**This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by two close friends, who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.
Conventional wisdom says that marriage is a union of two people who love each other and decide to spend the rest of their lives together. But the reality is sometimes marriage complicates things in an otherwise happy relationship. That was the case for my friends "Bill" and "Mary," who were together for five years before they exchanged vows.
"All of our friends were already married," Bill said. "And people kept asking Mary why I hadn't popped the question yet. It was a lot of pressure."
Though they loved one another and were sure they wanted to spend the rest of their days together, marriage was not high on their list of priorities, at least not at first.
"I definitely wanted a ring," Mary admitted. "But I also wanted us to be sure that marriage was what we both wanted before we committed. We spent a lot of time discussing it, our expectations, and what marriage meant to each of us."
In the end, they decided that marriage was something they wanted to do together, but things quickly changed after they walked down the aisle. "The smallest things triggered an argument," Bill said. "It was like we had to relearn how to communicate with each other."
Mary agreed, "It was crazy because we were already living together, so I couldn't understand why getting married complicated our relationship."
"Getting married ruined us," Bill conceded. "We just couldn't make it work."
The pair divorced after two turbulent years of matrimony, but neither wanted to leave the other. "It may sound crazy, but we didn't want to be apart," Mary said. "We still don't."
After finalizing the divorce, Mary and Bill decided to live separately together. "Another condo in our building went on the market, so we bought it. Now she has her own space, and I have mine."
When I asked why they couldn't stay married and live apart, Bill said, "For some reason that we may never fully understand, the marriage didn’t feel right for us. But now that we live separately, we have the time and space to be the best versions of ourselves."
Mary added, "We still see each other every day, but we don't have to worry about the little things that used to cause arguments. We're both happier, and our relationship is stronger than when we were married."
The Newlywed Personality Shift
Once upon a time, people got married because it was expected of them — it was almost a societal obligation, and in some ways, it still is. But nowadays, couples are taking more time to consider if marriage is right for them and their relationship. And sometimes, as was the case for Bill and Mary, they find that marriage complicates things.
A study by the University of George (2017) tracked 169 heterosexual couples and found that during their first 18 months of marriage, the couples experienced significant personality changes.
This transformation in how couples interact with one another is what I call the newlywed personality shift. It’s a phenomenon seen in couples from all walks of life, regardless of family history, socioeconomic class, or even cultural background.
Though the newlywed personality shift can be a source of tension in relationships, it's also a normal part of the marriage process. It doesn't have to lead to divorce — many couples adjust to their new roles and expectations and continue to build strong relationships together.
“I think that relationships, especially romantic relationships, have evolved continuously. I mean, committed relationships used to be primarily an economic enterprise. Then they became a romantic enterprise. Now they are an identity economy in which we look for people to help us become the best version of ourselves. We turn to our relationships to give us things that we used to receive from religion and communal structures.” — Esther Perel, Relationship Therapist
Marriage Changes Everything
Neither Bill nor Mary were prepared for the energetic shift in their relationship following their nuptials. "We were both different people after we got married," Mary said.
There is a palpable shift that occurs when couples become husband and wife. Everything from how they communicate with one another to how they view the world is impacted by marriage. This new dynamic can take time to adjust to.
Marriage changes everything.
It's a significant life change that requires couples to learn new ways of interacting with one another if they want their relationship to thrive.
Bill and Mary found that getting divorced and living separately was the best choice for their relationship. And while it's not for everyone, it has worked well for them.
“We are happy and divorced,” Mary declared, “and we wouldn’t change a thing.”
It’s an unconventional arrangement, but it works for Bill and Mary. And for couples who find themselves in a similar situation, it may be worth exploring.
The good news is that marriage doesn’t have to mean the end of a relationship. Sometimes, it just means finding a new way to make it work.
Did you notice a shift in your relationship after you got married? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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