Q Dear Miss Abigail:
My sweetie and I cohabited for several years before marrying. I have found myself astonished at the number of people who have asked questions along the lines of “so, how’s married life treating you?” Although I can think of several flip and not-so-proper responses, I am in need of something that gently lets the questioner know that it is an inane question yet still makes them go away satisfied that I’m happy with my decision to marry. Do you have any advice?
Newlywed but not naive
A Dear Newlywed:
Personally, I suggest the old “smile and nod” technique, and perhaps a short, meaningless comment, such as “just dandy, thanks” ~ that should do the trick. But you came to me for advice from the past, so I thumbed through my books looking for an answer for you.
They pretty much don’t address couples living together before marriage, so I have decided to instead focus on the advice that many of the people asking you how your adjustments to marital life are going probably received when they married. You’ll be fine, as long as you drink your coffee first thing in the morning.
1967: The Impact of Reality
After the glamour of the honeymoon, the return to reality is often swift and steep. The impact can be softened somewhat if the couple return to their new home a few days before resuming the routine of work or school. This short interval between the honeymoon and the return to routine is also a transitional period. It has the advantage of introducing bride and groom to their new roles as working man and wife in a less hectic and demanding way.
Amid the joy, excitement and sense of freedom and power you will experience in setting up your own home, you almost certainly will encounter some disallusionment. Its intensity will probably depend largely upon how closely your expectations about your mate and marriage have approximated reality.
There is some disenchantment in every marriage ~ a comedown from the bliss, glamour and all-encompassing interest in each other that is characteristic of the first days. That a return to reality is inevitable is probably recognized by everyone. The phrase “The honeymoon is over” puts this recognition into language.
While we concede that John and Jane and Bill and Betty must face the harsh truths of life after their honeymoon, it shocks us somewhat to realize that we must face them too. We all cherish the feeling that we are different ~ that factors affecting others will pass us by or at least affect us less intensely. However, our intelligence tells us that demands will now be made upon our spouse by others ~ by parents, relatives, friends, employers ~ and that we can no longer enjoy all of his time, interest, or even affection. Other people and interests will now intrude upon your social life and perhaps create emotional conflicts which you will have to resolve. . . .
When the disenchantments and disillusionments of marriage are stretched out over a period of time, they are relatively easy to adjust to. Often, however, they appear all at once in a way which seems intolerable. Newlyweds often experience what might truly be described as a rude awakening ~ a condition in which the husband and wife may wonder, “What could have possessed me to marry this person? I must have been out of my mind.” If the shock is too great, some persons never survive it, and their marriage is doomed from that point onward. Most people, however, come to realize that their expectations were unrealistic in the first place.
Along with the discovery of these new responsibilities comes the realization that the good times you enjoyed in each other’s company before marriage now have to be replaced by good times to be enjoyed in a different way. During your dating days, courtship and honeymoon, you saw your partner primarily as a recreational companion. You learned how you act in each other’s company when free of responsibility, when you have gone dancing together, attended parties, gone bowling, swimming or riding, and so on. Courtship was relatively free of the pressures of living, a time for holding hands and whispering sweet compliments. Suddenly, it seems, you find yourself working around the house, disturbed by the need to prepare for meals, clean the oven, put up storm windows, sweep the rugs or repair the faucets.
Once again, the images you have had in your mind about how husbands and wives pursue their everyday affairs do not conform exactly to reality as it unfolds. The picture of life the husband had of the wide who bounds out of bed neat and trim to make his breakfast does not match the way if happens. Instead, she may have difficulty dragging one foot after the other in the morning, or of uttering a civil word until she has had her coffee.
Source: McGinnis, Tom. Your First Year of Marriage. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, 1967.
~ pp. 75-78 ~