Happily Ever After – Now What?

Finding the mate you can love for the rest of your days was no small task. But as the sound of wedding bells retreats into the distant past, many couples are surprised to find that the lives of newlyweds aren’t all sighs and giggles. If you’re facing the first few stumbling blocks of married life (or are preparing to face them in the near future), you might want to consider some real life advice for navigating that surprisingly treacherous marital bliss.

Expect challenges
There’s no way around it. Marriage is an adjustment, even if you’ve lived with your mate for some time. According to a study by the CDC in 2005, those who cohabitate before marriage may actually face more pronounced difficulties. Marriage is one of life’s major milestones. We expect it to be life-altering. When it’s life as usual only a few weeks after the big day, couples can be left feeling confused about their commitment. Remember that it’s the same relationship that got you thinking about life-long commitment in the first place. But it isn’t a magical transformation. It’s up to you to stay focused on all the components that make a relationship work.

Keep working
Getting married is not the end of your relationship. In many ways it’s just the beginning. It’s more important than ever that put energy into thoughtful gestures, understanding your partner’s needs and resolving differences. You won’t always feel appreciative of your partner, and that’s okay. You’ve taken on a lifelong friend, confidante and companion — not a fairy tale. It is important that you’re civil and understanding, even when you don’t want to be. If you want the constant support and companionship that come with a marriage, it’s only reasonable that you’d want to invest in that relationship daily.

Learn how to argue
No matter how well-matched you are, you and your spouse will not agree on everything. Couples who learn how to argue early are more likely to last. That means communicating early, listening, compromising and never resorting to spiteful or mean-spirited attacks. When couples are first married, they suddenly have to share new and stressful responsibilities, from financial obligations to extended families to shared chores. These additional stressors are more easily navigated when you’ve already established an effective non-combative mode for conflict resolution.

If you and your spouse end most conflicts with hurt feelings, there are strategies that can help. If your anger is overwhelming, try putting your thoughts on paper first. Or hold your partners hand through a discussion to remind each other that you’re both on the same side.

Keep dating
Romance isn’t automatic. As you get caught up in your jobs, the bills, the chores and yourselves it’s only natural that the candlelight will start to sputter. Don’t let that flame go dark. Make dates, make time, invent new and original ways to spend time together. Just because your spouse will always be there for you at the end of the night doesn’t mean you always have to spend it the same way. You wanted a partner, not a roommate! Don’t let yourselves forget about the magic that made you tie the knot in the first place.

Thinking for Two
Some degree of independence in a marriage is healthy, even desirable. Maintain separate interests and friendships — as long as you can come home and share them with each other at the end of the day. But when it comes to decisions that affect both of you (which, by the way, is most of them), you’re no longer on your own. Whether you want to move across the country for a new job or spend next weekend downtown, your plans affect another human being. Your spouse should never be far from your mind when you make plans, and is now ‘in on’ virtually every decision you make.

Keep faith
Don’t doubt your union when the going gets tough. The clichés of blissful newlyweds do more harm than good to new couples and their expectations. Marriage is hard work. And contrary to popular culture, the first few years are generally the hardest. But as challenging as it all may be, couples with solid, supportive marriages are happier, healthier and more successful than those who go it alone. Trust that your investment in each other will continue to pay off. Marital bliss may be something of a fantasy, but a lifelong partner with whom to share all your experiences — good and bad — is surprisingly realistic, and in the end, more satisfying than the most optimistic of fairytales.

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