One of the hardest adjustments couples must make when they marry is to start thinking of themselves as “we” instead of “I.” Before marriage, a date simply means two people agreeing to commit to one another for the duration of the date. No matter how good or bad the date goes, there’s always an end in sight. If the date is a success and the couple continues to see each other, their commitment may grow to be where they date each other exclusively, or maybe even move in together.
But when couples marry, it’s naïve to assume their commitment levels are automatically going to be totally in sync. For example, many engaged or newly married couples sometimes find it difficult to decide exactly how much time they should be together versus how much they should spend apart with friends. “This can be very difficult for couples to talk about and often causes disagreements even prior to marriage,” says Melbourne-based marriage counselor Julia Nasser. “An engaged or newly married man, for instance, may suddenly feel the need to spend time apart from his bride (even though he loves her dearly) just so he still feels like ‘his own person.’ He may even encourage his bride to schedule more time with her friends so that he has time to see his own.”
It’s fine for couples to socialize without their partners, as long as they work together to find common ground. Both partners must feel comfortable with how much time they each spend with their friends to avoid resentment and jealousy. If one spouse thinks he or she is always the one who has to give in, trust erodes to the point at which his or her feelings of security eventually shatter. On the other hand, if couples talk to each other openly and honestly (without the cloud of judgment) about everything from spending time with friends to spending money on a new house, then over time trust builds and the couple creates a foundation of security and emotional strength that not only stands the test of time, it stands up to adversity, as well.
In order to achieve this kind of marriage, couples have to commit to giving up many aspects of the “single life” in favor of working on a new “married life” together. However, this shouldn’t be too much of a challenge for those who truly want to be married. “Unlike when couples were dating, a married partner has the right to know the daily plans and activities of their spouse,” says Julia Nasser in her book When Harry Married Sally, a Guide to a Successful Marriage. “They should also expect that their spouse would want to share their thoughts, feelings, likes/dislikes, personal history and dreams for the future with each other.”
The benefit of being honest with your partner is that it not only lets him or her love you for who you are, it also paves the way for the two of you to make intelligent decisions that take each other’s feelings into account. Such considerations build mutual respect and trust in a relationship, making couples feel secure and protected in their marriages.
Achieving (and maintaining) mutual respect and trust are also the tools couple need to keep their bonds strong even after they’ve been married for a while. Think back to the early stages of your relationship. Most likely nobody had to persuade you and your partner to spend time together. Giving your partner your undivided attention was probably the thing you looked forward to most. But over time married couples can fall into the trap of being physically together but emotionally apart. Careers, kids, in-laws, finances, school, and other married life realities can become so demanding that couples end up without any emotional energy left over for each other.
All couples experience setbacks and make mistakes, sometimes even to the point where trust is broken. It’s during these times it’s most important for couples to talk to each other, even though they may have a hard time (in the moment) constructively expressing how they feel.
But as long as couples respectfully communicate and take individual responsibility for their actions trust can be repaired. And when you trust your partner, you feel safe and confident in your relationship (even when your partner is off catching up with old friends).