ceremonies, and my wife, who grew up in a Catholic dictatorship, is allergic to anything even vaguely associated with churches, so to get her to agree to marry me I had to explain to her how much better our health care situation would be and I said things like, "If you don't believe in the institution of marriage, then we can go ahead and get married, because the ceremony is meaningless to both of us." I am now salivating at the thought of how much less tax we are going to pay the next time we file.
posted by creasy boy at 11:17 PM on April 9, 2011

The orgasms got better. I was amazed how sex changed for me one or two months after we married despite living together for two years. It was as though something in my heart-brain said, "he really really does love you and wants to love you forever!" It was like a little barrier to enjoyment that I didn't even know I had was dissolved.

We are divorced now for various reasons but our frequency of sex never diminished and we were never bad fighters because we had our fight protocol.
posted by Kerasia at 12:06 AM on April 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

>Less stress. More contentment. A greater willingness to work things out. A sense of permanence and a heightened awareness of your entire family. Knowing you will never be alone.<>
Unless your spouse immediately becomes seriously ill with a lifelong illness. And as a side result you can't have children - which both of you wanted so much. Meanwhile everyone asks "so... any kids yet?" or "hey come to our baby shower/baptism". Meanwhile you have you no friends who can relate to your predicament because while you're at the hospital crying in the waiting room/in the ambulence wondering what woe is going to happen next, your friends are leaving the hospital with their newborn in tow - celebrating the next phases of life. Your parents and your in-laws don't get along. You get medical bill after medical bill, undecipherable EOB after undecipherable EOB.

Then you watch your wedding video and see the part where you took a vow "for sickness and health" and start crying.

TL;DR: It depends.
posted by veryblue1 at 12:16 AM on April 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

we had been best friends for ten years, dating/co-habitating for a couple years, and we thought marriage would change absolutely nothing emotionally. we thought it was a piece of paper. we thought we were doing it for the formalization and insurance. but as we got closer, the tingling started, the feeling that something was changing. the night we got married we sat on a beautiful bed in a gorgeous hotel and stared at each other and it was like everything was deeper somehow.

it feels very subtle, but at the same time incredibly profound. there's a safety, a security - like someone upthread said, a road block i didn't know i had. it just feels relaxed, settled. we're not having kids - so this is it. this is our lives. everything from now on is together and all we have to do is live our days and decide what our tomorrows look like. we're over a year in and we still tear up every few weeks over expressions of love or marriage.

we weren't fighters before the marriage and that didn't change after. i think we've had less than 10 fights our entire time together. the sex is better. that deepness of feeling just radiates through everything about us. we'll have a normal goodnight kiss and then one of us will kiss a little deeper and the other one will pull back and say "i'm your husband/wife! and then we'll make out like teenagers. we are also fond of saying "we can legally fuck in every country in the world."

my husband said on here recently "actually getting married can change the way you feel about any number of things that you could only speculate about before marriage." and i think that's very true. in the day to day, nearly nothing changed - but over all, everything is better.
posted by nadawi at 12:55 AM on April 10, 2011 [18 favorites]

Many couples find the first year of marriage particularly stressful even if nothing in their lives changes. The more changes, the more potential stressors. There's a reason "got married" is on the list of 25 most stressful life events or whatever it's called that you sometimes take in mental health inventories of things that have happened the past year. Our living and financial situation didn't change when we got married, but I found this to be true: Suddenly arguments are about FOREVER. It's normal (though obviously not universal) for the first year to be hard, and it's exacerbated by the fact that everyone's like, "Oh, you're honeymooners! It must be so wonderful!" And you're like, "WHY AM I THE ONLY NEWLYWED WHO HATES BEING MARRIED?" If this happens to you, it's normal, it's common, it settles down with time, and it gets much, much better.

Otherwise, others have said much of what I would have said, including that the sex gets better. I came in to respond to this: "If it's relevant, I will be 24 and he will be 29 on our wedding day. Our culture values marriage tremendously. In our social circle, I am considered way too young to be getting married, and I wouldn't be surprised if some family members are secretly less than thrilled."

I was 24 and he was 25 when we got married -- I was actually slightly younger than my parents had been! -- in a social milieu where marriage that young is relatively unusual. (30 or so is considered more normal in your group too, am I right?) I was also very independent and not very dating-focused so all my friends thought I would be the LAST person we knew to get married. Don't worry about it. Someone has to be the first one! Time will make you just as old as all your friends. :) And, yes, now that I'm in my thirties, when it comes up, I say, "We were BABIES! I can't believe they gave us a marriage license!" I can't believe how young we were! But I would make the same decision, I wouldn't put it off. I have a friend who got married at eighteen -- EIGHTEEN! -- and she's been married twenty years this year, which BLOWS MY FREAKING MIND. If someone told me they were getting married at eighteen, I would be like, "This is probably the dumbest decision you have ever made." And yet they have one of the best marriages I know. (And they also say, "We were BABIES! We were so young!") Marriages so young aren't common anymore, but there's no reason they can't work. :)

One benefit we found of marrying a little younger is that we knew we wanted children, but we were in no rush; some of our friends marrying at 30-35 who know they want children feel a lot of anxiety and start RIGHT AWAY because of female biological mandates ... we had years to not really worry about it until we felt like worrying about it, which was years of just being together as a couple.

The one observation I have, and this may be completely full of crap so take it with a cup of salt, is that people who marry in their 20s mostly either grow together or grow apart; people who marry in their 30s or later mostly know right away if the marriage will work. I think this is why you see more "quick" marriages and divorces from people in their 30s -- they figure out fast that it won't work -- while people who marry in their 20s and divorce tend to have the decade-long running downhill experience where divorce is really wrenching because it wasn't always bad, it just grew that way. I assume this is because people in their 30s have more formed personalities; people in their 20s are still growing a lot. (Hence my insistence that we were BABIES! when we got married.) So I would go in to the marriage with the knowledge that you ARE going to grow and change (you would anyway, even if you were 60s, just probably not as much); the two of you will either grow together, or you will grow apart. Aim for growing together. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:46 AM on April 10, 2011 [8 favorites]

We married two years to the day we met, and we had been living together for 20 months of that. Not much changed other than the paperwork (I changed my surname). We gave off some sort of vibe, so we didn't get the 'so when are you having kids' thing (though once we had a kid, the 'when are you having another kid' thing really started ...)

My brother and his partner have been together since they were 16, moved in together before then were 18, and now 16 years, 3 kids and a mortgage later, they are still not married. They wear rings on their 'wedding band' fingers though. As far as I can tell, they are the same as a married couple, having 'a wedding' wouldn't have changed much.

As for your age - I was married two months before I turned 25, my husband was 28. That said, I had had at least one very serious relationship and 'a lot of living' before then :) But to quote Eyebrows McGee

I was 24 and he was 25 when we got married -- ... -- in a social milieu where marriage that young is relatively unusual. (30 or so is considered more normal in your group too, am I right?) I was also very independent and not very dating-focused so all my friends thought I would be the LAST person we knew to get married. Don't worry about it. Someone has to be the first one! Time will make you just as old as all your friends. :) And, yes, now that I'm in my thirties, when it comes up, I say, "We were BABIES! I can't believe they gave us a marriage license!" I can't believe how young we were! But I would make the same decision, I wouldn't put it off....One benefit we found of marrying a little younger is that we knew we wanted children, but we were in no rush; some of our friends marrying at 30-35 who know they want children feel a lot of anxiety and start RIGHT AWAY because of female biological mandates ... we had years to not really worry about it until we felt like worrying about it, which was years of just being together as a couple.

Repeated for emphasis, and because that was the case with us too. When my sister was married last year, she was around the age I was when I married and I was 'she's so young!!'
posted by Megami at 5:41 AM on April 10, 2011

Those charming little quirky habits will drive you batshit insane after 20 years.
posted by pentagoet at 6:43 AM on April 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

We didn't live together before we got married, but after 11 years of marriage, it just gets better.

The things that changed? Not much, you do grow to be closer and like BOP's wife, my wife has started to refer to herself as my back-up brain. So for us, the relationship deepened.

posted by arcticseal at 7:23 AM on April 10, 2011

Nthing that for me, this time around, the change was at agreeing to get married. (I'm on marriage number two.) I realized that if I was willing to tie myself to him by sharing a mortgage for 30 years, we might as well do the paperwork for the rest of it and make our lives easier.

And yes, some of the things he does drive me a little batshit on occasion, even after 11 years. The compensating knowledge is that he puts up with the things I do that drive him batshit.
posted by immlass at 8:34 AM on April 10, 2011

Nthing "nothing." If you're already in a long-term, committed, cohabiting relationship, everything stays the same. Which, to my mind, is exactly the point. (My wife and I have been together for 15 years, married for the last 5.)
posted by waldo at 9:54 AM on April 10, 2011

My husband and I have been married for 13 years, and lived together for 4 before that. I'm 38 and he's 36, so yeah, we were INFANTS. What changed after we got married?

As far as our relationship with each other is concerned, absolutely nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada. We are every bit as in love with each other today as the day we met. The sex is spectacular and frequent, and tends to get better as the years go by. We don't argue any more or any less. We were comfortable with each other and our lives before we got married, and that feeling hasn't gone anywhere. If anything it has deepened, as it would in any healthy relationship (married or not) over time. Perhaps that's because we didn't see marriage as this BIG LIFE ALTERING THING. We were simply continuing the status quo, but with an extra piece of paper. Honestly, we got married for insurance reasons.

As for our relationship with the rest of the world, well, that changed a lot. Suddenly our relationship was considered important, more legitimate. A simple change in terminology from boyfriend/fiance to husband made the rest of the world regard us differently. We were considered adults in an adult relationship and treated as such.
posted by ValkoSipuliSuola at 10:40 AM on April 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

We didn't have to sleep in separate beds anymore when we visited my parents.
posted by chiababe at 11:47 AM on April 10, 2011 [7 favorites]

Seconding that other people treated our relationship differently, more respectfully. Full family privileges on both sides, different kind of response from landlords and co-workers and what not.

It's nice to know that, for example if you think about all the privileges that marriage brings, like hospital visits and that sort of thing, you are suddenly seen as entitled to those - and those privileges are no joke. There's a reason the gay marriage fight matters, and it's because of these goodies that come with being married - so if you're getting married, you're getting this package of legal and social goodies, and they are nontrivial.

I was pleased to find, and I've talked to other friends who had a similar experience, that the back of the mind thought "if we broke up, I could move to Timbuktu" or "if we broke up, I could date someone who [had some characteristic my partner doesn't have]" just disappeared. I mean, I still sometimes think about what might have been, but it isn't with the sense of "and maybe I should do something about that" which previously had always kind of been there in the background. The marriage means you've settled certain questions about what Your Life is going to be - it's going to include this person, rather than alternatives, and that's that. It was a big relief, honestly.

I'm still very happy - if anything, increasingly happy - with the person I married. (Even though we have our problems like anyone.) Being married makes it easier - for me, psychologically - to accept that there are certain things we just have to work through or whatever, rather than feeling like "is this something we should work through, or is this the sign that we should finally break up?" - that question is settled and the answer is, work through it. (Obviously, this is barring things like violence or cruelty.)

Most surprising: I am not much of a jewelry person but I really like having the wedding band; I've been surprised by how often I look at it as a source of comfort and home-ness if I'm away or if things are tough. Similarly, I was very surprised by how I felt at the actual wedding - it was really romantic and good and "new" feeling, even though we'd been together for years.

Enjoy yours.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:04 PM on April 10, 2011 [12 favorites]

Your unmarried friends might treat you a little differently. Mine seemed to view my marriage as a signal that we were all capital-A Adults now (for reference, I'm 25 and married when I was 23, definitely one of the first in my social group to marry). A few friends even seemed a bit freaked out by it in a "wow, we're really not kids anymore, are we?" sort of way.

I didn't feel like the wedding itself really changed our relationship. We lived together for a year during our engagement, so life pretty much returned to normal after the ceremony. No adjustment period required aside from referring to my husband as "my husband." One thing though, I do worry less that I've offended him or hurt his feelings, something I used to do a lot more often. Now it's more like "well, he's stuck with me!" and vice versa. It seems like there's been less hurt feelings overall--we know we're in it for the long haul so we're more inclined to let the minor stuff just blow over.

If you do the wedding registry thing, you'll get a lot of nice household stuff and will feel much more prepared when entertaining guests. I have bowls to serve food in! and silverware! and more than four plates! It's pretty fun.
posted by castlebravo at 12:36 PM on April 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

What changed for me was that my husband felt like a part of my family. I have a really high threshold for trust. I trust my dad and possibly a couple other longterm friends but that's it. And now that we're married I really feel like we're a family, that he'll be there for always. So now there's two people I trust, my dad and my husband. And even though we were living together, I didn't feel that until we got engaged.
posted by bananafish at 3:08 PM on April 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

For me and my husband and in our relationship, nothing has changed. We are in our early/mid 30s and lived together for a year and a half before getting married.

Unlike cranklylex above, I changed my name, and sometimes other women look down on me for doing that and try to make me feel bad about it. I shouldn't let it get to me, but it bothers me that someone would think I've become a different person or am somehow less independent/more traditional/succumbing to traditional gender roles/blah blah just because I changed my name.

One big thing that did change was our relationship with my parents. This may be a cultural thing, but now that we are married, they respect my husband more and treat him as a member of the family and they criticize me much less and treat me more like an adult, which is a nice refreshing change.

Oh, and for about 6 months after we got married, my single girlfriends dropped off the face of the earth. Now things are normal with most of them - I just think me getting married freaked them out, or made some of them jealous, or something. Nothing changed for my husband and his friends.
posted by echo0720 at 4:34 PM on April 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

For me the biggest change was the ability to be completely vulnerable with my husband. There were some... completely humiliating... moments in my life w/r/t illness that pre-marriage would have embarrassed the hell out of me. Now, it's just how things are. We're here to take care of each other and that whole "sickness and health" thing is no joke.

Though really, the biggest "change" came after my giving birth to our son. I mentioned to my husband the other day that he's been sweeter to me since then, and he hadn't even noticed. I went through a very long and difficult labor and his respect for me grew by leaps and bounds after watching me go through that. Likewise, I love him in a way I couldn't even fathom before we had a baby together. My feelings for him went from loving him intensely to not being able to imagine living without him - as in, I'm not sure how I would continue to function as a human if something were to happen to him. Our son is still a newborn and I already love seeing him grow as a father. For us, having a baby totally improved our relationship - which was pretty damned awesome to begin with.

YMMV on the baby thing. We got married after I was pregnant and I got pregnant after literally years of planning. There has never been a more wanted and planned for baby than ours. We both individually wanted to be parents, which is one of the things that drew us to each other.
posted by sonika at 5:12 PM on April 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm not married, but I've heard this example and a few examples similar to this one from several people:

Saying stuff like "my boyfriend is sick and I need to get him to the ER" makes people at work secretly think "really? is it that important that you need to leave work early?" While saying "my husband is sick" makes people say "oh wow you really should go take him to the ER" without questioning your relationship as if you're two silly teenagers who don't know anything about love.

Same thing with "I need to ask my wife/husband first" when you don't want to give an answer - if you say you need to ask your boyfriend/girlfriend people secretly roll their eyes and think "what, you can't make a decision on your own?" but when a husband/wife is involved, they respect that you have to consult with them first and won't question you about it. Even if you don't really have to consult with them and you just didn't feel like committing to an answer yet.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 5:16 PM on April 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

I wouldn't be surprised if some family members are secretly less than thrilled.

Don't be surprised if some people suddenly become much more supportive of your relationship when you're married. A few people in my family were less than thrilled about my wedding, but made a much greater effort to be welcoming to my husband after we were married. Before the wedding, it was like they were waiting for him to go away. After the wedding, they realised he was a fixture and were much more grown up about it.

When we told people that we were getting married/recently married, people in unhappy marriages tended to project their marriage onto ours, and make jokes about how its a mistake and we should run. People in happy marriages tended to just say congratulations. So you really only hear the 'marriage is great!' perspective if you intentionally seek it out. (Its pretty great, btw.)

We lived together for years before getting married, and already had all the legal protections from being de facto, so very little changed. I also hesitate to say that marriage makes a significant difference because I don't want to devalue the relationships of friends and family who have chosen to live in committed non-marriages, or who aren't legally able to marry.
posted by PercyByssheShelley at 6:08 PM on April 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

We felt like we belonged to each other's families. I no longer felt like I should quietly duck out of family pictures, felt much more at ease at family gatherings, and didn't feel awkward calling my in-laws "Mom" and "Dad". And he felt the same about my family, I think -- certainly they felt that way about him after we got married, but not before.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:24 PM on April 10, 2011

You have to be in the formal family pictures at way more weddings than you used to, for one. (My SIL got married yesterday and my face still hurts from smiling.)

I think the main surprising change was that people took our relationship so much more seriously. My husband took a job far from where my job was, and my manager arranged to let me work from home so I could keep my job and move with my husband. I'm reasonably sure he wouldn't have done that for me and my boyfriend.

I got married at 23 (in a region where marriage that young is extremely unusual) and people assume I'm a few years older than I am all the time - to the point where they have pressured me about having kids soon, etc. I am 26 now, so not quite at the age where most women are worried about their fertility, and I know the people pressuring me just figure, well, she's coming up on her 3-year anniversary, time to get cracking since she's probably pushing 30...when I'm out with friends I stil get carded, so I'm sure it's not that I look old.

I changed my name, which was weird. I find we get treated as a unit much more now, though; the other day I picked up his car at the dealership and they checked that my last name matched his. It's a very common Chinese last name, but I am visibly not at all Chinese, which means all kinds of awkwardness - but usually fun awkwardness. Weirdly, the funniest reactions have been from Chinese people, most of whom spend a long pause looking at my (green-eyed, freckled) face and (light brown) hair before saying "...where did you come up with that name? You aren't Chinese, are you?"
posted by troublesome at 10:57 PM on April 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

I quiz my recently married friends on this question, and one recurring answer is: "it's for.ever." It sounds like people trip out on that, in ways that are sometimes bad, but also often quite good.
posted by salvia at 12:59 AM on April 11, 2011

I don't know that marriage per se changes a relationship that the participants deem ready for marriage. I think it's more about what changes as a result of the other changes. In my case, my wife and I didn't live together until we married. You can imagine the rest, I think.

I always felt marriage changed very little, but childbirth changed everything.
posted by troywestfield at 8:50 AM on April 11, 2011

It's pretty common where I grew up to get engaged at 19 or 20 - I live in London now and while I know a lot of long-term couples none are yet married (perhaps this is cultural norms, perhaps a change that happens among a graduate demographic, perhaps because houses and flats are so much more expensive here). So married people - even those younger than me like MrMippy's brother - seem enormously grown up to me.
posted by mippy at 9:43 AM on April 11, 2011

We were together for eight years before the wedding, and have now been married for six years.

I planned to never marry - I was really against the idea from a young age. So I had a sort of identity crisis after the wedding that lasted for about four months, where I was trying to adjust to the idea of being a "wife." What is a wife? Was does that mean? Is that something I want to be? I had a lot of adjusting to do. I also felt like a dork saying "my husband..." for a long time, like I was being pretentious.
posted by Squeak Attack at 12:30 PM on April 11, 2011

I lived with my (now ex-) husband for 2.5 years before we were married. Nothing really changed after the wedding except I maybe felt a little more secure*? Our sex life stayed the same, my relationship to his parents (and him to mine) stayed the same, we fought about the same amount as before... but I will Nth the person who said people take you a little more seriously when you're not just "shacked up."

*(my security wasn't in error - he never would have divorced me)
posted by getawaysticks at 2:34 PM on April 11, 2011

"Less sex and more fighting."

This is true, yet I don't regret the decision in the slightest. We had already lived together for a decade and I was sure it would change nothing, but somehow the next morning things were different. It was as if a barrier I didn't realize was there between her family and I, my family and her, and even between the two of us suddenly melted. I'd long ago expressed my commitment in no uncertain terms and, while I feel only slightly more wedded, clearly others are able to understand it better now.

I'm pretty sure the increase in fighting is mostly on my part. I find myself no longer willing to "kick the can down the road" on some issues and am finally addressing them which requires both confrontation and a lot of work on my communication skills. The decrease in sex is probably mostly a result of the fighting, but I also think some of it is simply human nature, meaning that one of the primary functions of sex is no longer required.

I find interacting with women a bit smoother now. They seem a bit less guarded and confident I do not have designs on them and that whole business about a wedding ring being a "chick-magnet" is utter bs. I've had barely a flirtatious glance wearing it. While I do somewhat miss the shot to the ego, it pales compared to the bliss evident on my wife's countenance when she is wearing her ring and reflecting on our status. That she can be made so happy by permanently joining herself to me is inexplicable yet wonderful.
posted by Manjusri at 6:33 PM on April 13, 2011

When you move in with someone (married or not) you learn all sorts of new things about them. Sometimes these are cute little nuances and are endearing, and other times they will make you hate life for three years before you get divorced, with 1 little unexpected baby on the way.
posted by farmersckn at 9:24 AM on April 14, 2011

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