Raise your hand if you know the difference between dating and being married. Now raise your hand if you knew this on your wedding day. Fewer hands in the air, I suspect, on question number two. Why is this? The answer is pretty straightforward. Unless you lived with your spouse before you got married, you simply didn’t know any better.
In my novel, A Changing Marriage, protagonists Karen Spears and Bob Parsons meet in college. They attend parties together. They have philosophical discussions. And, when their roommates are elsewhere for an afternoon or an evening, they have sex. It’s a neat, clean, fairly compartmentalized, mostly uncomplicated relationship. Next they move through the blissful engagement period. Next comes the well-planned and executed wedding, followed by a honeymoon on a tropical island.
When the honeymoon is over, the Spears & Parsons romantic comedy becomes a Karen and Bob documentary. Wife and husband are sharing the same space (keep in mind that first apartments are not commonly capacious) and spending considerably more time with each other than they had previously. And this can be very good for a relationship. The first few months of married life can be a time for growth, deepening understanding, and gratitude for one’s good fortune in landing a prized partner.
It is also often a time of discovery. Individual preferences such as grooming habits, levels of acceptable cleanliness—all tucked away during the freshly showered, tidied dorm room dating days—slowly manifest themselves. Dirty clothes on the floor and dishes in the sink; a keen distaste for red meat or vegetables; vacuuming during a TV football game—nothing of great significance, but off-putting nonetheless, and in some cases, initially, shocking. Did you say “I do” to this?
Well, yes you did—unwittingly perhaps, but most assuredly. Karen and Bob said yes to all kinds of things, too. They promised to honor one another from their wedding day forward for better or worse, for richer and for poorer, and in sickness and in health. The richer, poorer, in sickness, and in health can be taken at face value. But what about the better or worse bit? Do smelly socks at foot of the bed or hair clogging the shower drain count? They don’t count in the larger scheme of married life, but they absolutely count in the day-to-day relationship.
What can be done about this common first-few-months-of-marriage awakening? Let’s start with what shouldn’t be done. Resist the urge to consider yourself sabotaged, to wonder how s/he could have hidden this from you, to wonder what else s/he may be hiding. Instead, look at your spouse’s idiosyncratic tendencies for what they are; they’re behaviors or preferences. And admit that just because your spouse’s behavior doesn’t match exactly with yours that your spouse’s actions are necessarily wrong. (Well, in most cases anyway.)
Now, what you should do is decide if you can live with whatever it is. In most cases, you can. This does not mean that you must pick up after your sloppy spouse. No. Point out the offensive behavior, in a non-judgmental manner for the best results, and request a change. Your spouse may not be aware of what s/ he is doing, or that whatever s/he is doing is bothersome. You may have thought your partner could read your mind during your dating days, but, remember, you were delirious.
So speak up, even if you are tempted to be noble and wash every dirty dish left in the sink by your spouse. Because your feelings of good will and high-mindedness will eventually sour—and the mere sight of a half-full coffee mug on the living room table has the power, believe this, to darken your otherwise cheerful disposition as quickly as periodic showers can ruin a day at the beach.
Once you say it, once you point out that you are dissatisfied with something, don’t be surprised if your spouse has something to say to you. In fact, expect it. It is natural to push back when you feel pushed. But what’s also possible is the fact that you never put your car in the garage is just as mind-warping for your spouse as the dishes in the sink are for you. The first few months of marriage are an adjustment for both partners. Do your best to enjoy the ride.
Susan Kietzman is a Connecticut native. She has a bachelor’s degree in English from Connecticut College and a master’s degree in journalism from Boston University. She has worked in both magazine and newspaper publishing and currently writes grants for the Mystic Seaport Museum. She lives with her family in Mystic, CT. Her new novel, A CHANGING MARRIAGE, was released by Kensington Publishing in March 2014. Please Susan Kietzman online at: www.SusanKietzman.com
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