Engaged and Becoming a "We"
You're engaged! And suddenly you realize it's about more than wearing a ring. It's more than choosing the music and the flowers. You are in the process of becoming part of a "we." Even though by day you are bombarded by the choices you have to make (which ring, venue, dress, flowers, food, photographer are right for your special day), in the quiet of the evenings you may be contemplating the reality and the highs and lows of becoming a married person.
There are definite phases in the wedding process, all of which lead to being altered at the altar. Not everyone will experience these phases in the same way, but recognizing that they exist will make your life a little easier. It's OK to experience some fears and doubts. After all, it is normal to feel fear when jumping into the unknown (in this case, marriage). In the weeks and months ahead, do your best to stay in the moment rather than let your imagination run wild with thoughts of the future. Do your best to embrace the upcoming "new." And remember that no amount of frenetic racing to make all of the "right" decisions will put your mind and heart at rest. Rather, this adjustment in identity takes time and will happen within you at your own pace.
All of us have varying degrees of flexibility when it comes to change, and the process of falling in love, becoming engaged, getting married, and then living life as a couple certainly alters the landscape of your world. Moreover, since every courtship and every wedding is different, it's not easy to create a general guide to each of the various stages. There are some commonalities, however: You are being asked to make a huge change in your life; you are being asked to make a lifetime commitment; you are adjusting to becoming a member of someone else's family; and you have been thrust into the center of attention while experiencing a major change in identity. There will be days when you feel as though you are compromising a lot of what makes you the person someone wants to marry.
Take it from us: It is virtually impossible to glide through it flawlessly. Don't expect to. Do expect ups and downs. Along the way you will find out a lot about yourself, your fiance, and about the family that raised you and the one you are marrying into. Your challenge is to stay true to yourself and at the same time remain open to what lies ahead. Becoming a part of a "we" is a process of growth.
Part of the new we is setting up a home together. If you're not already living together, this can be a major adventure. It is only when you are both in one place that you can truly begin to build your life together, creating your own rituals and routines as a committed couple. Whether you do it before or after the wedding, there are issues to be addressed. If you have some growing pains with this (if you sometimes get on each other's nerves, if you suddenly find habits annoying in your partner, ones that didn't bother you before), it doesn't mean you're not meant to be together. It is simply part of negotiating as you share the same space. Setting up the home, room by room, is one thing. Maintaining your personal space, making your own decisions, and keeping yourselves happy both separately and together takes some work. Here are a few of the common hurdles that arise when merging two lives under one roof, along with some basic troubleshooting tips:
• Are you moving into his existing space or is he moving into your sacred home? Remember that it is important that neither partner feels like a permanent guest. Make sure that both of you are reflected in your home. This may mean adding new decorative elements, rearranging the furniture, reorganizing the kitchen cupboards, or changing the message on the answering machine and the name on the mailbox. Both partners need to be sensitive that these changes are not always easy. Giving up coveted shelf space can be irritating, but the overall message is "I'm happy you're with me."
• You may be a "shabby chic" type and your intended a minimalist. Don't panic--this can be a good
thing! Most couples realize they need to compromise. You may forgo that bright yellow bedspread while he passes on the black one. When you are conscious of another person, you may find that each of you is perfectly happy with the tan duvet cover and cream sheets. In the end, the ideal is that your surroundings reflect the tastes and personalities of both of you.
• Expect to make adjustments regarding your personal space. For example, should you share a phone line or have two? You need to find ways of balancing your separate lives while building a life together. Keep in mind that sharing the same space doesn't mean you have to breathe every molecule of oxygen that your partner does. You can and should allow for personal space and personal time. Closing the door every once in a while doesn't mean it's over, so long as you express "I love you, and I need some time just for me."
• Communication has never been more important. Habits such as leaving stockings in the shower, clothes on the floor, dishes in the sink, or crumbs on the counter can all be subtle irritants at the start and become major dramas. Try to address them as they come up and not be insulted or insulting. Just because you've both been living your own way doesn't mean you can't--or shouldn't--modify your behavior. That said, remember that you were not put on this earth to change your partner. The goal is to get along without making the other person feel diminished because his ways are different from yours.
• Whether it's planning the wedding or doing the dishes, sometimes each partner has different ideas about what constitutes a division of labor. Sometimes one partner will take over all the daily chores, with the understanding that the other partner supports their life together in different ways. This arrangement may not work for you, and if you feel that the responsibilities are better shared so that neither partner feels resentful, then make a plan. From the beginning, make sure those roles do not become your rules. Discuss what will be fair for the two of you and watch one another to make sure you stay on track.
• Suddenly your finances are no longer just about you. Will you have separate accounts, or will you open a joint one? Who pays for what and how is this decided? Are necessities to one of you viewed as extravagances by the other? When couples decided to get engaged, questions of finance always arise. These questions can be exacerbated throughout the wedding process (more on this in Chapter 11). It's worth sitting down at the outset to discuss your financial situation and priorities and to set initial boundaries.
Moving in together is just one of the things you may both have to adjust to once you're engaged. But when all is said and done, these compromises and changes will strengthen you as a couple. Throughout this time, be patient with each other, keep the lines of communication open, and focus on the real joys of being together, and particularly on the pleasure of waking up next to your best friend every morning.
THE END OF PRIVACYDear Dr. Dale,
I am concerned about moving in with my fiance. I really love my privacy and am afraid that when we live together, I will have to give it up. We cannot afford a large apartment and there won't be a place for me to go to be by myself. This is a big deal for me, and I don't want my fiance to think I don't want to be with him. It is just that sometimes I need some private space.
Private time to be with one's thoughts, feelings, books, music is essential to anyone's happiness, and yet most new couples give this up. They feel they should--and should want to--spend every minute together. But if more couples paid attention to this very primal need to have time alone to refresh and restore, we are certain that there would be many more content marriages. Perhaps you and your fiance can arrange some time each week when one of you can leave the apartment for a few hours and you can look forward to this time without feeling that either of you is being rejected. Planning this can help ensure that each of you have the time alone that you need and that you will reunite with your partner feeling more at peace. Remember: Time for yourself benefits you as a couple as well as individually.
WHEN DO I LET HIM SEE THE "REAL ME"?Dear Dr. Dale,
I enjoy looking my best--for me and for my fiance. I dress nicely, and I make sure I am regularly "brushed and buffed." I have manicures, pedicures, facials, and weekly hair treatments. But I also love to hang around the house in sweats, without makeup and mousse. My fiance has made it clear that he loves the finished product but that he has no desire to see the "behind the scenes" stuff, and once he caught me with a facial mask on and was not happy. He only wants the perfect result. Since we are not yet married and we are establishing routines that we will probably keep after our marriage, I am at a loss as to what to do: Do I change myself and keep makeup and perfection as my constant goals, or do I stay the same and let him get used to the "real" me? I feel funny even asking you, because I imagine you saying, "He should accept you as you are." Even though I think that's right, I don't know how to make him do that.
The part of you that enjoys primping and pampering needs a break--it is hard work, and time consuming. Gently let your fiance know this, but in a fun way: Involve him in some pampering, and show him how much sexier and healthier he looks after one of your facials, or a massage. Have him slather the mud all over you, which can be a whole lot of fun for both of you. And remember, you can still keep some things secret: Mystery is very sexy, so leave him out of the loop on some of your rituals. You need to decide what is to be shared and what isn't. For some women, they have their partners participate in their grooming while others keep it all private.
The more important aspect of your question is, however, that it seems your fiance expects you to be a Barbie doll. By that we mean he wants and expects you to be "perfect" and "on" whenever he is around. This is pure fantasy. Is he hanging around in his three-piece suit? We doubt it. Get yourself some comfortable sweats and be a normal person. Why should you live with such pressure to always appear "perfect"? If he is willing to see you as the person you are, without your face paint, then go for it. We shudder to think about you jumping out of bed before he wakes up to put on your makeup and comb your hair so that the first image he sees is you looking perfect. If he only wants the "perfect result," then we suggest he live alone with a collection of air-brushed magazine images and you find someone who appreciates the real woman behind the makeup.
MINE, HIS, OURSDear Dr. Dale,
My fiancé and I bought the most adorable house together, and I couldn't be happier. The problem is that this is our starter house and it's smaller than we would have liked. We lived apart before, so we both have couches, tables, and beds--everything we might need. But I'm not crazy about his taste, and he says that he thinks my things are too girly. We don't have room for everything, so do you have any suggestions on how to choose what we use without hurting anyone's feelings?
If you can afford to, put some of your items in storage, or loan them to friends until you move to a larger home. If you cannot, you will need to decide which items you want to give to charity or sell. Each of you, privately, should make a list of the items you can live without. On another list, put your most treasured or cherished items. Compare notes. See where and if your furniture can work well together and be open to the idea of making any decorative changes that can make some pieces work better when they are merged with your partner's (covering a table, changing a lamp shade, buying a slipcover for a chair).
Living with someone involves compromise as well as respect. This includes being respectful of their taste and/or attachments to their things. You may not like them, but you may find that you can live with them because they mean a lot to your spouse. Whatever you do, avoid casting aspersions on your partner regarding his things. And once you merge your things together, you will probably find that as taste changes over time, yours may combine to make a new taste--one that expresses the two of you as a couple.
NOT READY TO MOVE, NOT READY TO STAYDear Dr. Dale,
I'm getting married next year, but I have already "half" moved in with my fiance into our new house, and I'm really happy and excited with my new life. I say "half" because, although I spend most of my time there, I still sleep at my parents' home during my working week. I'm twenty-four and I feel really guilty about leaving my parents. I am an only child and have always been very close to them. We do everything together, and for some reason I feel that I am abandoning them too soon!
Sometimes I think I'm crazy, as it's my life and I need to get on with it and be independent. My fiance tries to help me with this, but it breaks my heart to hear my dad say, "What are we going to do without you when you've gone?" I also have a very close relationship with my mother, and I know she is sad that I am "growing up," but we are trying to help each other face this transition. What can I do to ease this feeling? Is it even normal? Help!You are not alone
. More brides and grooms than those who admit to it have difficulties leaving their parents' home. The transition from single person to married person is filled with challenge and fear. Your parents know you and love you and accept you as you are. Building a life with another person, no matter how much you want to, is a venture into the unknown. For most people that means taking a risk.
Separation takes time and practice--especially when you have had as close a relationship as you seem to with your parents. It does not mean, however, that you do not move along with your life. As you move toward your wedding day, try spending fewer nights at your parents' house, so that by the time you are married you are living with you fiance full-time. Work on shifting your self-perception from being primarily a daughter to being primarily a wife. Remember above all that you are not "abandoning" them. When your father says "What will we do without you when you are gone?" you can respond with, "I know, Dad, it will be a big change for all of us--but we will adjust."
Excerpted from Wedding Sanity Savers by Dr. Dale Atkins and Annie Gilbar. Copyright © 2005 by Dr. Dale Atkins. Excerpted by permission of Broadway Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.