Before I was even married, I began forming answers to the question I anticipated hearing as soon as I returned from my honeymoon—"How's married life? Feel any different?" I preemptively came up with a response laced with a hint of sarcasm. "Well, now when we're sitting on the couch watching bad reality TV," I imagined I'd say, "we're both wearing rings." After all, we had been together four-and-a-half years before we exchanged vows, and we'd spent nearly three of those sharing a 400-square-foot apartment. We split bills, divided household chores, spent holidays with each other's families, and had known for quite some time that this was our forever. I assumed none of that would feel all that different once we shared a last name.
I was wrong. It was a small moment, but on the first day of our honeymoon, I looked over at my husband and it clicked: We are legally family now. And that realization has become a through-line in our life. While day-to-day much is the same—we still marathon West Wing, grocery shop together on weekdays, and have lengthy debates about what to have for dinner—it does feel like signing our names on that marriage license made us an even stronger team, cementing the fact that any problems that might arise would be tackled together.
Far and away, that's the biggest change other pairs cite. That piece of paper—the same one many people brush off as unimportant—really does bond, says New York City-based Kelly. Though she and her now-husband dated for nearly seven years before their 2016 nuptials, they gained a new level of intimacy after marriage. "It's not all of a sudden," she says, "but the comfort and understanding you've always had with this one person somehow seems to get deeper after you've made the commitment to do so in front of your loved ones." L.A. resident Lindsay, who wed her husband last summer, agrees. While she notes that being married wasn't as big of a change as expected, there were some things that were quite clearly different. "There is something about the fact that my husband and I are bound, both legally and spiritually, to each other that really gives me a sense of peace," she says.
That same feeling is something North Hollywood-based couple Rachel and Joey call security. "After five years together, I didn't think it would be possible to feel closer to Joey," admits Rachel. "Then we got engaged and our relationship felt more serious, more permanent." Their 2016 vows further "solidified" them as a team, she shares. "It gave me a much bigger sense of security, one I didn't think I needed or would feel." Joey agrees. "Since my parents were divorced, I didn't really see a point in getting married," he explains. "I knew I loved Rachel, so why did we need to get married? But once we got engaged, it felt different right away."
Outsiders notice the shift as well. Michigan native Kevin recalls that after his 2009 wedding to Lisa, loved ones began addressing them more as a unit. Similarly, Rachel says her parents became way more relaxed around her spouse. "Now that he's in the family, they're more comfortable letting their warts show, so to speak," she says. Kelly even felt the difference at work, sensing that her choice to make a serious commitment made her colleagues take her more seriously. "It's almost as if I now have something important in common with my superiors," she says, "and that's changed the way they engage with me." There are practical differences as well. For Lindsay, one of the biggest adjustments was deciding to change her last name. Getting married at 34, "I struggled with it," she admits. "The idea of suddenly having a new name was honestly something I wasn't sure about."
For many couples the biggest hurdle was combining finances. "That was definitely the most profound change," says Lisa, who further noted that pooling your money with a spouse requires a great deal of negotiation and plenty of understanding. She's not alone. Calling it her largest relationship struggle with her husband, Rachel says switching from splitting bills straight down the middle to putting all their money in one pot forced them to really set—and pay attention to—a budget. "I've never had to answer to anyone before about how I'm spending my money," she explains. "Not that Joey would ever tell me what to do, but I have to be way more cognizant." It also introduces new, sometimes touchy conversations. With finances being "a very personal subject," says Joey, talking about them has helped him become a better communicator. "It's taught me how to approach sensitive subject matters more carefully," he says, "and I'm still learning."
Navigating a shared life is a continuing education for most duos. Since Hemanth, a Seattle resident, knew his now-wife Amu just five months before their 2011 wedding, there were plenty of surprises. "I think we took the first two years to really get to know each other and fully find our groove," he says. What took the most time, he shares, was discovering each other's marriage expectations and how to communicate them. "Marriages take work," he sums up, "mindful, consistent, dedicated work." And that's true no matter how long you knew your spouse pre-vows. "I was surprised about how important communication was," admits Lisa. Making the shift from living your life as you please to always keeping another person in the loop takes some practice.
But if people label marriage as work, it's a pretty awesome gig. "Having someone you can rely on no matter what and who will walk beside you through life is pretty much the greatest feeling in the world," says Lindsay. For Kelly, the best part, is feeling known and loved for who you are "and in turn knowing and loving your partner for what makes them an individual," she says. "It makes it feel like you two can accomplish any vision you have for your life."