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Written by Lindsey Rogers, LCPC

Summer is here and wedding season is in full swing. Wedding planning is a billion dollar industry and months, sometimes years can go into creating a memorable day that celebrates a couple’s shared love and affection. But once the cake has been eaten, the last song has been played, and the thank you notes have been sent out, reality can set in. Couples often find themselves adjusting to a life together that they did not anticipate. The day-to-day of how to live together and manage responsibilities often are not given nearly as much attention or care as picking out registry items or deciding on a wedding hashtag. Certainly, unforeseeable circumstances can occur in any relationship, but some pitfalls occur in virtually all marriages, such as how to address the division of labor. No need to be a complete skeptic during your toast to the happy couple, but here is a healthy dose of reality and problem-solving to ensure the wedded bliss witnessed over nuptials does not have an expiration date.

Before the “I Do’s”…Who Is Doing What?
In an ideal world, before the whirlwind ride of “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage,” there comes some serious communication and exchange of expectations. Whether it is about finances, maintaining a home, intimacy, or parenting, it is easy to fall into a trap of feeling frustrated when someone is not doing what you want them to do. But if you never talk about it, your partner can’t know what you are thinking. Everyone is on their own journey with their own set of luggage from their past; maybe what you think is normal and obvious may not be so normal or obvious to your partner. If the rules and expectations aren’t clear, then it’s pretty hard to even play the game, let alone win. So be honest with your partner about what you want or expect. You may not agree, but there is likely room for compromise. The more communicating and compromising that happens, the less room for making assumptions. Maybe some of these topics, like parenthood or home ownership, are way off in the future or you aren’t sure if you have an opinion. That’s fine! But try it on and talk about it and then consider what your partner thinks or feels. As those topics become more real versus just far-off possibilities, make sure you are still checking in with each other versus making assumptions. Also, think about the non-negotiables versus topics you are flexible about. If having a clean house makes you feel less anxious and you can communicate that—the importance of it—that is easier to understand or work with, as opposed to the angry reaction when your spouse doesn’t pick up the dirty clothes off the floor.

Good, bad, or ugly, someone taught us by example (what to do or what not to do) of what marriage or a partnership is like. You may have moved away from your family system and never looked back. You may want to be nothing like them. However, you may think that Sunday evenings when you all had dinner together and then your dad did the dishes was pretty great and want that to be part of your lifestyle now that you are grown. You get to have thoughts and feelings about where you came from and how your family operated and incorporate them into (or excise them from) your lifestyle when you have your own family. But if you don’t take time to think about what is important to you or what you expect (or conversely, what would really bother you) and then share that with your partner, how are they going to know your needs and desires? How will they understand that doing laundry is important when they were raised with a housekeeper who did that for everyone and that makes sense to them?

Maybe you are reading this and thinking wow, great advice if I had a time machine to think about this before I married my spouse years ago. Here’s the thing: It is never too late to communicate. If there is a dynamic in your marriage that you don’t like, talk about it. If there is a dynamic in your marriage that you do like, talk about it. Find some time (when you aren’t arguing or about to go to bed) and check in with each other about how things are going. Start with the strengths—what is going well? Maybe for you, that is telling your husband that you are feeling really great about how much you guys are putting into savings each month. Maybe it is telling your wife that you are happy with how healthy your family has been eating since you haven’t used GrubHub this month. Get the positive stuff out there and then focus on an area you aren’t feeling so great about. Put your grievances out there but ask your spouse for help in devising a solution. At work, you probably have meetings with your boss or your coworkers to check in about how things are going. You likely have a performance review to evaluate how you are contributing. In school, there are report cards and parent-teacher conferences to discuss how a child is achieving. There is no pre-planned check-in to figure out how the marriage is going. So whether it is weekly, monthly, or whenever, get into the habit of asking your partner what they think about the marriage. And then make sure you share your thoughts and feelings as well.

The Honeymoon Is Over
Nothing reminds you more that “happily ever after” is a misnomer than when you realize your partner used the last roll of toilet paper and didn’t replace it. Just like you were thoughtful during the wedding planning, try to continue to think of the other person in your relationship while you are actually married. Your first dance wasn’t just you breaking it down by yourself. Your spouse was your partner for that first spin on the dance floor, so don’t suddenly pretend that person (who also uses the toilet paper) has now disappeared. Being considerate goes a long way.

Maybe you have heard or even doled out the complaints before: “You NEVER initiate sex” or “I hate that I am the one ALWAYS dealing with finances.” Whatever the flavor, the complaint results from a certain dynamic in the relationship that feels pervasive and personal. Sure, it can feel that way, but the truth is, it’s not actually that way. Do not fall into the trap of “always” or “never”-ing someone—no one is that consistent. This is where resentment grows, so something has to give. No one is getting what they want/need when everyone is being shut down with negativity. Where is the motivation to change or do better or differently if someone is telling you that you are doing something wrong not just once but always? Don’t ignore a problem but try to figure out what is contributing to that dynamic. Be a detective and problem-solve with your spouse versus being judge and jury and sentencing them to a lifetime of consistently bad behaviors.

Maybe your frustration is about feeling like you carry the majority of the mental load. It can be overwhelming to be the one who thinks about all the tasks and the dynamics. Life is complicated and often a married couple is responsible for a lot more than just themselves and the relationship. If you are feeling stressed about all the things to remember and do and your spouse looks perfectly engrossed in Netflix and oblivious to your rising frustration, well, I think we can guess how that one turns out. Not good. Again, communication is key. Talk about what you need before you explode, make a list to get organized together, divvy up responsibilities, and have faith that your partner will do what they have agreed to do. Here’s the thing: We are not perfect. That wedding day probably wasn’t perfect either, despite your best efforts to make it so. There are things we cannot control and we make mistakes. But pay attention to what works. It’s easy to focus on the problems or remember when things went wrong. It is often harder to acknowledge what makes things run smoothly in a partnership. Figure out what each of you is good at or what comes easily. For example, maybe finance is not your thing, or perhaps you would rather be good cop versus bad cop with parenting your children. Whatever comes naturally, that will be easy to divide up. Maybe you need to have a state of the union about the relationship every week or maybe you need a shared calendar. Maybe a list of groceries or house projects that is posted for all members of the family to see would work. The point is, be transparent and communicative. Operate like you want every person in your partnership to be successful and you want this thing—your relationship, your marriage—to also be successful.

Keep in mind that what may be important to you may not be important to your spouse. When planning that special day, maybe one person has more thoughts and feelings about the importance of seafood canapés and what the last dance song should be. You cannot expect your spouse to think and feel exactly like you do. Sure, maybe you have tons in common or maybe you could not be more different (after all, opposites attract). Regardless of your dynamic, once you have communicated what you need/want, you cannot expect your spouse to feel the same way. Your #1 on the list of tasks may be your partner’s #25 and that’s okay. All you can do is work through those differences by explaining why something is important or non-negotiable to you. Understanding is the goal, not necessarily agreement.

You’ll Need a Little More than Just Best Wishes
At this point, some say that it is easier to end a marriage than it is to stay together. Getting a divorce is complicated and costly but it is easier and has less shame attached than it did in the past. Yet despite the less-than-stellar odds, people continue to exchange wedding vows. There is still something very attractive (see aforementioned billion dollar industry) to that commitment and the idea of freely declaring your devotion to one another that has continued the idea of marriage and wedded bliss. Regardless of the varying dynamics, somehow a couple manages to compromise and communicate about what to do on their special day. And both people show up and try to be their best selves. So, whether you are about to get married or you’ve been in matrimony for decades, try to put some of that effort from planning the wedding into the marriage. Maybe get a third party like a couples counselor to help you on your journey. Marriage takes work and communication and compromise. But if you and your spouse can continue to exchange your thoughts and feelings just like you did during the planning process and on your big day, you will be celebrating wedding anniversaries for years to come!