The Marriage Effect: Here's What Changes When You Get Married

Mature couple holding hands at sunset, close-up
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Mike and I got married in a hurry—as much of a hurry as a couple who have been together for six years can. In June, we decided that we were going to do it in September with a small ceremony at my parents' house. We picked out flowers, called a rabbi, and crammed 30 people onto folding chairs in the dining room. I was 28 and wearing my mother's wedding dress. It was about as low-key as it could be without us going straight to city hall.

And we were as relaxed about the future as we were about the ceremony. Neither of us thought that getting married would change our relationship. It turned out we were wildly, hilariously wrong. Here are just a few ways that the challenge of marriage turned out to be different (and better) than going steady.

You Address Each Other Differently

It took me about three seconds into the ceremony to know that things were going to change. For starters, our rabbi (also a yoga teacher) called us husband and wife, and the words were immediately and acutely electric, funny at first and then wonderfully serious. We started saying them all the time, to waiters and flight attendants, and friends, working them into every conversation.

I suppose as a writer (ahem), I shouldn't have been surprised by the power of words, but these started to feel enormous and weighty as if our whole bodies had been dipped in gold instead of just our rings. I hadn't thought anything could feel more serious and permanent than when we moved in together and combined our book collections, but being married made everything that had come before feel like a dress rehearsal.

You Work Differently

One of the most satisfying shifts in changing from an established couple to a married one is the feeling that everything we do is for both of us. When I sold my first novel, Mike and I both cried. It had been a long time coming; there were four previous novels, all rejected, and Mike had been there for all of them. The first thing I said to him after the offer came in was that we now had the money to renovate our basement to be his graphic-design studio. This made both of us cry even harder. It was my success, sure, but more than that, it was ours. I may have written all the words, but he had given me the space I needed to write them. He'd also cleaned the house often and made dinner and believed that it was going to happen. And when it did, it was our triumph together.

I may have written all the words, but he had given me the space I needed to write them.

You Fight Differently

In each of my previous relationships, all I'd needed was a trigger and then it was done—poof, over—usually around the six-month mark. When Mike and I fought before we were married, getting out was always an option. We did break up once, after about a year. It lasted a month, only because I was out of the country. If I'd been home, it would've been three days; if we'd already been married, it wouldn't have even been a fight. Of course, marriages can end, but no capriciously. Being married means that there are structures to be dismantled and paperwork to be filled out. One needs more than a passing fancy, more than one bad mood. Marriage means sticking it out, knowing that there will be storms but that the boat is sturdy.

You Look at the World Differently

Security is not a sexy word. No one goes to brunch with her girlfriends and coos about how steady she feels, her toes curling under the table. But for me, it's the best feeling in the world. I was lucky to have a supportive family; my parents, my brother, and I always felt like a unit, as solid as a house of bricks. That's what being married feels like: a new house, just as solid, right next door. And if confidence in what we have is sexy, then we're the hottest couple for miles around.

The World Looks at You Differently

For some people, being married doesn't substantially change things. But to me, it makes things different because it's a highly public act of faith, hope, and optimism. Most of the time, we keep our hopes and dreams tucked safely out of sight, but marriage puts them on display, like so many wedding cakes in a bakery window. And that mere act turns the relationship into something that others—your friends, your family—have a stake in. You have a standard to live up to for the rest of your lives, but you've also got all these other people cheering you on and helping you hit the mark.

Time Moves Differently

It's been six years now—the same amount of time that we were together before we got married. I brought this up to Mike the other day and asked him which he thought felt longer. He said the first six years, and I agree. The time it took for us to get from being strangers working in the same office to being married felt like a hundred lifetimes, each with multiple possible outcomes, like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Being together—married, a team—has made the last six feel like a blink.

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