Our grandparents know a lot of things. Chief among them is one of the few things they don't really discuss much, but something I'm sure they'd be able to dispense good advice about if they were ever asked. Marriage, as they discovered, is an adjustment.
In their day, marriage, like the culture in general, was quite different than it is now. Very often people who had barely exchanged a kiss on the front veranda suddenly found themselves occupying the same house and the same bed. It must have been quite a shock to the system...being single and innocent and still more or less someone's daughter or son one day and the next being magically transformed into a spouse, sharing every intimate detail of your life with someone who had been little more than an acquaintance the day before.
It was rarely easy. Wedding nights were often traumatic, given the young couple's lack of worldly experience, and the weeks following the wedding weren't any easier. Many young women went back to their parents' house in tears, unable to cope with their new wifely responsibilities, only to be turned squarely around and pushed back towards their new role in their new life. Many young men felt overwhelmed by their new responsibilities and by their new restrictions, given their newly elevated and more mature status of husband and head of the household. The first year or two of these marriages were often uncomfortable, dismal even, until the couple settled in to each other and began the routines that would define their married life. There was little divorce in those days, and so most couples struggled through their initial strife quietly, putting on a brave face for friends and family. There was love, of course, and sweet, romantic times, as there is in any new love, but a lot of angst was hidden behind those lace doilies.
We're a lot more experienced now, as a culture, and few of us are still innocents when our wedding day comes. We think, therefore, that we're immune to the adjustments our grandparents had to make. We know our spouses better before marriage than our grandparents often did even afterwards, and in our era of "communication" and "dialoguing", we're a lot more expressive about our fears and concerns than they ever were. This makes us think that moving in together or getting married will be a seamless blending of our old, single lives with our new, married one. It's understandable then, why we can become so miserable when reality shows us that it isn't.
Marriage is an adjustment. Bride magazines rarely tell you this, since they're more concerned with convincing you that you need a huge wedding, but the reality for most couples is that marriage is not the smooth and seamless transition they think it is. Soap operas, movies, even our own expectations about what happens after the "I do" all lead us to believe that we're just going on a little vacation of sorts, or doing this fun thing called wedlock where we get to wear rings and call each other husband and wife. But the reality is that marriage results in a profound psychological change - two people who were lovers or sweethearts before are now a family of two, promising to share every aspect of their future as part of a couple. Many people are quite prepared by television and movies for the "for better" part of the marriage vows - the great sex, the fun times together, the comfort and the companionship - but are completely unprepared for the "for worse" part - the struggles, the challenges, the serious decisions that sometimes have to be made - and so believe that the only good part of marriage is the very beginning, when life hasn't had time to catch up to you yet and rain on your proverbial parade.
I believe, however, that this is precisely when the troubles come. They are usually just overlooked because you're so infatuated with each other you take the pain with the pleasure and call it all passion.
Your husband will do things that Cosmo would advise you to dump him over, your wife will say things that your friends will shake their heads at and say "why are you putting up with that ?" You will stay up until three a.m. arguing over something stupid, you will slam doors and throw dishes and cry your eyes out wondering if maybe you've made the biggest mistake of your life. You will discover differences of opinion and different ways of doing things, you will uncover personal habits you never knew existed before the wedding. You will argue over how the laundry should be done, or about who should have won the presidential election, you will come to dislike the people he's known since high school or you will begin to hate her obnoxious sister who always makes fun of you in front of the family. On and on it goes, a full year or more of obstacles to overcome while in between you try to find time to remember to be in love.
All of this makes marriage sound horrible. It isn't. But you must understand that you are adjusting to a new life with a new, live-in, 24 hour-a-day best friend who is just as imperfect as you are. Very few friendships can survive intense togetherness - just ask any two girlfriends who "somehow" drifted apart after taking a two week vacation together - but a happy marriage requires that you make your "friendship" survive, with patience and understanding, and faith in yourselves.
That's why many marriages get better as time goes on, not worse. The couple learn how to fit in with each other, and how to live together, the routine of their lives gradually adjusts so that neither one is quite the same as they were before, but together they are comfortable with the changes that have come about. Gradually they learn to predict each other's reactions to things, they learn to avoid things they know will trigger bad moods or fits of pique, they learn to smooth over arguments more quickly because they are no longer concerned with being right, they are now concerned with simply being in love. They learn to trust that whatever arguments or problems they have are minor bumps in the road, not marriage-ending catastrophes, and that they did choose wisely in deciding to marry this person. They learn to value their marriage more than they did in the early days; time proves to them that marriage is much more than just a "piece of paper", it is a precious gift in their lives that they want to cherish and enjoy. This is when the "honeymoon" truly begins - as soon as the uncertainty goes away, as soon as the conviction that you are in this for life becomes real, as soon as you wake up next to him or her after a terrible fight and know, with certainty, that no fight will ever diminish the feelings you have for each other. That kind of honeymoon can, and does, last forever.
Although I am a strong supporter of divorce, I maintain that no couple should consider divorcing until at least a year has passed, barring obvious grounds like abuse or adultery. If you're simply having a tough time dealing with each other or living together, don't rush to divorce or separation just yet. You may be completely incompatible and will shake your head years from now and ask yourself what had ever possessed you to marry him...if that's so, you will find out soon enough. But if your troubles are not due to incompatibility but rather to the adjustment period, it's worth waiting out the storm. Your marriage will be stronger for it but more importantly, so will you. You will have learned something valuable about yourself - you will have learned to trust your judgment. You will have learned that you are mature enough and thoughtful enough not to fly off in a rage and abandon a marriage as soon as it gets a little difficult. You will have learned that even if, in the worst case scenario, this marriage doesn't last, that you are capable of making another one last, and that marriage itself isn't flawed or doomed or out of your reach.
We ought to take a lesson from our grandparents. If we have any doubts about what makes a marriage last a lifetime, I can think of no better person to ask than one who has lived in one for fifty or sixty years, and who still holds the hand of their mate with a wink and wistful smile. Hang in there, they'd say. It only gets better from here.