Dear Rosie & Sherry,
I am a 35-year-old woman. I was single a long time, and finally got married this year. Your column made me realize how commitment-phobic I was, and still am.
My question is this: Does it ever go away? I was terrified when I decided to get married. I didn't want my life to change. I liked the comfort of living alone. I decided to get married because I felt it was a more "normal life" than being single, and because I didn't want to succumb to my cowardice.
Anyway, I've started getting used to being married and to a degree losing the things I used to enjoy -- i.e. staying up late just to read or watch old TV movies or talking to friends. Now I think I might be pregnant. My husband is thrilled and I'm terrified. I feel like now I'll never have another night's sleep, while spending my days feeling like every last nerve is shot. I imagine a house filled with dirt, noise and yelling -- as I often see.
I feel like I've gone from having a life to having no life -- and now I'll be serving a life sentence. Maybe there is something to this fear of commitment. Maybe some people aren't meant to have families. Could you advise me on how to get into a more positive frame of mind?
Would you be surprised if we told you that the feelings you expressed in your letter are typical of most people who get married past their mid-20s? In fact, feelings such as these get stronger the longer a person is single. Think about it -- as much as you want to share your life with someone you care about, you also had a pretty nice lifestyle when you were single. You enjoyed the freedom that comes with being on your own, and it's hard to get used to sharing your life with another person -- as much as you like being with him.
Every newlywed has to make many adjustments and get accustomed to their spouse's rhythms, while balancing their own individual needs. The problem is that nobody warns you ahead of time how hard this can be. So, when your friends tell you how great it is that you are married, and you smile and accept their good wishes, part of you feels terribly guilty because of your ambivalence.
One of the first ways to cope better with the changes you are going through is to stop feeling guilty. Your feelings are normal and there is nothing wrong with having them. You'll probably experience a lot of mixed emotions and "marriage growing pains" for the next several months, but it definitely gets better. Gradually, you'll see that there are a lot of advantages to concentrating on "us" more than on "me" (although you've still got to leave room for some "me"), and you'll realize that the trade-off for some personal freedom is well worth it.
There are a number of other things you can do to ease your "transition" to married life:
1) Give yourself credit for each adjustment you make. The first year or so of marriage is hard work, and even though others won't realize how hard you are working, you will! Pat yourself on the back once in a while and feel good about the progress you are making.
2) Remember that everyone who has a full life makes certain trade-offs. You can't have everything, but you can look for the best in what you do have.
3) Develop a daily routine that you feel good about. This may mean adding some exercise to your day, or getting involved in an extra-curricular activity you enjoy. Or, it may mean giving yourself 15 minutes of personal time every day to read a chapter of a book you like, watching a TV show by yourself, painting your nails, or chatting online. Choose something that makes you happy -- and whenever you feel a little down, it will give you a much-needed lift.
4) Be sure to keep the romance going in your marriage. This is a lot easier said than done. Most couples gradually become very involved in the minutiae of their day-to-day lives and unwittingly let romance and emotional intimacy slide into the background. If it turns out that you are pregnant, parenthood can accelerate the process. The couple sometimes becomes so focused on their sole as parents, that they neglect their role as husband and wife.
However, it doesn't have to be this way. Every couple can continue to "court" each other after the wedding. And if they have stopped "courting," they can start it again right now.
Give yourselves a few hours alone every week, with a date that involves just the two of you. Meet for lunch, breakfast, dinner, a movie, or even a walk in the park. Don't talk about stressful subjects such as money, in-laws or disciplining your children. Keep "dating" even after you have children, and do it even if getting a baby sitter is a hassle or a financial difficulty.
Another way to keep a little romance in your lives is to touch base with each other during the day. This can be an evening ritual of catching up on the day's activities for 10 minutes before dinner, or a daily telephone call during the work day, even if just to mention something interesting that occurred or simply to say, "I love you."
5) Keep up your friendships by making time in your life for your friends. Of course, some friendships will change because of your marriage, and it may be challenging to find the right balance between friends and marriage, but it is important for you (and your husband) to have friends of your own. If your friends innocently say, "Oh, marriage looks wonderful on you," or "You must be so happy," don't feel you have to put on a false face. It's perfectly okay to say, "Thanks. I do like marriage, but it's an adjustment!"
6) Try not to make any more major changes in your life over the next several months -- like changing jobs or moving to a new home. Marriage and the possibility of a baby are enough!
7) Finally, to help feel better about your decision to marry, we suggest a great book, "The Case For Marriage - Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier and Better Off Financially," by Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher.
Wishing you a lifetime of marital bliss,
Rosie & Sherry