I didn't have cold feet or a single second thought at the altar. The moment I exchanged vows with my husband, Michael, I knew I had done the right thing. Yet just a few days later, I wasn't so convinced. What happened to cause my anxiety? I call it the Ring Rash Incident.
It seems my wedding ring, a wide platinum band I loved, had made my finger swell up and given me a nasty tomato-red rash. My neurotic diagnosis: I was allergic to marriage! The actual problem: My too-tight ring was trapping moisture and causing irritation.
What shocked me was not so much my response—I tend to overreact—but Michael's. My new husband was hurt that I could suggest, even in jest, that I was "allergic" to being wed to him. Didn't my new husband know me well enough to understand my neurotic tendencies and twisted sense of humor? Were we doomed?
Of course not: Michael and I recently celebrated our first anniversary and couldn't be more sure that we're meant for one another. But boy, is that adjustment phase a killer! If anyone you know is telling you, right now, that there'll be some rocky moments during your first few months of marriage, promise me you'll listen.
"Your first year of marriage will not always be a blissful extension of the honeymoon," says Phillip C. McGraw, Ph.D., author of Relationship Rescue. Trouble is, when you're newly married you don't expect to have doubts, fears or problems.
Most of the discord, says McGraw, will likely boil down to unmet expectations: You're counting on bliss but you're confronted with rashes and other everyday realities. Every couple adjusts to the aftershocks of post-nuptial days, weeks and months differently.
I checked in with a few happily married couples I know (all of their names have been changed) to find out what rocked their worlds in the first year of marriage. Hopefully, the advice doled out to them by our experts will help the two of you emerge from your first wedded year on solid ground.
Gripe #1: What, we have to be together every minute?
When Bob and Renee returned from their honeymoon in Hawaii, he wanted his day-to-day life back more or less the way it was before his free time was consumed with wedding details. Bob expected he would resume going to the gym and hanging out with his buddies a few times a week after work. He even decided to take up a new, time-consuming hobby—performing magic tricks.
Renee was amazed. She'd become happily accustomed to the togetherness of planning and enjoying their wedding and honeymoon, and she couldn't understand why he didn't want to spend all their non-work time together now that they were married.
Opposites attract, explains Edward Shea, M.S.W., a relationship coach in Elmhurst, Illinois. Bob is what Shea calls "the distancer," the person in the relationship who requires lots of space, while Renee is "the pursuer," the one who craves constant connection.
Why wasn't this a problem earlier? Although they've likely always fit into those roles, couples are often in a starry-eyed, romantic phase during their dating and engagement periods. The difference may not have surfaced, or may have been obscured by their affection for one another.
But although that love fest may have toned down Bob and Renee's true colors, it didn't change them, says Shea. If you've married a distancer, don't expect a dramatic shift post-vows. "This is going to be a dance the two of you do for a long time," says Shea.
What the couple can do: Renee should be clear and straightforward about what she wants from Bob. If making dinner together most nights and going out on a real "date" at least once a week is enough "together time" for her, she should ask for it.
At the same time, Bob needs to be reassured that he needn't give up all his non-Renee activities—in fact, it's healthy for both of them to pursue their own outside interests and friends. But he must also make an effort to meet his wife's needs.
Gripe #2: How could the man I love be so irritating?
Maria always loved the fact that Bruce was a film buff. While she would be hard-pressed to recall the name of the actor she saw in a movie last week, Bruce displayed a practically encyclopedic knowledge of every movie he had ever seen, something that both impressed and delighted Maria when they were dating.
But after Bruce and Maria had been married a few months, she found herself yawning when Bruce would start in on one of his favorites at a party—and she feared their friends were finding Bruce's litany of celluloid trivia dull, too.
Don't be surprised, says Shea, if the magnet that attracts you to your mate is the very first thing to get on your newlywed nerves. Keep in mind that the qualities we admire in our mates are often ones that we don't possess.
You might love that he's a great cook, thinking he'll spur you to give up cereal for dinner, for example. But, as Maria found, the same things that are impressive or endearing pre-marriage can change after the ring goes on.
What happens is that you begin to revert to what you like—you start craving cereal for dinner again—and your mate's habits become less charming. Rest assured: This is a very common early-marriage adjustment.
What Maria should do: consider Bruce's quirks as gifts and go with it, knowing he's likely doing the same with her idiosyncrasies. She may be pleasantly surprised to find her pride in his knowledge returns.
Gripe #3: Does she expect me to fight her family battles?
When Scott married Susan he knew her family was difficult: For years Susan had been at their beck and call. She never missed a family event, even though these get-togethers made her upset when her hypercritical mother and sisters told Susan her makeup was all wrong or that her outfit made her look fat. Also, she'd been under a lot of pressure from her family to get married.
In Scott's view, Susan had always passively accepted this unreasonable behavior from her family. But after they wed, she grew a little bolder. One day, Susan gave her mom a long-overdue piece of her mind and stormed out, demanding that Scott follow. Scott, caught in the middle of the scene, felt unprepared to step suddenly into the ring.
It makes sense that you would expect your new family—your spouse—to be on your side all the time. Susan was likely thinking that her new status as wife would give her the emotional muscle to confront old family issues.
But, says Shea, it doesn't always make sense to bring a relative newcomer into long-standing family troubles with no warning. That said, Scott might help Susan deal with old wounds more creatively.
Shea suggests that Susan sit down and write a letter explaining the anger, sadness, fear and sorrow she would like to express to her family, and give it to Scott to help him understand. Often, writing forces you to be more rational and helps you organize your thoughts.
Then, the two of them could discuss ways to be on each other's side without drawing lines in the sand with family. These are tricky issues, but in-laws—on both sides—are there to stay, and you need to find ways to keep them in your life without making enemies of each other.
Gripe #4: Has he said "sayonara" to sex?
When Jane married Ray, she envisioned plenty of late nights spent lovemaking, like they'd enjoyed on their honeymoon.
Newlywed or not, however, Ray was exhausted from a new job and a long commute. Most nights, he could barely keep his eyes open until 10pm, which tended to put a damper on the torrid nights Jane craved.
"The priorities of the relationship can change quickly after marriage," says Gail Prince, M.Ed., coauthor of Soul Dating to Soul Mating. Once a couple weds, it's inevitable that they move on with their lives. That doesn't mean sex is less important, just that it now has to fit into the schedule just like jobs, family responsibilities, chores and sleep.
"Not that there won't be passion," says Prince, "but it won't always be top priority."
When you're dating, you might be able to rely on spontaneity for sex. In a marriage, however, lovemaking often has to become a consciously planned activity.
Prince suggests Jane and Ray fit in time for romance and sex. They can make sure the television set is off well before sleep time or agree to take a day off together and spend it in bed.
Gripe #5: Can it be that we really have nothing in common?
Although very much in love, newlyweds Valerie and Terry had always had quite diverse interests. Still, they'd heard that happy couples find plenty of mutual activities to share.
So they set out to find one: They tried working out, playing tennis, mountain biking, fishing and volunteering together. But no matter what they did, one of them would be lukewarm while the other was gung-ho. Soon, they were both frustrated.
Common interests aren't necessarily the cement that holds relationships together, says McGraw. During courtship, we might be more eager to embrace each other's activities, but not having common interests or shared hobbies is not a sign of failure. In fact, you may well be overlooking the everyday things that you do have in common.
"You're living in a home together, sleeping together and eating together, so you're automatically sharing common activities," says McGraw. "Everyday moments are bonding times that will nurture you through thick and thin."
Maybe Valerie can mountain bike while Terry spends the afternoon volunteering at a homeless shelter. Think of the intriguing conversations they'll share when they reconnect that night!
Gripe #6: I am not your mother!
Erin and Tony dated for a few years prior to moving in together and then getting married. In all that time, they had always shared the chores. They would shop for groceries, cook and do laundry together.
But after they got married, Tony didn't set foot inside the supermarket, much less the kitchen, and Erin practically had to beg him to fold the laundry.
Photo Credit: Creatrix Photography
Uh, oh—it's those old patterns rearing their ugly heads. We all run the risk of adopting the role models we see while growing up. Perhaps Tony's mother did the all the shopping and cooking, and his father never touched a dirty sock in his marriage.
"People tend to act unconsciously," says Prince. In other words, Tony might not have planned to become a deadbeat husband, yet somehow it just sort of happened. But old patterns are made to be smashed.
What Erin should do: Gently introduce the issue without putting Tony on the defensive. She might suggest they talk about how they envision their lives together (hint: it's a good idea to do this well before the vows). Be detailed. Who will be in charge of which household tasks? What chores will they handle together?
"You might think that talking about these basic things is going to take away from the romance of the relationship. But it's all about sharing your feelings, which can only make the relationship closer."
Gripe #7: Okay, we've gotten married. What's next?
After Jami and Steve returned from their honeymoon in Jamaica, they began to wonder: What's next?
They'd been absorbed in planning for so many months, and suddenly felt in need of a "project." Friends and family started hinting at children. Oh, the pressure.
It's normal to feel a letdown after the whirlwind of excitement—and distraction—that often leads up to a marriage.
Trouble is, these types of all-consuming projects run the risk of diverting your focus away from developing—and enjoying—your relationship. And rushing right into the next life decision only creates more distraction.
Jami and Steve should revel in their newly married, nothing-huge-to-plan status and use the downtime to reconnect.
Gripe #8: Our love has grown…and so have we!
When Laurie and Rob got married, they were both in great shape. A year later, they look back at their wedding pictures and wish they'd stopped with that cake. Can you say "newlywed 15"?
Unfortunately, getting married is one of the predictors of weight gain, according to researchers at Cornell University. It isn't that marriage automatically makes you fat; it's a lifestyle change — just like going away to college — that leads to a change in habits.
"Many couples find that they gain weight when they get married because they have difficulties setting boundaries," says Sirah Vettese, Ph.D., author of What Happened to the Prince I Married?
Laurie and Rob may be skipping the morning jog they took as singles in favor of cuddling in bed with coffee and croissants. They may be preparing gourmet dinners and desserts with their fun new kitchen stuff. Before they know it, they're heading to the store for bigger jeans.
What to do? Simple, really. Find exercise options you both like. Take long walks after dinner. Go out and buy low-fat cookbooks and have fun eating healthily. Most of all, don't stress about it.
Gripe #9: Are we the only couple who argues all the time?
Cindy and Paul had had a few spats as a couple before they wed. But the vehemence of their first marital disagreement took them both by surprise. Someone hadn't been keeping track of ATM transactions, playing havoc with their checking account. Next they disagreed about a political issue. A week later, they couldn't come to terms on which sofa to buy.
Did their marriage measure up? Other couples rarely seemed to disagree.
The truth is that the presence of intermittent arguments is not necessarily negative, says McGraw. In fact, it can relieve tension. It's far better to speak your mind and gets things off your chest than seethe silently.
"It's not whether you fight or not," notes McGraw. "It's how you do it and, more importantly, how you end it."
Fight fairly — don't assassinate his character when it's the sofa you hate — and always treat each other with dignity and respect. Make a point of balancing that checkbook. And look forward to the makeup sex!