Happily Ever After

31st January 2014

Claire Moulds looks beyond the rings and the roses…

So, after months of preparation it’s nearly here and, hopefully, your wedding day will be everything you dreamed it would be from the minute you said ‘yes’ to his proposal. But what happens when the confetti has settled, the tan has faded and your new life together begins? After all, being married doesn’t start – or end – with ‘I do’.
In the midst of all the planning and the excitement it’s easy to pour all your energy into ‘getting’ married without taking time out to consider the fact you will soon ‘be’ married. For those having a religious ceremony the marriage preparation lessons offered by many churches are a surprisingly useful opportunity to stop and think about what this new stage in your relationship means. While there isn’t really a comparable process for those who have chosen a civil ceremony (non-religious marriage prep courses do exist, but they’re harder to locate and not commonly undertaken), it’s beneficial for all couples to take a moment or two to consider what this amazing step represents, and how you might cope afterwards.

Every marriage is different, of course, which is why there’s no generic handbook for a successful one. You’re creating something that is unique to the pair of you and which will constantly evolve over time. That’s why it’s so important to share your hopes and fears at the very start so that you can work together to shape it into what a happy marriage means to you both.

‘Happy’ doesn’t mean ‘perfect’ though, sadly, so you do need to make sure your expectations are realistic. If he didn’t clean the bath before you were wed, a marriage certificate isn’t going to change that. Equally, if you argued before you became husband and wife you’ll still argue once the ring is on your finger. However, arguments within marriage tend to be more constructive than destructive, as you both have a vested interest in coming to an understanding and a workable solution to the problem – that is, if you don’t want to spend a lifetime rowing about the same thing.

One change I don’t think that any bride is ever fully prepared for is having an entirely new identity. I vividly remember watching my husband sleeping the morning after our wedding and being hit by the realisation that, after 29 years, I suddenly had a new name. In the space of just 24 hours, I’d become someone else. While sharing a surname only further underlines our togetherness, it’s an unsettling notion to relinquish a name that you’ve grown up with and which has symbolised your being a part of your own family for so long. For me it also marks the end of an era; as I’m an only child, my maiden name will now die with my parents.

It was certainly a strange sensation to be called Mrs Gaffney – Mrs Gaffney meant my mother-in-law, not me – and even stranger to hear someone referring to me as his ‘wife’. Men obviously only have to adapt to becoming a ‘husband’ but women, I feel, go through a monumental identity change and it’s natural to feel mixed emotions about this. On a practical level, it also means learning a new signature – which I still struggle with six years later – and contacting what feels like a hundred different organisations to change your name and marital status on their records.

There’s no denying that your new name is an external sign that you’re now officially a ‘team’ for the rest of your lives. Even if you were living together beforehand you could always have stepped out of the relationship with relative ease. In contrast, marriage brings with it permanence: the strongest feeling of love and commitment because you’ve both sworn that it’s forever in front of your family and friends. There’s a tremendous sense of oneness, security and peace.

This, in turn, means that you can now make plans for the future with complete certainty. Before you said ‘I do’ your dreams may have been confined to ‘one day I’d like to…’ but now you can really examine what you both want out of life and turn those hopes into reality. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to live abroad for a year or retrain for a new career? Now you have the chance to shape your lives in the way you want to live them and what could be more exciting or more reassuring than making that journey with the person you love most in the world?

Be warned though, while you might only just have become Mr & Mrs (and still be adjusting) one of the consequences of tying the knot is that friends and family will be expecting to hear the imminent pitter patter of tiny feet – and some will be less than subtle about it. From would-be grandparents to friends with children already, everyone will be keen to know when your family is expanding. We’d barely made it out of the church before people were asking us when a baby would be arriving, so you might want to have a few witty retorts up your sleeve. Equally, be prepared to come under intense scrutiny if you so much as wear looser clothing one day or avoid alcohol or mention special dietary requirements or display even the slightest hint of nausea – no matter what the cause.

And what about the well documented post wedding slump? After months of frenzied planning and excitement, everyday life can feel a bit boring in comparison. My top tips include:

a. Make it last – savour the choosing of images with your photographer for your formal album; watch your wedding video together and enjoy moments you may both have missed; ask friends and family to share their photos from the day with you so you can create a more informal album which will often capture more of the true spirit of the day; decide which special pictures you want to frame and put up in your home and, finally, have your guest book and all its fond memories and good wishes somewhere accessible rather than packed away in the back of a cupboard!

b. Enjoy simply being husband and wife. If you’re making your first home together, all that spare energy that you’ve been devoting to planning the perfect day can now be poured into creating a home that reflects you both. And don’t forget, all your lovely wedding gifts will be daily reminders of your day so even mundane tasks like laying the table should bring a smile to your face in those first few months as you remember who bought your dinner service, cutlery, glassware and table linen for you.

c. Make time for romance. You may no longer be dating one another but don’t let your marriage become bogged down with the minutiae of day to day life. Marriage is a lifelong process of ‘getting to know one another’; after all, we change over time and you should never become complacent and think you know all there is to know about your partner. Six years down the line I still find myself learning new things about my husband on a regular basis!

d. Mark all those lovely firsts of married life – first month of marriage, first holiday post honeymoon, first Christmas, first Valentine’s Day, first anniversary. Take the time to revisit where you got married at some point in the year, to keep the memories alive and fresh.

e. Finally, while you may no longer be an imminent bride you are now a walking wedding encyclopaedia. Use your new found knowledge, skills and experience to help friends as they plan their own big day and reduce their pre-wedding stress. I gifted my entire stash of wedding magazines to a friend who was following me up the aisle a year later – it was liberating to pass them on, and fabulous that they got more use – and have offered friends and family countless tips on everything from readings to hair and make-up artists and from photographers to lingerie and perfume. Helping someone close to create their dream day can be every bit as exciting and fulfilling as planning your own…

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