Some people see marriage as the ultimate act of love, the essential conclusion to any relationship while others think it is simply an irrelevant bit of paper – and who really needs that? Whatever your beliefs, thousands of people commit to each other legally each year.
But what’s it really like once the wedding is over and it is no longer appropriate to spam your Insta feed with endless pictures of you both beaming from the head table?
What happens when a wedding becomes a marriage? Does anything really change?
We spoke to a handful of men and women about their experiences of the first year of marriage – the good, the bad and the ugly.
“I had a comedown after the wedding”
Reality Bites: “My wife was completely fine, but I felt like I was mourning something,” says Billy. “It was the best day ever and everything seemed flat and finished afterwards.”
Make sure you have something planned for when the big day is over
It’s inevitable, isn’t it, that a day so full of high points, love and attention – not to mention the culmination of months if not years of planning – is going to be followed by a low, or at least a lull.
“When we’re happy and excited, and when it comes to weddings, we have all kinds of feel-good chemicals flooding our bodies including dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, adrenalin – for example,” says counselor, life coach and Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioner, Anna Williamson.
The Fix: “As the old adage goes, ‘what goes up must come down’, and that’s true when we’re experiencing something really exciting and emotionally charged. A way to avoid getting a wedding comedown is to make sure you have something planned for when the big day is over.
“Perhaps save opening gifts until after the honeymoon, and wait for a few months until you sort your photos and video. Plan a nice post wedding get-together to thank and celebrate with those closest.”
“It was a massive anti-climax”
Reality Bites: “The first year of marriage was the worst,” admits Tania, married six years. “It was a massive anti-climax and as the threat of being dumped diminished, it meant we made less effort to be nice to each other. My husband was foul to me and I went on a series of benders.”
Couples should agree to disagree and try to make peace with the fact that neither of you wins
So, why do some couples argue more after a big relationship commitment?
“The simple answer to this is pressure,” says Williamson. “How many times do you hear of people casually dating each other, only to then make that huge leap into making their relationship more official and legal, only for it to peter out within months?”
The Fix: Williamson advises that couples should agree to disagree and try to make peace with the fact that neither of you ‘wins’.
“It’s okay for neither one to be right or wrong,” she says. “Sometimes the best way to settle an argument, particularly one that keeps reigniting, is to respect each other’s point but to agree that on this occasion there might not be a resolution.
“Use a ‘time out’ technique for when arguments get heated. Agree in calmer times that if an argument starts to flair, once one party has called a temporary ‘time out’ to cool off, the other is to respect it and when the situation has become less charged a bit later, you can hopefully talk and make a truce in a calm fashion.”
“I freaked out at the concept of forever”
Reality Bites: “Long term, the thought of no one ever wanting to rip your clothes off and pin you to a wall ever again is depressing, especially when you still think there is a little petrol left in the tank,” says Tasha, married two years.
A relationship takes time to settle and evolve when it becomes more permanent
Plenty of people admit to having waves of cognitive dissonance – where the leap feels too big, even after the fact. What’s this all about?
“Couples can get overwhelmed with the sudden responsibility, expectations and ‘official’ status after a big commitment gesture such as marriage or moving in together,” explains Williamson.
The Fix: “It’s important to remind each other what you mean to each other and why you made this decision in the first place: love, respect and a want to be together more permanently.
Try to put the ‘seriousness’ to one side to keep stress and arguments to a minimum. A relationship takes time to settle and evolve when it becomes more permanent, do allow those teething problems to settle in their own time.”
“Everyone started asking when we were having kids”
Reality Bites: “The most annoying thing that everyone asks us is when are we having kids,” says Marie, married one year. “It’s none of their bloody business! We’d been married for two days and someone asked me. What right do people have to ask? People may not want them or be struggling to have them. I feel it’s very private.
People just get caught up in the excitement of this potential event, with little thought to if they might be overstepping
“There is so much pressure to conform, first comes marriage and then you have a baby. I’ve recently changed careers and money has been tight as I’ve had to start again and gone self-employed. Babies are expensive but I feel I can’t really say ‘we’ve postponed having a baby because we can’t afford it’.”
The Fix: “This is a really common complaint among newlyweds. It’s as if they can’t enjoy one major milestone without being ushered into the ‘next’,” says psychotherapist and couple’s counselor Hilda Burke.
Many of my clients who have had children quite quickly sometimes look back with longing at their childless days
“I think what might be going on at play here is a very human drive to validate our own choices by getting the people who are close to us to make the same or similar decisions.
“Perhaps there is even some envy triggered in them by seeing you continuing to lead an ‘unfettered’ existence without the compromises associated with parenthood. Many of my clients who have had children quite quickly sometimes look back with longing at their childless days.
“While they definitely enjoy having children there are times when they look back on how their relationship, their life, was without children in the mix. My advice to the couple would be to stay focused on what’s right for them and remember that others may actually envy their current childless state.”
Williamson agrees that marriage seems to precipitate this need in family and friends to ask the newlyweds all about their family planning: “Asking about somebody’s intentions with their family status and sex life is pretty personal,” she says.
“’Traditionally’ kids tend to follow a new marriage, and people just get caught up in the excitement of this potential event, with little thought to if they might be overstepping the mark. Try to remember, this question usually comes from a kind place, but you do not have to answer it if you don’t feel comfortable doing so, and perhaps politely and quickly brush it aside with a comment like ‘oh we haven’t got around to thinking about that yet, give us a chance!’. People generally don’t mean offence when they ask although it can cause unnecessary pressure on a new couple.
“The in-laws became irritating”
Reality Bites: “In-law jokes are a cliché for a reason,” says Ben, married 14 months. “Seriously, my mother-in-law drives me up the wall. It is worse now because I feel she thinks marriage has meant she can treat me exactly like I was her actual son and is always nit-picking at me and my wife.
If the mother-in-law is too overbearing, it’s important that the couple agree on boundaries
“Her interference really stepped up after the wedding. But we’re not schoolchildren we’re in our mid-thirties. I am already anxious about when we have kids as I feel like she’ll move in to ‘help’.”
The Fix: “No matter how annoying a mother-in-law can be, it’s important to acknowledge that without them the woman they love wouldn’t exist,” says Burke. “Secondly, they should remember that however much they clash, essentially they both want their daughter/wife to be happy. And in-fighting will definitely not help that cause!”
Burke advises setting boundaries: “If the mother-in-law is too overbearing, it’s important that the couple agree on boundaries – for instance, to invite her for tea every fortnight or to take her out once a month but not to have her flit in and out of their relationship willy-nilly. The important thing is that they both agree on the MiL’s place in relation to their marriage.”
“I haven’t changed [my name]”
“After spending 12 years saying my name with his surname in my head, writing it in diaries and hoping this boy I fancied since I was 13 would marry me I was convinced I’d just take his name,” says Cara.
I don’t want them to have a different name from me
“Then my dad died a month after I got married and my identity was just so important and my name suddenly felt like it embodies my identity. I haven’t changed it still and think about it a lot. I do want to change it probably when I have children, I don’t want them to have a different name from me.”
The Fix: It’s no longer simply a case of a woman taking her husband’s surname or not. According to Louise Bowers from the UK Deed Poll Service, there has been an increase of around 3% in men taking their wife’s name upon marriage.
While “the tradition of women taking their husband’s surname upon marriage is still very strong,” says Bowers, she adds that there’s been an increase in women adding their maiden name to their middle name to keep a link to their family.