There are so many clichés about marriage: You stop having sex. All you do is fight. The wife is always right. The list goes on and on and on, though the truth is, you’ll never really know what it’s like until you’re actually married for a while.
Thinking about tying the knot, or just recently engaged? I grilled wise, married TODAY staffers about the things they wish they’d known before they got hitched. Sure, you learn as you go — but it’s always helpful to have a few pointers.
1. Being married is no excuse for forgetting friends or family.
“There’s nothing that compares to a night with girlfriends, or catching a double feature with my sister, and not my husband, on a rainy Sunday afternoon,” said Christina Poletto, TODAY.com editor, who has been married for four years.
“Spending time with others actually strengthens the relationship I have with my partner. It keeps things interesting when we can both spend alone time with friends or family, and then come back together and catch up on what was missed.”
2. It’s important to know yourself first.
“The years (of marriage) bring stress, disappointment and sadness, and you can’t depend on a fairy tale romance to get you through the hard times,” said Terri Peters, TODAY.com contributor, who has been married for 11 years. “The good times are lovely, but during the hard times, love is a choice … If you don’t love yourself, you can’t love your spouse.”
3. Realize you’re marrying your significant other’s family, too.
“It’s really true, and you’ll especially notice it when you start having kids,” said Bela Gandhi, relationship expert and founder of the Smart Dating Academy. “The best piece of advice I got about this is that if my husband has an issue with my parents, they’ll hear about it from me, and vice versa. Things don’t sound as bad coming from their own kid.”
4. Divide household duties from the start.
“I cook; you do the dishes,” advised Kavita Varma-White, TODAY.com senior editor, who has been married for 19 years. “Or, I grocery shop; you take out the trash. Start early. There IS such a thing as training a spouse. And yes, it goes both ways.”
5. You’ll talk about money more than you did before.
Before getting married last fall, my husband and I pretty much split all of our expenses — I paid for groceries, he paid for Seamless orders. We rarely talked about money. But a few weeks after our wedding, we decided to set up a monthly budget.
Now, we regularly talk about our savings goals, our credit card bills and what we can do to cut back on our spending. Not the sexiest topics, but hey, that’s marriage, right?
6. Communication is key — when you have time for it.
“Even though people say that, we are quite happy to be silent sloths on the couch most nights, and save up important talks for the weekend, when have the emotional bandwidth,” said Christina Anderson, TODAY.com video producer, who has been married for 13 years.
Date nights are a great idea for more serious convos, but not if you’re staring at your phones the entire time.
“Use a date night once a month to talk about your relationship,” advised Gandhi. “Make the dates matter. Come with your own agenda, ‘I want to talk about this. This is something I want to improve on.’ And set relationship goals for the next month.”
7. Know that there will be fights.
“Marriage isn’t arguing about a lot of different things, but arguing about basically the same thing, wrapped up in a different package, over and over,” said Jane Weaver, TODAY.com senior editor.
Gandhi agreed: “I always tell my clients that the problems you have when you’re dating will be the problems that you have when you’re married.”
8. But there is a HEALTHY way to fight.
“I wish I’d known this sooner,” added Gandhi. “There is a way to fight fair, and to be constructive. We have a rule in our house that’s called de-escalation. It’s like boxers going back to their corners during a fight. If you feel things heating up, take a break. It only takes 15 minutes for a person’s temperature to come down. Stop, take a break, but don’t quit.”
9. It’s OK to wait a few years before having kids.
“When you get married, everyone begins asking, ‘So when are you going to have kids?’” noted Philip Caulfield, TODAY.com senior editor, who has been married for three years. “But don’t feel pressured. Take some time to yourselves; those first two or three years of marriage are a great time to travel, change jobs, change cities and take some risks.”
10. People aren’t joking when they say “marriage is hard.”
“Know that going into it so you are not surprised by the first bump in the road. And know that there are many, many more ahead,” said Varma-White. “Remember that bumps are not deal breakers, they’re just bumps. Take them into perspective. He ate sushi through courtship and when you’re married he says he ‘really doesn’t like it’? Just a bump.”
11. Forgiveness is the key, always.
12. Realize you will both grow and change — and that’s OK.
“My husband isn’t the same person I married 15 years ago, and I’m not the same person he married,” said Rebecca Dube, TODAY.com senior editor. “We’ve changed, we’ve grown, and as that happens, love isn’t something you fall into or out of, it’s something you choose.”
Another important thing to remember, is that as you both change, your love will change, too.
“The butterflies and fireworks fade. Some people confuse that as falling out of love, but that’s not true,” Gandhi advised. “Be aware of this fact, and yeah, sometimes you might have to schedule sex as your lives get more complicated. That’s OK, just remember to talk about it and be open with your partner.”
13. You don’t have to feel “trapped.”
“Instead of feeling trapped with ONE person for the rest of my life, I’ve felt relieved that ONE person was committed to me for the rest of my life,” noted Weaver. “People fixate too much on what they have to give up, instead of what they’re gaining.”
14. Don’t take advice from other people.
“I’ve discovered that no two marriages are alike. Before I tied the knot last year, I was given a lot of advice on how to handle the first year of marriage,” said Shane Lou, TODAY.com editor. “But so much of it hasn’t applied to my own situation.”