Making the transition to married life...
January 1, 2008 12:14 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I, both 25, recently got engaged. What advice do you have for us?

What did you wish you had known? Are there things we should know or be doing during the engagement period and what can we do to ensure a smooth transition into a happy married life together?
posted by missjamielynn to Human Relations (45 answers total) 76 users marked this as a favorite
communicate. never stop.
posted by meeshell at 12:20 PM on January 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

It is ok to want some of your own things-- friends, vacations, hobbies, time, etc. You don't have to be secretive or selfish with those things. Just know that it is ok to want to go out alone, to want to sometimes get away alone, to do things on you own, and this does not mean that you are not a couple, a part of each other's life, or that you are not sharing a life.
posted by oflinkey at 12:26 PM on January 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

never go to sleep angry at each other.
posted by Rumple at 12:27 PM on January 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Live together first.
posted by k8t at 12:32 PM on January 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Read every AskMeta relationship question ever posted (here's a start). Notice how everyone has the same problems (albeit in different forms). Don't get too cocky and think you're above having "regular" problems. Don't allow yourselves to get too comfortable; always work to improve.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:41 PM on January 1, 2008 [5 favorites]

1) Recognize that you will always find something to argue about and that it is OK.

2) Remember that the wedding is about the joining of two families, it will be stressful, and your families will go against your wishes on things. The honeymoon is just for you two, so focus your preferences on the honeymoon, not the wedding.

3) Share your finances. Do not keep separate household accounts. It's your shared money, assets, & debt from now on. Money is the number one cause of stress in marriage.
posted by Argyle at 12:45 PM on January 1, 2008

Your engagement is a special time which will never happen again. Not better than other times, but special. Enjoy it, savor it. Also, being engaged means that you are in a small way, public property, we all see our engagements in yours. Your engagement will make other married people happy. One or two friends may fall to wayside between now and the wedding because of their own stuff.

The wedding planning process can be intense - if it seems that things are not going the way you want, try to remember that the day will be perfect - you two will end up married.
posted by shothotbot at 12:47 PM on January 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't get hung up on little things. It's always going to be better to be nice to each other.
posted by EatTheWeek at 12:52 PM on January 1, 2008 [5 favorites]

Talk about what YOU want. There will be things that you both will want to accomplish but don't lose sight of who you are and what you want out of life. Communicating this to your partner in a way that doesn't anger/frighten them is essential. Supporting what they want out of life is simple sometimes and can be totally challenging other times. Talk out the issues.

Your friends, in my experience, start to change (once you are married) and you will gravitate toward more couples. This happens again when you have kids (and you can gravitate toward other people with kids). It is kind of like switching from high school to college (in terms of a switching/gaining/losing of friends).

Congratulations and good luck!
posted by zerobyproxy at 12:58 PM on January 1, 2008

I would have a small wedding and maybe a big party later. I think it is ridiculous how much people spend on getting married. It's one day--yes, and important day, but still just one day. I know people who are still paying off a wedding they had 4 years ago. The way to start your married life is not to be in debt up to your eyeballs from an elaborate affair you really couldn't afford. Don't buy in to the hype.
posted by 45moore45 at 1:00 PM on January 1, 2008

I'm going to third the "don't splash out on a big fancy wedding" advice. The two most happily married couples I know had simple, low-key weddings and are still happily married seven and fifteen years later. An elaborate wedding is a money-suck and you might want to spend your money elsewhere (honeymoon, house).

Make sure you have all your expectations on the table before you marry. What are your spending priorities? Where do you want to live? Would you relocate for a terrific job offer or do you need to stay rooted where you are? What priority will extended family have in your lives? Do you want kids, if so, how many?

Oh, and...congratulations!
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:12 PM on January 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

My wife and I got engaged at 20 and married at 23, so I have experience in this arena.

Without a doubt I would offer these two pieces of advice:

1. Never hold your partner back from their career / professional / academic dream. You should be the person they want to come home to at night to strategize with about getting that promotion, or new job, or business school admission. Basically: be their wingman.

2. Everyone has advice on marriage. Take it all with a heavy, HEAVY dose of salt. Nobody knows your individual situation.
posted by chrisalbon at 1:48 PM on January 1, 2008 [7 favorites]

If, at the end of the wedding, you two are hitched and no one's dead, it's been successful. Everything else is secondary.
posted by scody at 1:53 PM on January 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ask for what you want and/or need. Don't expect your spouse to be able to read your mind, ask for it, whatever it is. You may not get it, but at least you're communicating.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:56 PM on January 1, 2008

Compromise, compromise, compromise. That works for us, anyway.

And ditto on the small wedding advice. Invite those most important to you, dress up a bit, and have a fun day. If you want to spend some cash, use it to go on a fantastic honeymoon. That's what you'll remember.
posted by susiepie at 1:58 PM on January 1, 2008

Don't go into massive debt for the wedding.

According to a quick google search, an "average" wedding in the US supposedly costs something like $30,000, with some regions being substantially higher.

That is far, far more than the downpayments I and most of my friends put down on our first houses.

Or, according to a compound interest calculator I found here, that same $30,000, left alone for 30 years and earning 8% interest, will be worth more than $300,000 at the end of that period (complications like taxes, inflation, etc, totally ignored in this simplistic example).

Or, that same $30,000 will pay for both of you to quit your jobs and travel the world for a good long while (how long depending on where you want to go, obviously).

My point here is not that a "traditional" wedding (which isn't really all that traditional, but that's a longer discussion) is a bad thing, but rather that you and your fiancé are now a partnership, both of you forming a united front against the world. And that means that you need to begin making the choices that will make both of you happy. Maybe that means having a huge blow-out of a celebration, rocking the white dress, and all that. But maybe it means doing something different, and now that you are a partnership, you stand together and say "We are doing things our way."

And that's the key here -- that shift from "I" to "we" in how you make plans, how and when you compromise, what secrets you choose to tell other people. Alone, you can be as selfish as you want; it's your business and no one else's. When it becomes "we," that dynamic changes, and you have to give up that selfishness. But in exchange, you get someone to share the weight of all your worries and concerns and hopes. It's a pretty good deal, really -- giving up a bit of one kind of autonomy makes you freer, paradoxical as that sounds.

For many couples, the choices about the wedding are the first time they make significant decisions as a "we" rather than as two individuals; since people tend to spend so much on their weddings, the stakes for getting this set of choices right is really high.
posted by Forktine at 1:59 PM on January 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

never go to sleep angry at each other.
False. A nice thought, but not always feasible. Sometimes a good night's sleep gives one or both partners the perspective and cooling off period required to actually resolve a problem.

Live together first.
False. In my experience, those who live together first are more likely to end up in divorce court.

Don't go into massive debt for the wedding.
TRUE. Don't go into massive debt, EVAR. Use fixed-term credit rather than revolving credit; it's very hard to get off that revolving credit merry-go-round. When you do use a credit card for purchases, try to limit it to big things that will be paid off in a fixed period (even if the creditor doesn't force you to, you make it a fixed-term loan).
posted by Doohickie at 2:00 PM on January 1, 2008

Make sure you have time before or after the wedding to hang out with your out of town friends. Some of them will probably have to fly in and you will want the chance to catch up with them.
posted by selfmedicating at 2:03 PM on January 1, 2008

If you each give 100%, you'll each get 50% -- meaning, it takes two people putting huge effort toward compromise and common good for each person to feel like s/he's "getting enough back".

And best wishes!
posted by mozhet at 2:03 PM on January 1, 2008

As for my own advice, view marriage as a 60/40 proposition. Tell this to your spouse with the intent that the view is reciprocated. In other words, always try to put in 60% of the effort and never expect more than 40% from your spouse. If your spouse will attempt to do likewise, together you will end up with 20% extra that can be drawn on in the low spots. (20% extra what, I'm not sure, but it will be there; trust me.)
posted by Doohickie at 2:05 PM on January 1, 2008 [9 favorites]

No one else has mentioned this, so I'm going to throw it in:

Talk about whether or not you want kids. Now. Do it now. Make sure you're on the same page before you're married and you realize that you want to spawn and your partner absolutely does not.

It can be a major deal breaker because there are many, many things on which you can (and should) compromise - but you can't have half a kid.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:05 PM on January 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yeah.... kind of the same thing mozhet says.
posted by Doohickie at 2:05 PM on January 1, 2008

In the vein of other comments: Your wedding is not your marriage. Don't make your engagement all about planning your wedding, make it about planning your marriage. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Get each other's perspective on kids, finances, life goals... all that sort of stuff. Pre-marital counselling is excellent whether you are religious or not.
posted by gaspode at 2:16 PM on January 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Premarital counseling! My husband and I had to do counseling, a workshop, and a couple meetings with a priest because it was required through our archdiocese, and we also went through the book The Hard Questions. It was a good way to think about the issues we'd face after marriage and get talking about it while it was hypothetical and before it was a problem. It was great.
posted by christinetheslp at 2:19 PM on January 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

True about talking about having children. It's important not just to find out if your partner wants children but to understand one's philosophy of child rearing. Not easy to do when you're at the stage both of you are in. It's all theory at this point. However, include in your conversations how both of you were raised and how you feel about that now. That's a good start to the many conversations you will have once your children are in the scene.

Have fun! And congrats!
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 2:42 PM on January 1, 2008

Definitely premarital counseling. It's worth the time spent, even if you don't get a lot out of the time spent in the classroom, you'll find that the time you spend bonding while making fun of the other couples will help you two work out what you believe in. The units on financial stuff are really, truly illuminating.

Talk. Talk a lot. Don't be afraid to talk.

Talk about money. Talk about what you want for the future. Make a budget and communicate. The sooner you two can get a handle on your budget, the easier things will be.

You won't ever be perfect at it, but you will learn to be better at it every month.

Find out what makes your partner feel loved and do that thing for them.
posted by wildeepdotorg at 2:49 PM on January 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Every time you have an argument, think really carefully about whether or not it's an argument worth winning. The flipside in saying 'till death us do part' is that there is a looong long time for all of the debris and fallout from arguments to accumulate. There will be times when you are in the right, your partner is in the wrong, but the cost of proving your point will do more damage to your relationship than good.

Of course there are times when an issue is so important that you have to take it to the very end and damn the consequences. But save that for the really big issues, not for a slanging match over whose turn it is to do the dishes.

ps: seconding the pre-marriage counselling. It's not just for couples with 'problems'. It's for couples who want to avoid problems later on. It's easier to start good habits from scratch than it is to undo them when you'e already stuck in a rut.
posted by tim_in_oz at 2:55 PM on January 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

No. 1: Respect each other. Show respect and you will get it in return.
No. 2: YES, live together first. Despite Doohickie's experience that "those who live together first are more likely to end up in divorce court," my experience is otherwise. In the 1970s in a conservative Texas town, 6 young couples were very close. Of those 6 couples, 5 lived together for a period of time before marrying. Of those 5 couples, 5 are still married. Hmmm.
No. 3: Absolutely discuss BEFORE marriage whether you want kids. We decided early on that we did not; we haven't regretted that decision.
No. 4: Go for a modest wedding ceremony and splurge on the honeymoon or home. We had a tiny, inexpensive wedding -- but people who attended still talk about it because of the intimacy. We used the "wedding" money for a great honeymoon and down payment on our first house.

Still, I think the most important things in a marriage are compromise and respect. For instance, I don't TELL my spouse to do something, I ask if he wouldn't mind doing it. (Of course, he'll say, "Yes, I mind ... but I'll do it anyway because you asked.")
posted by Smalltown Girl at 2:59 PM on January 1, 2008

Realize now that some things just aren't important enough to argue about. It used to drive me crazy when my husband would arrange the dishes in the dishwasher the opposite way I would. It made me NUTS that he folded shirts differently than I would. But you know what? In the end, the dishes got clean, the shirts got folded, and the world didn't end. Just because your spouse has his/her own method doesn't mean it's wrong.
posted by headspace at 3:08 PM on January 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is hokey, but we got one of those "Things to talk about before you are married"books its a big checklist of things that in the four years we have been together hadn't come up; it was very helpful.

Decide what is important. It is important to comprimise (constantly) but it also important to make very clear what you aren't going to move on.

If you don't live together give it a go. Its very different. Living with someone else is not exactly romantic. Both of you aren't going to "on" in the same way all the time as you are even if you are just hanging out.

Talk about food, its weird but sometimes even after you date a while, but perhaps haven't done the home eating thing, you don't know that they are fine with eating spaghettios from the can and don't see the purpose in getting all those dishes.

Don't sweat the people who want you to have their dream wedding. Do what makes you happy. I personally had collected all the housewares I possibly needed, have a money tree or a place to donate to charities.

Have a healthy respect for each other families, friends, etc. If your new MIL drives you crazy remember, its his mom, his mommy, his first love. If you can bear it, let her do all the bat shit insane things she wants to do to help you.

Discuss money. It didn't seem like an issue for us until it was. Would he be ok with you making more than him, really? Would he be ok if you couldn't contribute half of the expenses if you don't have a good paying job? Are you both thrifty or both spenders?

Talk about organization. Putting two lifes together than get complex. Look at each other's systems and routines and see how they work together.

Definitely do the kids (including abortion, adoption, invitro,etc) and pets conversation.

Remember to have fun. Love each other, do little things to make each other feel special and even better than that in the long run, do things that make the other person's life easier.
posted by stormygrey at 3:31 PM on January 1, 2008

There's an impulse to do absolutely everything together for a while after the wedding. Do it in moderation.
posted by electroboy at 4:10 PM on January 1, 2008

When you get home from work at night, go straight to the fridge and drink a glass of orange juice. Most big arguments, including the ones that include the words "I want a divorce," happen in the early evening, and a big reason is you've both got low blood sugar and are irritable.

You need to be more committed to the idea of marriage than you are to your spouse. You will fall out of love at some point in your marriage, and your commitment to the idea of marriage will be the only thing that will get you through until you fall back in love again.

Share your finances. As a friend's mother once said, "If you're not ready to share your toys, stay out of the sandbox." On the other hand, once you're in the sandbox, don't stick your head in the sand. One of you will probably end up being the main financial person, but you should both know what's going on with your finances.

Also, ignore the advice to never go to bed angry. If you're tired, you're just going to say things you'll regret later. Get some rest. Things will seem much better in the morning.
posted by Enroute at 4:39 PM on January 1, 2008 [5 favorites]


In a lifelong relationship, assume that you'll go through some difficult periods of time, when you don't feel like being together. When you feel like being together, you don't need any vows to stay together. So, when you hit those periods, remember that that's what the vows were for, and with dedication and luck, you'll emerge out the other side together, even better than before. (I haven't had to test this one yet, but we talk about it, and knowing we agree that persisting through a tough time is something we might have to do someday makes the relationship feel secure to me.)

When you're upset or angry at your loved one, remember that he or she is reasonable and good, and that his or her side therefore must make more sense than your emotions are letting you see in the heat of the moment. Get curious about the side you don't understand, and investigate it with as generous an attitude as you can muster.

If you bicker repeatedly over the same little things, find a way not to. For example, my husband and I have a restaurant fund, and each of us has particular things we do that annoy the other. When we notice those things, we make a rule, and after that, repeat offenses mean that person puts a dollar into the fund. So, instead of getting annoyed that hair is in the drain, it's "yay, you left hair in the drain, you owe a dollar!" When it gets to $150, we splurge for a fine meal out.

Best of luck to you both!
posted by daisyace at 5:01 PM on January 1, 2008 [7 favorites]

1. The things you love about your partner now are the very things that will drive you nuts in the future.

2. Once you're married, remember that you're not dead. You'll still find yourself attracted to others. Acknowledge that and tell your partner. By being honest and saying "I find this person attractive", you take the threat out of the situation and you diffuse it.
posted by onhazier at 5:25 PM on January 1, 2008

A week or so before the wedding the stress will get to you and you will have a massive fight and want to call it off. This is normal. Just don't call it off. Start living together now (if you haven't already).

Plus, what everyone else said.

and congratulations.
posted by nax at 6:18 PM on January 1, 2008

All that discussing the Big Things ( money, sex, kids, pets, religion, household division of chores ) before you get married - so key. Remember that people's thoughts can change, so don't consider it done once you've talked about it once - keep talking about it.

You want a drama-free wedding? Budget and pay for it yourselves; if you're the one holding the purse strings, you're calling all the shots - while it's always important to at least consider familial feelings for your wedding, ultimately, if you're going to bother with a wedding, have the one you want - or the closest to what you can afford. Remember you can't please everyone all the time.

Plan for the future, as a team - Forktine and others wrote some great stuff on this, that I won't repeat. Face the world as a united front - this includes against each other's parents and your own. You're a partnership now, don't sell your partner down the river in public - even if he's wrong. Work it out.
posted by canine epigram at 6:45 PM on January 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Honesty with each other . In everything.

Especially sexual likes/dislikes/fetishes.
posted by sandra_s at 7:17 PM on January 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Understand and have an explicit agreement regarding the following:

1. How you will manage your finances as a household
2. Children - whether you want them, approximate ideas about when, critical issues about how to raise them i.e. absolutely no religion versus absolutely Sunday school through confirmation

Of course, everyone's idea of what is the essential list varies, but it seems to me that these two seemingly no-brainers cause the biggest problems.

If you can find the right situation, I think premarital counseling can be really useful. There have been tons of threads about this.

Marriage is fun. It's not easy, but what is? Enjoy it!
posted by nanojath at 7:19 PM on January 1, 2008

Never take your spouse for granted/try to act like you did when you started dating.

Try to avoid what I call "negative points." You get positive points for buying flowers or doing something else nice. You get negative points for doing stuff like not replacing the toilet paper roll. Avoid negative points.

Remember, every emotional argument is really about one of you being unhappy with your sex life.
posted by jstruan at 8:30 PM on January 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nthing the wedding debt. Make the bed every morning as a team.
posted by snowjoe at 9:54 PM on January 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Most people spend copious amounts of times preparing for the wedding and none preparing for their marriage. Think about that. Your wedding is one day, your marriage is the rest of your life. Talk. Talk about everything. Talk about every detail you can think of. If you are watching a movie and it brings a question into your head, bring it up. If you see something your parents do, and you think it is the right thing to incorporate, ask what he thinks. There is no detail too small.

Who is going to manage the checkbook? Who is going to do the housework? Who is going to pay the bills? What about children? How many? When? Who takes out the garbage? What are we going to do with our free time? How often are you going to have sex? What kind of sex are you going to have? What kind of things do you want to spend money on? What comes first?

Unrealistic expectations, making assumptions about what your spouse thinks, and not communicating kills marriages. Marriage takes work, but it is the most wonderful thing I have experienced. Don't go to bed until you have resolved the argument.

posted by Silvertree at 7:00 AM on January 2, 2008

note: everyone needs a hug.
posted by sambosambo at 8:19 AM on January 2, 2008

First, Congratulations! Post engagement is a very happy time.

Second, nth'ing pre-marital counseling, or failing that, discussions about every marital issue you can think of with respect to children, money, sex, responsibility (household and matrimonial). Though these talks won't necessarily keep any future issues from erupting into disputes, you have a head start on communicating your respective positions to each other, so you'll have some sort of head start when the issues re-arise.

Nobody has yet mentioned the John Gottman books, so I'll be the first - lots of research based advice on marriage survival techniques.

I'm generally not a fan of living together, and there are some recent stats that show that couples that live together have a higher likelihood of divorce, but I don't recall whether that was just for couples that weren't yet engaged or not. (I lived with a woman for half of a six year relationship that ended, then lived with my wife for 3 months after we were engaged.) People tend to consider living together as training wheels for marriage, but it's totally different without the public, legal commitment of actual marriage.

Make sure that you can communicate your needs to your partner, and both of you try to get to a place where this communication is considered part of your responsibility, and where you can trust your partner to respond (somehow) to those needs. Most of our worst times have to do with failures either to communicate our needs or respond to them.

A purely personal piece of advice that I give everyone in your position is to wait as long as you can to introduce children into the equation. Learning to be happily married is a lot of work, and introducing an infant is extemely disruptive to your relationship. More time with each other can help you weather the storm with a more solid grounding in your own relationship.

Finally, ignore any advice you get from know-it-alls on the internet... :-)

Good Luck!
posted by Calibandage at 8:43 AM on January 2, 2008

Try to set aside some time each day - both inside and outside the bedroom - to just be with each other, and concentrate on each other, and your relationship. Talk about how you're feeling and what you're thinking. Listen to what the other person has to say. And hug.
posted by ysabet at 2:31 PM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Invest in sticky pads and use them. People always think about what to do to make time for one another, and to be quite honest, sometimes that is just not as possible as everyone thinks. There is school, or work, or family, or will take a great effort from you both to make time (not saying neither of you will consider it a priority, but it is very easy to get busy and distracted).

So my advice with the sticky notes is.....little love letters. I know this may not be as warming an idea to men, but a simple "I love you" on the bathroom mirror when she gets out of the shower is what we women need sometimes. For the ladies, perhaps the same little note or "have a great day" in his brief case or folder, anything that you know he will open at work and receive the note. The key with these little letters is a) be there when you are not there, b) remind the other person that you are thinking of them, c) keep special moments of the day for them to refer to.

When I was in college and completely busy with work and school (we had lived together), my fiancee (now my husband) would pack me little snacks or even a lunch because he knew that I rarely got a chance to eat with my schedule. There would not be a note in there, but the little effort of packing something for me definitely put my day on the right track.

I agree with Calibandage, to a point. You must have a solid foundation as a couple before you introduce a pet or baby in your life. You both must have your places in the relationship established, accepted, and appreciated. Most couples, accidentally, have kids and the responsibility is shelved off to one parent. Trust me, this will build quite a bit of resentment and then a great rift. As a girl, the thought of having children and building a life together were conversations that I cherished. So share that. If you guys are at the grocery store and waiting in line and you see some Home and Garden magazine with a picture of something you like, share that and build a conversation on that. Multiple conversations become plans and plans become aspirations for the future. That, I think, is what makes a relationship....have something you both want to aspire for together. Whether it is building your own dream home together, or starting your own business, or about it.

Talk and sticky notes. Works wonders.
posted by dnthomps at 11:01 PM on January 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

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