I read an article the other day that discussed the phenomenon we’ve all heard about or maybe even experienced, where people mysteriously change into someone else after marriage. It almost seems as if your partner did some type of bait-and-switch on you.
The article suggested two main reasons why this happens: (1)They were always this “other” person and they were just waiting until you were married to really be themselves. (2) It’s not them that changed, it’s you and you’re no longer giving them what they need, therefore they act differently. I think both ideas have some merit, but they only scratch the surface. They’re symptoms of a bigger issue at work.
The reason people change after marriage is because in taking on the new titles of husband, wife and married, they begin to unpack the notions and assumptions that they associate with that change in relationship status. You draw from and live out the roles, patterns and behaviors you’ve picked up throughout your life. These can come from your parents, society and pop culture just to name and few sources. I found this to be true for my first marriage.
I got married at 29 and I have always had a very self directed approach to life. So by the time I got married, I was so sure that my marriage and how I behaved in it would be of my own making. I wouldn’t be living my parents relationship, I would be living my own. Well guess what? As the years rolled on and things got tough, I turned to the patterns I saw in my parents. On many levels my parents have an amazing model for marriage. They have been married for 43 generally happy years, so a piece of my marriage mode was making things work no matter what. On one level that stick-to-it-ness is a good thing, but can come at the price of compromising your own needs and simply settling for less then you deserve.
As time went on my ex and I faced numerous struggles with connection and intimacy. As things got worse, we retreated further into our corners, eager to avoid conflict and pulled out the only tricks we knew on how to deal with a less than thriving relationship. We came from very different backgrounds and he had a much more splintered family dynamic. So our ways of working out (or really not working out problems) were very different . In the end (and after 9 months of couples counseling) we found we did not have compatible ways of working through a relationship any tools to find common ground. We each came into that marriage with our own set of assumptions about marriage and how to work through conflict. We went into the marriage with the intention of forever but we didn’t have the same, or really complimentary sets of tools to get us there. We didn’t change so much as we brought forth and played out our ideas of marriage.
Each status change in a relationship brings along with it the potential for new expectations to surface. There are some people that even count on marriage auto-magically making changes to a relationship. If have ever heard a sentence like, “Once we’re married <insert behavior here> will change”, you know what I mean. To see if you have some hidden assumptions and expectations about relationships titles, consider these questions:
- What do you expect out of each of these relationship status’s?: seeing someone, dating, exclusive, living together, engaged, married, divorced.
- What do each of these statuses entitle you to? What is a given?
- How do you expect your partner to behave? What should and shouldn’t they do?
- What do you expect from yourself? What should and shouldn’t you do?
- Is there a “natural” progression” to these statuses? How do each of theses relationship types change as you transition through these phases?
Marriage doesn’t change people, but new circumstances, titles and roles do impact the way we behave in relationships. People do change, that’s a natural occurrence in life. We’re each altered by the relationships we are in and people we are involved with. But we lug with us the baggage of our previous life and sometimes, quite unexpectedly, behaviors and attitudes may pop up that even we didn’t know were there. The status of marriage in a relationship can, and most likely will, bring forward a new set of expectations.
Before getting married, or really before making any relationships status change, take stock of your relationships baggage. Really think about your relationship role models (family, society, popular culture) and consciously decide what you want to take forward. Don’t leave it to chance, know what baggage you’re working with.