My husband and I lived together for about 18 months before we tied the knot. You can call it cohabitation, a warmup, pre-gaming, or even living in sin, but no matter what name you put on it, things change when you become Mr. and Mrs.
Marriage is different than being two people who share the same bed and the same address. Cohabitating couples may say stuff like “a piece of paper isn’t going to change our relationship,” but I’m here to tell you: things do change.
Here are five reasons (that have nothing to do with kids — parenthood is a whole different story) why married life is different than living together …
1. You’re really family now
There’s a difference between your boyfriend’s relatives and your in-laws. The difference may not rear its head right away, but marriage brings a sense of permanence and obligation when it comes to family; love her or not, your boyfriend’s mom and your mother-in-law are not the same woman.
There’s a responsibility that comes with absorbing family problems, especially as parents age. And yes, there may also be joy in expanding your family circle, but the permanence adds another layer of complexity … no matter how crazy you are about your in-laws (or how crazy your in-laws are, you choose).
2. The gross-out factor no longer exists
When we were just living together, my now-husband and I made an attempt to keep our less-than-sexy bathroom habits under wraps, or at least to be discreet about them. The announcement of “I might be in here for a while” might’ve meant I was clipping my toenails and plucking stray chin hairs. Maybe it meant I was regretting the tacos with extra peppers I ate for lunch. He knew better than to ask.
After almost seven years of marriage, things like toenail clipping and flossing take place in the full view of my husband. Plucking chin hairs and (I shudder to even admit this) neck and shoulder hairs is often a “couple’s activity.” Don’t judge. I’m not as flexible as I used to be and that hair that springs up on my shoulder is just not allowed to hang around once I spot it.
And while I steer clear of the john when my honey tells me he “might be a while,” I’m no longer shocked if he gives me the play-by-play of his intestinal aerobics after the fact. Truthfully, I’m not even grossed out. Even more truthfully, I’m the one describing my bowel explosions at least 50% of the time. The truth is, marriage is gross in a way that cohabitation just isn’t.
3. Little things annoy you more
Four words: toilet paper roll orientation. Enough said.
Seriously, bad habits like sloppiness or that noise your dear one makes with his tongue clicking against the roof of his mouth when he’s thinking really hard about something might seem quirky, endearing, or at least tolerable when you’re living together.
But once you know you’re in it for life? Those same habits make you want to scream obscenities.
In fact, you probably do scream obscenities (or at least give him a “three finger salute” behind his back). Your spouse probably reciprocates when you do whatever thing you do that annoys him … and yes, there is something you do that annoys him.
4. There’s a lot more paperwork and conversations about money
There is so much bureaucracy that goes along with the legal institution of marriage: joint tax returns, piles and piles of insurance paperwork, wills, living wills, joint bank accounts, joint credit cards, mortgages, coordinating with another human being about a budget spreadsheet, discussing Roth vs. traditional IRAs, dozens upon dozens of “I need your signature on this, honey” kinds of moments … whew, it’s exhausting just writing about it.
Talking about tangible things in terms of “we” and “ours” instead of “yours” and “mine” is a fundamental part of marriage that differs from just living together.
I know that some couples pool resources before they wed and that does make things a little less complicated after the wedding (unless someone changes their name, then it’s still complicated) and some people still keep separate accounts after marriage, but paperwork and money will be a factor — or a headache — for married couples in an entirely new way than they were before the wedding.
5. Society’s perception of you will change
You can poo-poo that piece of paper all day long, but society’s perception of “my husband” is different than “my boyfriend” or “the man I’m living with.” You might think marriage won’t change your feelings or your relationship, but it will change the way the world at large treats your partnership.
Hospitals will routinely allow a husband to be by a spouse’s side (and vice-versa) before or after a medical procedure, but if you’re not legally wed you may have to fight for the same privilege with your partner. When my (then) fiancé was on his way to Afghanistan, I said my goodbyes to him at security check-in. The airline rep told us that if we’d been married, they could have granted special access for me to go through security and wait with him at the gate. We could have lied, I guess, but we didn’t. Right or not, married couples are treated more seriously.
I’m not making assumptions about the strength of any couple’s bond or speculating about their commitment level when I say this, but marriage just feels different. The shift in feelings and attitudes is subtle but it’s there. Maybe it’s the “’till death do us part” verbiage or the way we put a deposit on next summer’s vacation rental without wondering if we’ll still be together in 15 months. Maybe the difference is elusive, undefined and hard to put into words, but being married is different than living together.More On