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4 Ways Marriage Radically Changed My Life (and Is Totally Different From Dating)

Believe me, this isn't just a piece of paper from the City Hall.


Art Credit: Taylor McCutchan

My husband and I fell in love as bright-eyed, naive 18-year-old kids. Throughout six years of dating, we went through so much together: new friends; new city; the change of living away from home; the deaths of dear grandparents; the stress and excitement of first jobs and internships; and the bitter disappointment of dreams that fell through. Our shared experiences, which had just as much potential to tear us apart as bring us together, ended up serving as the glue that made our connection unbreakable. Eventually, we decided it was time to call things like they were, and we got married.

We weren’t expecting radical changes to our existing relationship. I figured that because we already knew each other so well, the novelty of marriage would really be found in the changes that living together for the first time would bring.

Boy, was I wrong.

I was completely unprepared for and stunned by the way marriage changed our relationship and changed my life. The truth is, I barely even noticed the logistical changes of living together because I was reeling from the psychological, emotional, and physical impact that comes from permanently welding your life to the life of another person in marriage.

It’s pretty difficult to describe the exact feeling—it’s one of those “you had to be there” kind of things—but I can share four concrete changes that marriage enabled, in a way that dating for a long time or just living together never could.

We have skin in the game.

My husband and I had heard that marriage was about giving yourself completely, but we never understood the extent of what that meant until we faced accepting utter, permanent dependence on another human being. When you date, you get very used to sharing with each other. But sharing is not the same as depending on each other. Simply living together and “sharing” your lives implies there is a piece of yourself that doesn’t belong to the other person yet: You still have things that you have to choose to give. In marriage, there is nothing held back. You take on everything about that person as your own, and vice versa.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett allegedly invented the phrase “skin in the game” to describe executives who use their own money to invest in the stock of the companies they are running. There is no better show of confidence in the future of a company than the CEO being willing to stake his or her personal assets on it.

By getting married, my husband and I have skin in the game to the 100th power. What kind of personal assets have we put on the table in doing this marriage thing? Our careers, our dreams for ourselves, our physical well-being, our personal reputations—we’ve even put our future children at stake for the sake of this union.

It sounds daunting, but with high risk comes high reward, and our reward is astronomical. Putting everything on the line for one another leaves us with a profound sense of peace and security. The more we have to lose, the more we stand to gain by fighting for each other, for us.

There’s no intimacy like married intimacy.

And I’m not just talking about sex. Once married, my husband and I experienced intimacy in a way I had never experienced before. It’s true that before we got married I knew what kind of socks he wore, I cut his hair, and I could recite his every pet peeve and idiosyncrasy. But being married to him left me in awe of the raw, vulnerable—but at the same time wholly secure—sense of intimacy I experienced with this new permanence in our relationship.

Think about the people in your life with whom you have a permanent relationship: parents, siblings, grandparents, and others. Even when estranged and broken, these relationships never cease to exist—they can’t go away. Your mom is always your mom; your brother is always your brother. This is a little bit of what you experience when you marry someone: You’re establishing a new relationship based on this same kind of permanence.

This is a beautiful gift. It is permanence like this that gives you the freedom to bare the deepest parts of your soul to another. All of a sudden, you feel completely comfortable sharing makeup-less, blubbering, beyond irrational conversations with your spouse at 2 a.m. in your far-from-cute pajamas. In fact, little moments like this have become the most cherished parts of our marriage because, let’s face it: when your spouse has seen you at your worst, your most vulnerable, the equivalent of your mom’s dirty-diaper stories, and still chooses to love you? That’s powerful stuff. This kind of intimacy is so powerful that I look back on our dating relationship and laugh a little to think that we thought we knew each other. Knowing each other’s thoughts, feelings, morning routines, and bad habits brings you together—but it’s nothing compared to knowing that that person is a permanent part of your life.

We are players in the ultimate team sport.

I am a type A, challenge-oriented person. Everything, and I mean everything, is a competition to me. Before we got married, this always caused a bit of tension in our relationship. If he got a better grade, a little salary bump, or a new opportunity, I would feel the bite of that competitive bug, and it wouldn’t go away until I had one-upped him at something else. I loved him, of course, and I would be happy for him when things went well, but there was always an underlying element of comparison.

But after we got married this sense of competition completely disappeared. All of a sudden, whenever my husband succeeded at something, I actually felt like I succeeded at something, too. I could rely on him to score for our team. Also, now that we're a team, we can choose to divvy up the tasks in our household according to our strengths instead of competing with one another. Because we're batting for the same team, we focus our attention on finding ways to score the maximum amount of runs as a team.

We are starting something new together.

Another huge change I experienced after getting married was an overwhelming sense of creating something new. All of a sudden, “home” changed from my parents’ house—which I had always considered my base even though I hadn’t lived there for several years—to the new, unfurnished, run-down apartment we rented when we first got married. It was our first home and our first mark on the world as a new family. I had an irresistible urge to start establishing our traditions, our style of communication, and our schedule. My husband felt the same. These things had never existed before in our dating relationship. We had enjoyed sharing each other’s lifestyle differences and had never felt the need to reach an agreement and make them ours.

We’ve now nearly made it through our first year of marriage, and let me tell you, when we celebrate our first anniversary we will be celebrating so much more than just spending a year living together as a couple. We will be celebrating our creation of something that never existed before. Something that now exists so permanently that even if we had to live apart, we would never cease to feel that emotional, psychological, and physical connection of being married.