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6 Truths About Marriage No One Ever Tells You

The top surprises couples face after they say “I do.”
By Jen Uscher
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Marina Katz, MD

By the time you decide to get hitched, you may think you know your partner well. After all, you’re best friends who’ve agreed to spend the rest of your lives together.

But married life often turns out to be full of unexpected disappointments and joys.

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"People are surprised that, even in this most intimate relationship, there’s a lot that needs to be discovered," Kim Lundholm-Eades, a marriage and family therapist and co-owner of CenterLife Counseling, says. "There isn’t a Spock mind meld that goes on between a couple just because they’ve gotten married."

Here are some things that you need to know about marriage that you may not have heard yet.

You've got to sweat the small stuff.

University of Michigan social research professor Terri L. Orbuch, author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great, says, "Many couples say that what surprised them most about their marriage is that they really have to address the little things that are irritating them, which is the opposite of what you hear in the media about letting the small stuff go." .

For 24 years, Orbuch has followed 373 couples for a long-term study called the Early Years of Marriage Project. In interviews and questionnaires, the couples have reported that small irritations -- like never loading the dishwasher or always being late to the movies -- became big issues if they didn't talk about them.

"It’s very important to talk about what’s irritating you in a nonthreatening way and to compromise," Orbuch says. "Don’t let these things fester."

Families matter more than you think.

Once you’ve had a few holiday meals with your future in-laws, you may feel that you know how to negotiate your relationship with them. But doing so can be surprisingly hard.

Michelle, 31, a New York writer who's been married for six years, says, "The most difficult part of my marriage has been dealing with our families..  My in-laws desired an instant closeness," she says. "They want so much to treat me like the daughter they never had. But I feel like that would be a bit of a charade for me. Also, I think it may have hurt them at the beginning that I didn’t change my name."

But Michelle was pleasantly surprised by her husband's effect on her family. “He acts as a buffer at family dinners, and his presence makes everyone behave better,” she says. “My parents really like him and feel comfortable with him.”

Some people are most surprised by how much their marriage is like their parents' marriage. Lundholm-Eades says, "Couples often underestimate the role that each individual's family history plays. They vow that their marriage will be different from their parents’ marriage and then are surprised and often horrified by the similarities. They may argue about finances, for instance, or make failed assumptions about the division of household chores -- just like their parents did," she says.

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