Michelle Frenkel had just finished writing a housewarming card to some friends when she realized her mistake. "I had written ‘I' all the way through the card," says the bride-to-be from Phoenix, Arizona. "Then I signed it with both mine and my fiancé's names. Needless to say, I had to start over."
Michelle, a public relations consultant, is certainly not the only bride-to-be to occasionally "forget" that she is no longer a solo act. It's a tough thing to remember, especially in the hubbub of wedding planning, when everything seems to be all about you, the main attraction, The Bride. But the truth is, that exchange of rings marks a major life shift — from single woman independence to husband-and-wife partnership — and you must begin to adjust to all the changes that brings.
Of course, becoming a "Mrs." doesn't mean you will abandon your independence completely. You will still be an individual, with your own career, interests and relationships. But in your new role as a partner in marriage, your husband's needs and desires will factor into almost everything you do. Part of building a successful marriage is recognizing, appreciating and embracing this new role without losing touch with the single woman you were before. It's a balancing act.
For many brides, like Michelle, the transition from "I" to "we" doesn’t come naturally. So we consulted the experts for ways to steady yourself as you make the leap. Their advice: See your engagement period as a "trial run" for adjusting to your new status. Start here.
Rule #1: Prepare to Share
"The first step in all of this is beginning to feel married," says Judith Coché, Ph.D., a marriage and family therapist and director of The Coché Center in Philadelphia. And that doesn’t mean simply feeling romantic. It means constantly remembering that your opinions, needs and desires are no longer the only ones that matter. "That can be very hard," adds Coché, "especially if you are already established and accustomed to getting your own way."
While there are no quick tips for reaching this point — or many, it’s a process that evolves over time — you can start by consciously acknowledging that every decision you make, no matter how small, affects your mate. Always try to take his feelings into consideration before you act, and know that your actions will have consequences.
Julie Soul first started "feeling married" in the dinnerware department at Bed, Bath and Beyond when she and her then-fiancé, Bill were registering for dishes. She wanted a watercolor style; he preferred a checked pattern. "I couldn’t believe that I had to get another person’s opinion on the matter," says Julie.
The couple, from Portage, Michigan, eventually compromised (they settled on a solid-color set in cobalt blue) and now laugh about the dilemma, but it was at that moment that Julie realized that decision-making — even about the simplest things — would never again be a solo activity.
It may be easier for you to assume total control of all the wedding-related decisions, and your fiancé may even be happier taking a backseat, but if you want to build true "we-ness" into your marriage, it’s best to involve him in every aspect of the planning, says Cheryl Storm, Ph.D., a marriage and family therapist in Tacoma, Washington.
That’s because the ways in which you communicate at this stage — even about seemingly small details, like what pattern of china you choose for your registry — reveal how you are likely to handle bigger decisions down the road, like buying a house or deciding when to have a baby.
"I commonly hear women who did not involve their fiancés in the wedding planning later complain that their partners are not as involved in their homes and household responsibilities as they would like them to be," says Storm. "But it’s hard for men to become involved when they’re used to their wives making the decisions all along."