Why do longtime partners split after getting married?

Updated Oct 12 2015
The adventure begins
Photo by Bohemian Noir Visions. Thanks to psych0faerie for submitting this to the Offbeat Bride Flickr pool!
One thing that is freaking me out at the moment is when I hear of friend and friends of friends, who marry after being together for 7-8 years, but end up divorced after the first year or so. This terrifies me, as I really want to get/stay happily married, but I wonder why this happens … when people are together for ages, get married and then split. What causes this? -Jan

It's absolutely not uncommon at all: longtime partners who are together for years decide to get married, and then almost immediately decide to get divorced. What's going on? Could this happen to you? Or me? Or any of us?

Obviously, there's no way for us to ever know exactly what makes individual couples split up. But when it comes to this trend, I've got a theory…

For better or for worse, each of us has expectations about what being married will mean to the relationship. For some people, that expectation might be, "Absolutely nothing will change, other than that we'll be wearing rings and will have had a big party." For other people, the expectation might be, "Everything will change. Our whole relationship will be on a different level, and how we interact with the world will be radically shifted!"

Neither of these assumptions is in any way wrong. The problem, however, is when the two people getting married don't talk about their expectations. One partner goes in thinking, say, "This is going to be awesome: once we're married, the sex is going to get way kinkier because the trust is going to be so much stronger between us!" The other partner goes in thinking, "This is awesome: I'm never going to have to travel alone again. We'll go places together!"

The issues arise when they don't talk these things over, and then go home after the wedding and the one partner is thinking, "Wow, the honeymoon was dull. Where's my kinky sex?" And the other partner is thinking, "Wait, did they just say they don't want to go to San Francisco with me next weekend? I thought we were doing everything together now!"

…See the problem?

Obviously, if it were all this simple, the solution would be easy: talk to your partner about your expectations for marriage! And that's a great first step.

But duh: half the time, a lot of us aren't even conscious of what our expectations are. This is hard stuff to quantify and articulate. "Um, when we're married, I want you to stick up for me when your friends make fun of what a geek I am…not like, all the time, but at least most of the time. And I don't want to be the only one to take out the garbage. And I want you to plan at least one special night for us a week. Well, ok, maybe one a month?" It's hard to put your finger on what marriage means to you.

Chances are decent that your own values about marriage are either a reflection of OR reaction against what you grew up with.

Not to get all Freudian on you, but this is where talking about your parents' marriages/relationships can come in handy. After all, these are the relationships that you grew up around, and chances are decent that your own values about marriage are either a reflection of OR reaction against what you grew up with. Talking about other people's marriages can help you better get your brain around your own values.

Is being married all about spending all your time together? Is it about supporting each other in your separate endeavors without insecurity? Is it about more kinky sex or more gentle couch snuggles after work? Is it about building a home together or is it about traveling the world together? Is it about feeling so confident in your commitment that you feel ok about going to grad school on opposite coasts?

In marriage as in wedding planning, you can't doze off at the wheel, or you wake up and realize you're living someone else's life.

For offbeat het couples, I think the most common troublesome expectations are issues of "normative" roles. These could be assumptions about gender roles ("Now she'll cook, and I'll work overtime!") or home/family planning ("Now we'll get a little house and he'll get me pregnant!"). All too often, these aren't even expectations we're aware of … wildly progressive het couples fall into the long-established husband/wife roles without even realizing what they're doing. In marriage as in wedding planning, you can't doze off at the wheel, or you may wake up and realize you're living someone else's life.

I have no idea what marriage means to you and your partner, but when I see couples who've spent years living happily together as partners suddenly fall apart as spouses, I usually figure they had very different expectations about what marriage would mean to their relationship. And either they didn't talk about it, or they couldn't articulate what the differences were.

Moral of the story? Talk lots. If you discover lots of differences, consider pre-marital counseling. Do your best to understand both your own values and your partner's values.

Ideally, they'll just magically overlap.

Realistically? HA! There are compromises to be made.

  1. umm… you're a genius.. and i think you've helped me with my expectations with FH… thanks! i think we need to talk… i think we're in the same chapter..just not the same page LOL

  2. Sigh… if there was a lot more sensible advice like this and a lot less Oprah I think we'd all be much better off.

    You should totally write a book ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Wow…

    Speaking from a divorced perspective, if I had really talked to my partner before hand, I would have NEVER married him. But, if I hadn't married him I wouldn't have my son.

    But, your advice is major and majorly simple. Thank you. It has given me some clarity and some closure. And if I ever (I hope!) walk down the aisle again, I'll be doing alot more talking!

  4. Wow, great post! Personally, the year immediately following my wedding has been pretty smooth-sailing, but I can recall how difficult the time between proposal and wedding was. Even though we had been dating for 4 years and living together for 2, you're right that a lot of the important couple conversations often get put off.

  5. I think you also have to look at why partners decide to change their status after a long time in equilibrium. I suspect that there may already be trouble in paradise a lot of times, and people hope that getting married will "fix" that. Changing long-established patterns is difficult and disruptive, even if it just seems like a big party with a trip afterwards.

    • This is probably true. I have a friend who was with her ex for 4 years and was getting pressured by her parents to finally get married. The marriage lasted just around 2 years and part of that was because he joined the military and I guess they had to stay married while he was in A school (part of it was that she wanted GI money to go to school too).

    • Yes, totally this. My ex and I were together for almost four years before we got married. I'd gotten pregnant when we were talking about getting engaged, because I was emotionally pushy (and also 21) and unwilling to admit that maybe we weren't compatible. When we'd been engaged for a year with no planning, I suddenly came home one day and said, "Nothing in our life is changing. We're getting married in 8 weeks."

      Jesus, what a bad idea, in retrospect.

      By the time we divorced, after three years of marriage, it was apparent that we just didn't want to same life at all and didn't have compatible emotional vibes. (Like, at all.) It basically took us an explosion in our marriage to wake up and realize it was time to call it.

      Teal deer: As friends and co-parents, we're solid. But by the time we got married, our relationship was already on the outs, and we can both tell in hindsight that my pregnancy kept us together.

  6. I think there are a lot of great points raised here but I just wanted to add that I think a lot of the time, the relationship was troubled to begin with. If things aren't going great, some people think being married will make things better. A band-aid wedding like a band-aid baby. Then after a few months they realise that the relationship is fundamentally the same and they spllit up.

  7. I've seen it happen once or twice among friends and friends-of-friends, and what tends to happen in those cases is that one partner (generally, though not always, the female half of a straight couple) has been having the whole relationship *to* the wedding. She's had "getting married" in her head for five or eight years (in the case of my friends, often since she was 18 or 19) and then suddenly, having followed through, realizes that nothing is "fixed," nothing is "different," and suddenly she has nothing to plan to.

    • I almost did this. I dated my first boyfriend from age 18 on for five years. We always planned to get married, were practically engaged, etc. We never got as far as a ring or wedding planning, but eventually I caught myself and realized I was living to the wedding and that I needed to jump ship way befor the follow through or I'd be stuck unhappy and stifled forever. and by forever, I mean until I had the sense to get divorced.

  8. I am one of those geeky brides who reads lots of things. Books about marriage, books about getting married, books about being married, books about the problems with being married, etc. One of the most important books I read was The First Year of Marriage By Miriam Arond, Samuel L. Pauker. I swear to god this has helped me more than anything. I have recommended it to friends and family who have just gotten or are getting married.

    It addresses this problem. It says much of what you do. But it also points out one good thing (for those of you who don't want to read a book to figure this out) Marriage is hard! And it takes work and communication and mutal respect and love. And it's still hard. It's always going to be hard. Unless you marry a robot you can program to always say the right things.

    • Amy, I'm so happy that our book was helpful to you. We interviewed and surveyed hundreds of couples to break through the code of secrecy about the first year of marriage to help people assess their own experience with greater clarity and perspective. It's always rewarding to hear when our book makes a difference in people's lives!

  9. So this was me in my first marriage, in that we'd been together 8 years prior and we split up before even a year had passed. I don't think our case was to do with expectations, but rather myself changing my own viewpoints about things after the wedding. If we'd actively sat down before the wedding I think we'd have been on the same page, but then I changed page after!

    But I definitely agree that this might be the case for a lot of people and talking a lot prior to the wedding is important and something I've done a lot this time. I also think you need to stay on the ball in terms of tending to/looking after your relationship during the engagement period. It's easy to keep yourself occupied with all the planning that goes on, I was wrapped up in it last time and I'm not sure but maybe if I'd stopped and examined our relationship in that period, maybe the changes in me had already started to happen. Keep focussed on your relationship with each other before, so there is no crash back down to earth once all the celebrations/planning is over.

  10. My FH and I did a prewedding skills based class one on one for six sessions with a therapist. It was called the Prepare Enrich program I think. We took a little test first, separately, to see where we agree and disagree about various things and the therapist then compares it and finds the areas of your relationship where possible issues could occur if you are not aware of your differences (such as how you deal with mony or raising children etc). It was useful for us to learn about expectations and gave us exercises for practicing better communication before a problem arises. I think there are other program like this and many churches also offer premairrage counseling to help you prepare for marriage even if you have already been cohabitating for 5 years as my FH and I have. I highly recommend some form of preparation even if it is just buying a premairrage workbook and going through it together.

  11. I think really sitting down and talking about your future and expectations is a wonderful idea for all couples. I found a list of things to discuss, before you get married, on the internet. Many of the topics I hadnt thought of before but I can now see are very relevant.
    My fiance and I are going to order in this weekend, crack open a bottle of wine and make a night out of talking about all the topics on this list.

    • I understand people who found this comment overly flip, or the use of the statistic careless. But at the same time, as a child of parents who divorced after 23 years (so many of which seemed the model of joyful love), the "crapshoot" theory seems like a fair approximation of the idea that there are a lot of things in life in the world that we just cannot anticipate. Ultimately there's no way to know yourself, someone else, how you will grow and change over time, or the circumstances you will face together well enough to be sure that forever is something that can really happen for you.

      Sure, we can go through all manner of checklists and conversations and counseling, and all the better on us if it makes our relationships better! But for me I can't help thinking that we should be doing it not as a hedge against divorce but to invest in the relationship we're in now — albeit, surely, the one we dearly want to be in for life. As with anything, we can do our very best and hope.

  12. Well sure, Jezebel/Dodai — but that's not really the point. Common sense suggests that if you're partnered for years and years before getting married, you've maybe got a few things figured out with your relationship … and perhaps your marriage won't end in divorce within, oh, the first year.

    • Thats what Im banking on. Been together for 8.5 years and getting married in a month. I sure hope we make it.

  13. Jezebel – that's a misuse of statistics. Just because "half of all marriages end in divorce" (which, strictly speaking, isn't true – but that's a whole other ball of wax) doesn't mean that each individual marriage is a "crapshoot".

    People who take time to thoroughly discuss things before getting married and while married do NOT have a 50% chance of getting divorced. People who don't discuss anything have a much higher than 50% chance of getting divorced. It won't solve everything and there are other reasons people get divorced (see Rosalie's comment above), but it goes a long way toward reducing the likelihood.

  14. My fiance and I got engaged and are getting married *because* we talk about things all the time. We both have goals that align (but aren't exactly the same – that would be kind of creepy), want the same things for ourselves and see our futures as a wonderful adventure that we're lucky enough to be able to explore with the person that we love.

    I agree, communication has got to be at the forefront of a relationship. If you can't communicate, getting married won't make it any easier. I'm watching a girl I know get married this year and (from the outside – I could be wrong) it appears to be a "band-aid" wedding. Any time that she talks about them fighting over stuff, something that always gets said is "After the wedding, it'll be different". Well – um – unless either she or he wakes up as a completely different person one day, no, it won't. I really hope that they manage to figure out how to talk about their stuff and *communicate* with each other as to how they see their relationship.

    And yes, marriage *is* work. Relationships are work – friends, family, lovers – they all require an investment of time and effort that most people are willing to make because they care enough about the other party to keep plugging away. Even when someone makes you shake your head and think, "WTF??" if you love them, you make the effort to understand instead of just throwing up your hands and walking away. It *is* a two-way street, though … and respect and compassion have to be given as well as received.

    *whew* That got kind of preachy, didn't it? Sorry – in a nutshell, communication is key!!

    • I think it's really easy, and that many couples are used to hearing these days, about marriage/relationships being work. But in practice it's harder to absorb that. I know that my relationship with my boyfriend has been a lot of work, and we've had some awful fights, but that it's never not been worth it. It's so easy to let doubt creep in and start thinking "gosh, why am I having to work so hard? if this was right, it would be easy." I think younger generations today are so used to rampant individualism that we are almost afraid to sacrifice for another person, or have been taught that to do so compromises what is "more important," i.e. our Selves. No wonder we have such a problem with divorce!

    • I totally agree with your statement that too many people think that finding *the one* will then mean that their relationship and subsequent marriage will be smooth sailing – then as soon as things get difficult they start doubting their partner/spouse rather than assessing the situation for what it is: a situation. The basis of any good relationship whether it be a marriage or a friendship or a long-term relationship is working as a team. My parents got a divorce after being together for 8 years + 10 years of marriage, and the best way my mother was able to describe it was that they were no longer a team. My boss, who is a wealth of great advise, has said the same – relationships, whether they have "marriage" stamped on them or not, is a lot of work, and it never stops being work.

      • It probably complicates things also that for some people, it isn't actually a ton of work. My late husband and I fit together VERY well. I think it was just a quirk of luck to find someone so ridiculously compatible, but we didn't really fight and I can't think of any times of feeling like "why do I have to work so hard?" We were together 10+ years until he passed away suddenly, and through some pretty major issues. We were just weird.

        So I can see how if you know a couple who are genuinely like that, a normal relationship would potentially seem like something is wrong, especially with all the 'soulmate' 'happily ever after' stuff we get fed as kids. But it's the couple that has no real issues that's the outlier, not the people who have occasional road bumps.

        (I mean, not to say that we didn't disagree, but we never disagreed on anything major and I can think of exactly one actual thing I would consider a fight that we had. Most of our disagreements were either arguing for fun and had an element of silliness, or we agreed way more than we disagreed on the topic at hand, so things never got that element of emotional tension that gets people wound up and upset.)

        It's actually been an issue for me in recent years when I've started feeling ready to date again, because I have to remind myself that it isn't fair or reasonable to expect to find someone else I fit with in the same way, and if I have a minor squabble or have to compromise with someone over something like attitude towards finances or ideal frequency of travel, it doesn't mean we're horribly suited for each other and should just move on to dating other people. (You know, like "omg, we don't agree exactly on this precise thing, we're DOOMED!" ridiculousness. My brain can be very melodramatic sometimes. ๐Ÿ˜€ )

  15. Being together a long time before you get married is not a bad thing. A bunch of posts here infer that there is something wrong if you wait so long. I have 2 other friends in long term relationships and the truth is that every couple is different and it can go either way, regardless of how long you have been with the person! No one I know waited a long time and it ended up being that there was something wrong that was thought to be fixed with a wedding. Some people just wait simply…..to wait.

    My partner and I were together for 10 years before we got married. For many many reasons we waited a long time to finally tie the knot- one of which being I wanted to finish all my education before we started our life together (which involved moving halfway across the world and wouldnt be fair to him to leave the job he loved). We also started dating when we were young and knew we should be a little more grown up before we made the commitment!

    My husband and I purposely had a very small wedding with only 17 people because when we finally decided to get married, we just couldnt wait!

    Ariel is absolutely right I think, in that communication is usually the thing that makes or breaks the relationship. The relationships I've seen fizzle have been those in which the couple were not willing to listen to each other's ideas/beliefs/concerns. Like someone else mentioned, marriage is hard work, as with any important relationship in your life. The people that ignore this fact will end up in turmoil.

  16. really good advice. we're doing marriage counseling with our pastor and he gave us this book to work through–and while most of it insults my female intelligence and strokes my gag reflex a little (thank you, focus on the family!), it has a really useful section called "great expectations" that prompted us each to describe what we expected out of our marriage in all sorts of areas (living arrangements, contact with extended families, travel and entertainment, finances, education, kids, everything) and then come together to share our ideas. identifying my hopes/expectations on my own was good because the focus was on what *i* expect and not on trying to reach an agreement right away, and discussing was good to see where we had similar/dissimilar/realistic/unrealistic expectations for our life together.

    so, i do think that understanding what you and your partner expect (as well as, cheesy as this sounds, how they perceive affection, a la "the love languages") are two of the most important things in maintaining good communication in a relationship. but what do i know…i'm only 21. =)

  17. This really corresponds to what family sociologists have noticed: Some couples who have been together a really long time feel social pressure to either get married or split up. They don't want to split up, so they basically "fall into" marriage (even if they aren't especially confident about the relationship's long-term potential). So they basically just slip into marriage by default, which isn't a recipe for success! I loves me some sociology!

  18. Huzzah to Ariel for giving us eye candy AND thoughtful articles!

    Well said. I would add another book recommendation–I actually picked it up because I'm in an interracial relationship and knew that making assumptions about people's communication styles from different backgrounds would just be disastrous.

    It's "Mixed Matches: How to Create Successful Interracial, Interethnic, and Interfaith Relationships" by Joel Crohn. But I would recommend it to anyone, simply to recognize that what people say, what they mean, and how you hear it are often 3 different things.

  19. SM said: Being together a long time before you get married is not a bad thing. A bunch of posts here infer that there is something wrong if you wait so long.

    Wow, that's certainly not something I would ever want to imply! Andreas and I were together for 6+ years before we got married, and I'm absolutely glad we waited.

    I don't think anyone was implying that there's anything wrong with waiting — just offering theories on why some folks who wait a long time sometimes might then bafflingly break up after the wedding.

  20. Funny how this jives with the advice I give at every wedding/shower/etc:

    Everything Changes, But Everything Remains the Same. Never Take Each Other For Granted.

    I should add, "never make promises for later that you wouldn't keep now."

    • "Everything's different
      Nothing's changed
      Only maybe slightly rearranged" – Stephen Sondheim, Company, which is all about marriage ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. Funny I was just thinking about this last night.

    I knew a couple who were together for 13 years and got divorced after 14 months. Their story pretty much terrified me and I still think about them from time to time.

    I think it comes down to more than just communication. I think a big part of it is that both members of the couple have to place the same value on marriage. I know it sounds like the same thing, but in my mind it's different.

    Part of the reason I feel comfortable marrying my finance, even though I wouldn't have married my old boyfriend of 6 years, is because I know that he believes so strongly in the commitment of marriage that he will fight tooth and nail to keep us together. I loved my ex very much, but to him marriage would not have strenghtened his idea of commitment. It would have been just an excuse to throw a party and hope for the best.

  22. Ariel – I totally get what youre trying to convey. One of the reasons I like your website is how diverse and wonderful the couples are.I am sensitive about this topic as both myself and several other friends of mine were put down by people who thought it "odd" that we didnt get married after 5 yrs of being together.

    I thought this was an interesting topic as I really dont know many people who have gone through this. I hear more of the been together for 6 yrs, broke up and immediately found the love of their life.

  23. Ariel you should totally start writing "Offbeat Wife" if you haven't already! Please! Always a pleasure to read your sane and well-worded advice ๐Ÿ™‚

  24. "Being together a long time before you get married is not a bad thing. A bunch of posts here infer that there is something wrong if you wait so long."

    Well, if you ever want to have a family, there IS such a thing as waiting too long before you get a commitment. Unfortunately we get 10 fewer years than the guys do to get our shit together before we have kids.

    • Although evidence is coming out that this is less and less true, although women have a harder end date of fertility. Advanced paternal age is more correlated with birth defects and health problems than advanced maternal age. Advanced paternal/maternal age is clinically defined as 35. That's not to say that one can't have health children after that age (heck, my mom was 36 and 38 when she had me and my sister, my dad was in his 40s) but that both men and women's fertility and gamete quality declines with age.

  25. Sure, Karen. But getting married and family planning are not always the same thing. There are plenty of committed couples who have kids before (or without ever) getting married. Just as there are plenty of married couples who are child-free and don't want to have children at all. I think it's risky to start lumping marriage and family planning into the same time-constrained bucket.

  26. On 95 in Philadelphia, there are billboards for Robbin's Diamonds. It's a picture of a woman, sticking up her ring finger, with the caption "She's tired of waiting." They're funny, in all honesty, but I think it's pretty telling of the general view towards marriage and dating. Marriage is seen by some as the ultimate, the goal-not the adventure. And for couples who have been dating a while, there might be a bit of sh*t or get off the pot, if you will. The timing is different for everyone, whether you've been dating 8 months or 8 years.

    Communication is so, so, so key. It has saved us countless fights and is probably the reason we're still together, let alone getting married.

  27. Me and the husband: longtime friends, long time dating, long time engaged, married, children of divorced parents.

    I absolutely have to agree that expectations are a huge part of the way a relationship changes after marriage. And a big part of that, I suspect, is that so many people think once you're married you're 'done.' Like somehow you no longer need to work at the relationship because you're married (despite everyone knowing how common divorce is) when the truth is marriage isn't functionally any different than dating except you fed a lot of people and bought some rings. As part of our weddinged reception (long story) we are promising not to 'be together' forever, but to work at loving each other forever. Sort of a different expectation, imo!

    If you go and assume that marriage is an automatic assurance of happiness and togetherness, you're bound for double whammy; you expect that your needs and wants will continue to be met by your partner and they aren't, and you resent the idea that you have to do things to work on the relationship now that you're married. I've talked to both of my parents about it and feel quite certain that this is what happened to them.

  28. Bravo! To Jan for raising this important issue, and to Ariel, as ever, for wise and common sense advice. This has been of grave concern to me in the past and I have had the same theory for a long time.
    I knew this awesomely laid back, best-friends couple once who'd been living together for 11 years, were separated and filing for divorce less than a year after their wedding. I saw this and similar time and time again and for many years it made me very anti-marriage, until I realised, or inferred, what the problem was. Discussing and understanding one anothers' expectations for marriage has been a primary focus for us among all this wedding planning. I'm so glad this is being discussed.

  29. Kate, I think you make a very good point about our society in general treating marriage as the destination instead of the journey. All those Disney movies, the prince and princess get married and live happily ever after, right?

    I've got a friend who is convinced that if she and her on-again off-again boyfriend get married, he'll have to change all the behaviors that bother her. (Like being a sphincter flambe and having a drug problem.) She doesn't want to hear anything to the contrary.

    I wonder if some of the "long-term couples who split soon after marrying" thing has to do with the way you approached things in the first place. I know with a former roommate/good friend of mine, there were a lot of things that she did that bothered me when we lived together, but I mostly just let it slide, figuring that we were just roommates, and it was temporary. By the time we parted ways, there was a lot of repressed irritation I had to unpack. With my intended, however, we're both pretty good about letting the other one know how we feel about things and working out a compromise, which is one of the reasons I feel so comfortable with the idea of spending the rest of my life with her. And I think part of why we've both been so willing to put so much into that is that we've both felt from early on that this could be a life-long thing, so it mattered more to get things worked out now.

    So I wonder if some of the couples don't find that marriage either A) doesn't fix the things they wanted changed, or B) makes them wake up one morning to realize that they've signed up to spend THE REST OF THEIR LIVES with someone who is never going to pick up their underwear from the bathroom floor or call when they're running late or bother to remember when you've made plans and generally just drives you INSANE and it's just ARRRGGGGHHHH. And then they file for divorce.

    Maybe if you'd been dealing with it all along, it wouldn't be such a big deal. Or maybe it would have been, and you'd have split up awhile back. As it was, you drifted along not rocking the boat, and now you realize you're way the hell downstream from where you wanted to be.

    Obviously, I'm not saying that's the case for all long-term couples. I just wonder if that's not part of it sometimes.

  30. "Ideally, they'll just magically overlap."

    This is me and CDH. We are so blessed – I don't know how it happened. Everything fits, everything works. It's amazing.

    We talked a LOT before we got married, because we both realised the the 'wedding' was a big fun party, and after that we still had to come home to each other every night. We discussed every whim, every dream, every value, every eventuality. They all fell together like perfectly cut jigsaw pieces.

    Talk. Always talk. Your partner is the most interesting person on the planet – I never get tired of listening to his ideas and hopes and dreams.

  31. Thank you so much for posting this. I have wondered the same things and the advice you gave was so simple, yet so brilliant. Sometimes it just takes an outsider to show you the answer that is right in front of you and makes the most sense! Thanks again!

  32. It is funny how you mentioned the traditional versus modern roles! It is probably a stuggle for my partner to figure out what I want when it comes to this… we already determined he would be the stay-at-home Dad, but at the same time, I totally believe that the guy should be the masculine/disciplinarian and all that. I am totally a mish-mash of tradition and modernism (or should I say post-modernism?).
    I think there is also this whole, "I have been dating her for six years, I better propose now. *sigh" thing that some guys go through. People will totally disagree with me on this one, but I am of the firm belief that if you don't know within the first year you become a "couple" then you aren't really meant for eachother. All the long-term couples I know have all said the same thing about knowing their spouse was the one…. "I just knew!"

    • I knew I wanted to be with him forever within three months, but neither of us were ready for marriage until 7 years in. We needed to grow up before we did that.

      • I don't want to say its a bad thing if you don't know right away. I have no idea, but I suspect people can slide into the knowledge gradually and have healthy marriages. My partner and I did just know early on. Within 1-2 months. But we were kids, literally, I was 16 and he was 19.

  33. I think I should amend what I said about the whole knowing within the first year… this doesn't mean I advocate getting married right away for all couples lol! It just means that I think most couples have a gut feeling soon off whether it could work, or whether it won't. It is better to get out early then to build a life with someone who isn't right for you.

  34. This is great advice. I find most peoples advice a load of crap and not really applicable to myself, however I have not thought about this and think it's so very important to discuss. Thanks for the great blog, as always.

  35. What superb and insightful advice. My partner and I have lived together for 3 1/2 years now and have been together for nearly seven years. The first year and the third years were probably our rockiest, so we didn't know that 'it would last' until probably the end of the third year. In saying that, there were signs from both of us throughout the relationship that neither of us felt it was worth 'giving it all up' for any of the issues we came across, whether minor or major. I think this bodes well for a married future that we have both talked about, but I think we need to do it at a time when there aren't so many weddings going on around us. My partner is always getting teased by newly-weds or newly-engaged friends about getting me a ring, and 'isn't it about time', which is totally the wrong motivation for marriage, obviously. At the same time, I think I will 'propose' to have a long talk with him someday soon about our future expectations, as things are still up in the air career-wise for us, but for me especially, a disillusioned grad student! Great wedding blog without the solipsistic guff. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  36. WOW! Didn't think my comment would get so many folk talking! But am glad it had, thank you Ariel for your advice, and everyone who had commented. Its great to get so many different ideas and opinions.
    Me and my partner have been together for 7 years, and getting married this year. We did deiced to get married in the first month of knowing each other, no romantic proposals, just in the kitchen and said to each other, we should get married, I can even remember who said it, me or him or both. I think we would have married in the first year, we tried, but when my normally fantastically understanding parents suggested we should have chicken in a basket for the food, were vegan/veggie, then the shock of what no meat…you can t do that, other people feed you vegan food at wedding…I just couldn't handle the stress of it all. So just decided to put it on a back burner, until we could afford to do it all ourselves, so we didn't feel obliged to do what others wanted because they were contributing.
    I am glad we waited, I think we would have split up, definitely. But then 6 year on, I felt ready to finally do it, it was wasn't that I never wanted to, I just needed to be sure. Really sure.SO ball rolling, plans in motion, I think her would have married me at any point, but it was me that wanted to wait, and I really hate the fact everyone assumes it him, finally making a 'honest woman out of me' what crap. Not all women are dreaming of their wedding day from year dot, there's nothing wrong with that, but it was something I had really considered that must. For most of my teenage life I was a broken mess, and for most parts thought all men were c**nts. So getting past that, to discover i had someone who really loved me, for just who I was, took a bit of accepting. I love him, for who he is, and what he is not.I don't want to change him, I would like him to take the bins out more often, and remember on occasion, to make the bed…( yes, were from the new generation of lost /mixed roles…ifs it not 'ans or woman's work' then who the fuck does it then! splitting the chores has never been so hard, we both work full time, but why do some women still end up doing all the cooking and cleaning…because we can't let go? totally different debate…)but I don't think that's ground for divorce. But we do forget to talk some times, or some time I think it just too scary, in case we don't like the answers we may hear.
    But from reading all your posts, yes, tonight, I will go home, as ask, 'what do we expect form this marriage?' because if I don't ask now, I may become a statistic of my own doing. Cheers all xx

  37. "Sure, Karen. But getting married and family planning are not always the same thing."

    Speaking as the child of divorced parents, I think it probably SHOULD be. But that's my opinion.

    Anyway, my original point was about commitment, not marriage. If you want to have kids, there's only so many years you have to do it, and if the guy you're dating doesn't want to commit, doesn't want to promise to be around you come hell or high water, well, then it's just irresponsible to bring kids into that situation, married or not.

  38. @ Karen

    I'm pretty sure that had my parents not gotten divorced… or had even tried to stay in proximity because they 'committed' to having children together but weren't really happy with each other… that would have messed my brother and I up pretty badly (I have a friend whose parents did that and he is an emotional wreck, not that he admits it).

    By the same token… I think they did just fine raising us without having any commitment to each other at all. Were there times when our lives were not 1950's nuclear family delusional happy? Of course. But I think that sort of unrelenting happiness isn't possible anyway.

    I don't think that in order to turn out well a child has to be raised by a mother and a father, or even by 2 parents. So to say it's irresponsible to have children without first ensuring your partner's going to be 100% in it (CAN you even guarantee that? People change… my mom and dad planned to have us and thought they were going to be together forever. How long do you wait to be -sure-?) sort of implies that children shouldn't be raised in any other type of situation.

    I'm with Ariel on family planning and marriage being separate. If you want to plan a family that involves you and your children and no husband (or wife, or whatever) then I think the most important thing is that you -want- that and are a stable, sound, happy person (which a strained relationship of any kind with a partner/former partner/other biological parent of your child) would not be conducive too.

    I am totally sympathetic to the emotional pain of having divorced parents, but the thing that causes that is the divorce itself, not the single parenting, in my opinion. It took a long time for me to understand my parents, and to really get what they did… but I love them both, I know they made the best decisions they could, and I don't begrudge their happiness at the expense of me having them both 24/7 for my childhood.

    They did all right by me, and I think there are plenty of single parents and non traditional households who do as well. I'm sorry if this gets read negatively, because I hate internet-conflict, but… I feel really strongly about the idea that you CAN raise children, and raise them well, regardless of the family structure and situation.

  39. Thanks for this post. I just blogged along similar lines. I had a quite little freakout wondering if getting married was going to jinx us – the equivalent of tattooing his name on myself. I think it was just a momentary thing but if it persists I will, as so many suggested here and there, TALK about it.

  40. I know that many universities have secular pre-nuptials courses for those of you who don't want to do it through a church (I know that it's required in the Catholic church to go through a length course before you get married. As much gripe as the Catholics get, I have to give them credit for that one).

    The University of Connecticut, for example, has completely secular course for any couples considering marriage. Including how to manage your finances, realizing your expectations, articulating your future goals and priorities, etc. Since I believe CT just now signed same sex marriage into law, it's for both hetero- and homosexual couples.

    Check your local universities for something similar. I bet there are programs out there.

  41. "I feel really strongly about the idea that you CAN raise children, and raise them well, regardless of the family structure and situation."

    I know it technically *can* be done, but I don't think it's easy or ideal. I don't blame my parents for getting divorced, and my mother did absolutely everything she could have, and for a divorced couple my parents got along very well and put us kids first, but despite all of that, having grown up in a single-parent situation, even a "good" one, I would not recommend it to anyone, nor do I want to do it myself. So to get back to the original subject at hand, yes, I could have waited too long without getting married; it was risky to give my fiance four years of my life if, at the end, he wasn't going to commit to me like I was ready to commit to him. I'm lucky he was.

    Sorry for the threadjack, everyone. I'll back out now.

  42. Karen, I think your posts are making the point that it is necessary to find a partner who sees the world similarly to you, and who is as committed to the same things as you, and who has the same expectations that you do.

    I know more people who are messed up from "My parents tried to stay together for us but my family was very unstable" than the "amicable divorce, it wasn't perfect but hey I'm happy". There is also nothing to guarantee that a two parent household is going to be a good thing for a kid. A single mother with lots of social support may have more interpersonal resources to create a nurturing environment than a socially isolated married couple.

    So my experiences inform a set of expectations of how the world best operates. They are different than yours, but through communication we both find partners who see the world similarly, have the necessary commitments we both expect, and create our families in the visions we see best and hopefully they both work. Neither of our opinions are necessarily correct, but we operate accordingly and so need to overlap them.

    I don't know, just my two cents.

  43. I think you're right Ariel, many people have expectations that things will change after the wedding. And for a reason! I can't count the number of people who said to me – "everything changes after you get married, you'll see."

    We'll I've been married 27 days and counting, and I have not yet figured out what they are talking about (hubby is mystified too.) Maybe that's because neither of us wanted anything to change. We pretty much have been on the same page since the beginning.

    When we went on our first date, I was just coming off of a dead-end, 3-year relationship and was feeling a little ornery and in one of those "don't waste my time" moods. In the first 10 minutes of our first date, I laid out everything I wanted in a relationship: kids, house, family, forever… everything. I pretty much expected him to run for the hills. He just said "That all sounds great!" which about floored me. I may have fallen in love with him right then.

    That moment of ornery honesty set a precedence for the rest of our relationship that has worked great for both of us. I think being clear and honest about expectations (with him and yourself) is great advice Ariel, and not something you need to wait until post-proposal to do.

    • Oh man, I'm so with you on the incredibly fertile ground that getting out of the "last straw" BS relationship leaves you in. When I met my spouse-to-be I was in a similar mood — "whatever, I don't need this, I'm not going to bend over backwards trying to make it work with some new guy, if you're not going to call I have no f*cks to give." Of course, this was a reaction to a pretty raw nerve about getting swept away in a relationship that ends up being two people writing a really romantic story together that has little truth to it.

      Luckily, I was in that mood at the moment I met a wonderful person who was in a similarly ginger place. We planned a trip to Europe together before we could stop calling each other "that person I'm dating … exclusively…" and had to get trashed at a wedding to admit we loved each other for the first time. Yet … all that reluctance and unwillingness to compromise at first turned out to be the true-to-ourselves-ness that helped us build a solid foundation of trust and confidence in one another. I hope we never forget how much it took to keep going with one another when neither of us was ready to be "taken in."

      Thanks for giving me an excuse to think about all that ๐Ÿ˜€

  44. This couldn't be more timely, as I just learned that this is happening to a friend.

    My fiance and I spent hours talking about it last night. From our first date, I approached our relationship with honesty, respect and clear communication. We were both coming from previous relationships where the communication was lacking- that we weren't getting the whole story from our partners.

    And right away, we knew we found something great in each other and have talked openly about money, debt, savings goals, lifestyle goals, children. I think we talk about it all, but yet after hearing this happen, I felt gosh, are we not talking about it enough? Or are we talking about the wrong things?
    I appreciate the book recommendations and will be returning the plan your wedding books and look for these books about cultivating a marriage. It helps me ground our wedding planning- it is a celebration of marriage, it is one day. And the real work we are to do is growing our relationship.
    Any more book recommendations?
    I'd also be interested in a post about pre-marriage counseling. How soon before the wedding to do it? What to expect, experiences.

    Thank you thank you!!!

  45. Hawkswine–

    That happened to me too! I came off a dead end, never-was-that-great 1.5 year relationship when I met my groom-to-be. Feeling very fancy free, I laid out everything I wanted (including an ABSOLUTELY NO BOYFRIEND stipulation), which he accepted and 3 weeks later had gained my trust enough to be exclusive. Now we're going to get married!

    But I agree — I don't expect anything to change, especially since we have cohabited for the grand majority of our relationship. For non-cohabiting couples I think that marriage *does* change a lot of things for them. Permanently living with someone is extremely different, and so is having sex.

    So I think the problem is that the "everything changes" attitude is based off of the way many marriages used to work. Of course marriage would be different if you've never lived with – or slept with, for that matter – that person before. But nowadays most people do those things before marriage, so there's not much tangible change other than status, recognition, and spiritual bond (if you believe in that).

  46. My FH and I are getting married in Sept, and have lived together for practically ALL of the 5 years we have been dating, since we were best friends for 3 years before we 'kissed'- LOL! I don't envision anything changing at all. Other than I get his health benefits from his job, lol. And, I'm actually taking his last name!!!! (long story there) But, we have been engaged for 3 years already. What held us back? Mostly me. I'm 41 he is 33. I have kids (19 and 22) and he doesn't. I don't really want anymore, and I had to be sure he was of the same mindset because that was HUGE! Of course, I could be persuaded to have A BABY, provided he makes enough money for me to stay home to care for the baby full time. We agreed on this point, and finally went ahead with our wedding plans. I couldn't agree to it with his 'we'll see what happens' attitude, because I didn't want to disappoint. I am 41. There isn't much biological TIME left for me to have a baby…I think this is what happens to people. They don't go over these fine points. It's important.

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