The Adjustment Period

Adjusting to being newly-wed

It’s interesting, the ways our brains work. How they interfere with our abilities to make decisions because they imagine that by making changes, we will become people that we’re not. People that we don’t want to be. That marriage, or motherhood, or new jobs, or new locations will strip us of our abilities to shape our own choices. Also, 3am-brain is a total head case. So in the throes of wedding season, here is a story of adjusting to marriage.


by Diane Day

Around 3:00am on our wedding night I woke up in a panic.

“Holy shit, what have I done?”

Thoughts of calling our JP and asking her to not send in the marriage license on Monday raced through my mind. Forget the beautiful, sunlit ceremony the day before; it doesn’t count if we never file the paperwork, right? The lawyer part of my mind completely agreed.

Suddenly, I was terrified of being married and here I was, married. “How on earth did this happen?” I had been very calm throughout our engagement. I experienced only slight, occasional jitters and a healthy mix of anxiety and hopefulness regarding the wedding day. I had breakdowns over improper cupcake display and receiving far too many wedding-related emails, but I was mostly steadfast in my certainty that marrying Robert was right. In the months leading up to our nuptials, friends, families, and coworkers all proclaimed that I was a remarkably calm bride-to-be. I did not obsess over plates or flowers or my hair. I calmly repeated my mantra that everything would all be okay.

But at 3:21am, everything did not feel okay. What we had done a mere eleven hours before was big. This was really, really big. How the f* had I been so calm about this before? Suddenly, I felt completely unprepared for marriage. My mind screamed at me, “YOU ARE ROBERT’S WIFE. YOU ARE NO LONGER YOUR OWN PERSON. YOU CANNOT LEAVE.”

Eventually, I fell back asleep and slept fitfully to a more reasonable hour. But even then I felt strange. I moved gingerly around our hotel room, remembering the night before. It had been so awesome, so fun, it had flown by in a flash. I’d seen all my favorite people and had an awesome party with them. And now here I was in a hotel room with matted hair, last night’s makeup, and a man who would have a nasty hangover once he woke up. I did not feel like a blissful newly wed. I felt vaguely panicked.

The morning wore on. Robert woke up. We had sex, and he said how hot it was to be with his wife. We chatted about the night before as I pulled bobby pins from my hair, and remarked on the strange newness of marriage. We went down to the lobby for breakfast, and saw family and friends. They all asked how it feels to be married, and, oddly, it started to feel normal. Somehow it resembled a pretty normal Sunday morning for us. The only things missing were our French press of coffee and NPR in the background.

I began to see that yes, things were different now, and I felt a little different, but life as part of a married couple was not so radically different that I needed to lay in bed freaking out about it. Robert was still Robert, and I was still me. And yes, there was the new element of us being legally bound to one another, and yes it was really weird to think about it. But as the day continued we settled back into our normal selves. We playfully called each other husband and wife, testing out the words, and it felt good. We still felt like us.

Gradually, I realized things weren’t that different and started to wonder if we were doing this whole newlywed thing right. Thankfully, a month after the wedding a coworker asked me how we were adjusting to married life.

“Fine,” I replied, “it really doesn’t feel that different.”
“Good, that’s how it’s supposed to be.”

Hearing that reassured me, and I’ve often remembered those words during the last six months because now being married seems totally normal. Now it’s the idea of not being married that feels strange to me. Those things that had me wide awake on our wedding night I started to like and appreciate. I like that we’ve made a commitment to stick with each other and help each other. The promises we made to each other in our vows add sturdiness to our relationship.

Day by day, life progresses in much the same way it did before our wedding. I still make dinner and Robert still cleans up the dishes. Robert still does his own laundry and I ignore the piles of clothes he doesn’t put away. I can see now that my wedding night freak-out was just that—a freak-out. I’m still my own person and while I can’t just get up and leave, I have someone to call my hubby and a much easier to pronounce last name. Both of which are pretty great.

Photo Kara Schultz

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  • Anonymous

    While this is a very well written piece and I so appreciate Diane’s thoughts, I feel like this piece has the wrong title. There was no real adjustment period here. Which – I mean awesome for the couple in question. Just not really a story about adjusting to getting married. At least not from my own perspective, but maybe that’s just me.

    • Ruth

      I’m really glad you brought this up. I’ve been married about four months now, and I feel like I’m still in the “adjustment period.” It’s not a bad thing, for us the past few months have been incredibly positive, but I’m still wrestling with a lot of deep questions about what it ‘means’ to be a wife. I respect other people’s different experiences, but for me there was no epiphany where it suddenly felt normal to be married. It’s been an evolving process, and even several months in, I still oscillate between giddy joy, complete freakout, and all the gamut of emotions in between. I think many, many married folks do

      • Thank you so much for saying this. I’ve also been married for about four months, and I’m definitely still in the adjustment period. In many ways, life feels the same as it did before our wedding and pretty normal; but on an emotional and psychological level, there’s a lot coming up, and I too am grappling with those deep questions of what it means to be a wife.

        All the cultural ideals I was raised with about a woman and wife’s role (which were fairly conservative) – no matter how much I thought I’d processed them – have come back now that I am married. And I find myself worrying about things like, am I a less-good wife because I rarely cook or clean? And does being married mean that I can never spend a month at an artists’ colony? I can logically say that how much I cook and what activities I (and my husband) choose are all things we get to decide and shape for ourselves – and still have these other feelings come up. It’s like, now that I’m married, I’m having to reprocess all the societal expectations and traditions I was raised in and reassert how I want to interact with them.

        I really enjoyed the author’s post, and I’m also glad to hear that I’m not the only one that is experiencing a longer adjustment period.

        • Ruth

          Omg – this! I too was raised in a fairly conservative, traditional family in terms of gender roles, and I had no idea how much these issues were going to resurface upon getting married. I never felt bad about not cooking or cleaning when we were engaged, but post wedding I’ve been feeling this huge internal pressure to suddenly be good at domestic stuff – the pressure doesn’t come from my husband, I think it’s a mix of family and societal expectations. I keep reminding myself that I have a choice as to what sort of wife I want to be. Yet I also feel my husband and I sliding into pretty traditional gender roles. It never was a conscious choice, just more a reflection that he works longer hours with a less flexible schedule than I do, so it seems right for me to do most of the housework. It was never the life I envisioned growing up – me doing the lionshare of the housework while my partner earned the lionshare of the income – but I think a lot of choices I made a long time ago, like getting an English major, have ended up leading to our current arrangement. Plus, I think there is just this expectation that the wife does most of the domestic stuff (friends and relatives, I’ve noticed, always direct domestic and home administrative tasks – like rsvping or bringing a pot luck dish etc…to me, never to my husband.) I guess it’s just something I’m not totally at peace with yet – some of it feels like an empowered choice, but some of it feels like a choice made by circumstances. I never understood before, when women I knew said they didn’t split housework duties, but now I see how those traditional patterns so easily happen

    • For a long time, I felt that in so many ways, nothing had changed after the wedding, and THEREFORE I didn’t feel married. After some months of wondering when that feeling would change, I put it aside and decided to stop worrying about it. When we celebrated our first wedding anniversary, I still felt that way, but I was more used to feeling it. Then literally this weekend (almost at two years!), I noticed that I didn’t have that nagging background anxiety anymore. Somewhere in the last few months, this state of our relationship being the same, and also being married and comfort with the married state, became the new normal.

      It also helps that the boy and I can laugh about and seriously talk about some of the silly things that have come along with marriage, which helps solidify that we are married because we are dealing with Married Issues. Don’t get me started on the way that UK banks treat the man and woman of a joint account differently!

      I did have a breakdown moment while on our honeymoon as well — “We’re married, so now the only thing that can happen is we can get DIVORCED!!111” — thankfully that dissipated pretty quickly. But two years. Come on, self.

      • Ditto on the two years thing, though. We’re coming up on that anniversary for our court wedding and JUST NOW planning our reception/public wedding thing (I’m disintegrating into not knowing what to call it, except maybe a party) and it’s only recently that I’ve been more ok with the idea that holy moly we’re married and exactly nothing changed with how it feels (other than the sobering thought we should really get our crap together). Not 100% there but mostly there. And I wasn’t sure I would get there. So ditto this so much.

    • I don’t think it’s quite fair to say this wasn’t an adjustment. Sure, it happened over a short time, but there was a freak-out, panic, and then settling into normalcy. Everyone processes things differently, and it’s nice to hear a variety of experiences.

      • Anonymous

        Fair enough. Though I’d point out the short time period seems to have been like 12 hours, or I’m reading the piece wrong because between the 3 am freak out and the brunch a few hours later, its seems like the adjustment was made. So for those of us that will be adjusting to getting married for months or years, this didn’t quite read as an actual adjustment. Of course, each persons experience is their own and everyone has the right to call their feelings whatever they want, so no disrespect intended to anyone.

        • tennymo

          The part about her being reassured by her co-worker took place a month later, so it seems like the adjustment was more gradual than 1 night.

    • Cali

      Yeah, I agree with this. I’ve just recently eased out of the “adjustment period,” and we’re coming up on our first anniversary! Weirdly, at the same time, we also had the same overall feeling that “nothing really changed.” Except it did. And it also didn’t. It’s a weird sort of thing to emotionally come to grips with. Having an adjustment period that lasts longer than a couple of hours is totally normal and OK, too!

  • LILY

    As a gal who is getting married in six days, I really appreciate this post! There hasn’t been too much stress or anxiety over here, beyond how on EARTH everything will fit into our car, but it is so nice to hear someone else a) acknowledging the maybe-inevitable, short-term freak out, and b) saying that IT’S OKAY to have that, because then things go back to normal. Whew.

  • I wish we had taken a night at a hotel. We went right back home afterwards, hung out with more friends and family, went to sleep in our own bed. It didn’t feel as different or as special or as momentous as I really wanted.

    Because of his school schedule, we weren’t able to take a honeymoon right away either. So now I’m wishing there were more that made me *feel* married. Despite another ring, chura, sindoor, and toe rings, I don’t feel as different as I thought I would.

  • JennyM

    Perfect timing for this article! I was married just over a week ago and we just got back from our honeymoon. And oddly, its only hit me now that I’m back at work trying out my new last name on occasional coworkers that its like – something IS different. The wedding was great, honeymoon was relaxing but pretty much just felt like an awesome overdue vacation.

    I’ve been called “my wife” once or twice, but don’t think occasion has presented itself for me to do the same, unless I’ve subconsciously avoided it. I’m feeling like this step, talking about my wife, is a big one publicly. No more ambiguity which could’ve been misheard when using “my fiancee”. I’ve never been closeted per say, there was no big “coming out”, and I’ve spent the last 8 years speaking casually about my then partner, now wife. But that part is what feels different now. That it will now be 100% unmistakable. I’m married to a woman, and obviously I’m pretty jazzed about that, that I could completely legally marry the person of my choosing. But it hasn’t changed the fact that I fell in love with a person, my now wife, and not her gender. The gender was always secondary, and now I feel like publicly, it isn’t. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing, but it is indeed a thing, that I now can’t get out of my mind.

    • Helen

      Thanks for this – I agree (and it’s so nice to hear stories similar to mine). I’d always identified as straight, and then she came along. I’m not sure that I ‘feel’ gay just because I’m in love with and engaged to a women, but that’s the label I get now. I’m not really bothered as such, it’s just that it’s not a label I took on myself and it also comes with a set of cultural and behavioural expectations that aren’t me. That, plus the added annoyance of my relationship seeming to titillate and be sexualised in the minds of my (particularly male) business contacts often makes it nuisance to tell people (I’m small, youngish, blonde – already a distraction when I’m trying to run a business). We’re not closeted, I’m not ashamed and there’s no secret, but it’s sometimes easier to play the pronoun game to avoid all the nonsense and distraction that comes with professing to be a ‘hot lesbian’. I’m interested to see how that gender-specific word ‘wife’ will change how I feel. I also wonder whether maybe I should suck it up and just make an announcement – it feels like the noble and progressive thing to do, to add to the idea in people’s brains that gayness is not equal to otherness.

      • catherine

        Um, helen, are you me?!?! Seriously??

        I’m young, blonde, engaged to a woman, never identified as lesbian until her…pretty much in the same boat! It’s always comforting to hear people with similar stories… I often wish that I had been born knowing I was “gay” – that it would take the guess work out of it for others…I mean, I love who I am, and own my story, but sometimes I envy people like my partner who have always known.

  • mimi

    We got married just over 3 weeks ago and things pretty much feel the same so far. I’ve been wondering if it’s going to feel different, and when, but I’m guessing it’s one of those things where you don’t see the transformation until after it’s happened. I did just check the box for “married” for the first time on a medical form, so that was fun :)

  • KB

    Weirdly enough, I had a harder time with the phrase “my fiance” than I did with “my husband.” Maybe because I worked through a lot of the anxiety/panic when we got engaged, I didn’t feel all that WHOA about it once we actually got married. Living together before we got married also helped – my friends who moved in together after they got married said that they had a harder time adjusting, but also that it was more of a magical “transition” time that I feel like co-habitating couples don’t get (or maybe experience when they first move in together).

    • lady brett

      that’s exactly what happened for me. i was so worried that something was “wrong” because i didn’t feel like getting married had changed anything. a few weeks of that, and i realized that it was because, for me, making the decision (getting engaged) was the *big change* – the wedding was just follow-through, which was awesome, but not substantially different, emotionally, from being engaged. (2 1/2 years later, being married does feel different, but those changes weren’t the relevant parts at the time.)

  • Natalie

    We have been married a little over one year, and things sometimes seem so strangely different, but at the same time, so strangely the same. Many of the same fears and goals we had a year ago still linger around and, from time to time, I find myself getting a little frustrated over things big and small that we haven’t done (had a baby, bought a house, ‘settled down,’ etc.)

    But the piece of wisdom that a friend gave me that resonates so much still to this day is this: THINGS TAKE TIME. Adjustment takes time. Don’t be in a rush. Be gentle with each other. Day by day.

    And so that’s where I am trying to be today—instead of worrying about the mortgage we don’t have, or the diapers we are not yet changing., or the savings account that we haven’t grown to its fullest potential.

    Thanks for posting this today—it helped me.

  • Married life felt exactly the same as before for us too, except now we were living together so we saved on gas and we were having sex. I wondered why it didn’t feel totally different. Over several months it started feeling different though. I can’t exactly put my finger on when or where or what. But marriage is now our normal and the idea of not being married is scary.

    • We just celebrated our first anniversary and this gradual, undefinable, but extremely profound shift in the default-normal happened as well. I still feel a little weird referring to “my husband”, as if I’m somehow bragging by throwing around that title, though that’s perhaps more due to my social circle than anything else. The shift, though, was really unnoticeable until I noticed it, if that makes sense.

      I recently accidentally called him “my boyfriend” (which the person I was talking to thought was adorable), and taking a moment to reflect upon what it would mean if he were my boyfriend and not my husband made my heart clench up with an almost panic. If he were my boyfriend, he could leave, and I’d be alone.* That was never scary when we were dating, but marriage has made it so.

      (*obviously, we can still leave the relationship, but it would be harder, and we made promises to fight for each other and for the relationship, something we’d not done when dating)

      • I’ve made that slip too, more mentally than verbally, and I was confused for a bit.

  • Kara

    Agree, agree, agree! I had this similar reaction before I fell asleep on our wedding night. We were snuggling in for the night and he said “wife”, I said “husband”, and all of the sudden, it felt very “real”. I had a momentary panic attack. We had been together for almost 8 years, no one would have described our eventual marriage as rushed, but that is what I felt like. OMG, we did not think this through! I’m a lawyer too, and I could not stop thinking about all the legal implications of this particular relationship status change. After a few days, this feeling wore off, and I am appreciating the permanence and foreverness of marriage. Even after only two months, it has comforted me many times, and helped me to see “us” as a team. But that night of the wedding, I was surprised by my sudden moment of panic. I’m glad to hear I was not the only one.

  • Carrie

    I appreciate every one of these posts. I’m recently married & his family is disappointed when we say it doesn’t feel that different. We have been together for 6 years & are very committed and deeply in love. It hurts when they treat us as strange and act like its wrong to feel this way.