Unlikely Fact Number One:

To be married means that you are no longer single.

Couples arrive at my office angry and upset over the fact that being in a committed relationship requires that they surrender a certain amount of autonomy.  They are frustrated over having lost their freedom to spontaneously do whatever it is they feel like doing whenever it is they feel like doing it.  They complain that their ability to make decisions about their lives has become curtailed. My response to those of you with complaints such as these can be summarized in one sentence:  Welcome to married life.

What individuals in a committed relationship who complain about their loss of freedom don’t realize is that there is a way for them to continue their old ways of doing things.  All they need to do is to remain single.

But when two people undertake the commitment of a monogamous relationship such as marriage, they are also, often unwittingly, agreeing to an important restriction on their behavior, mainly that neither partner no longer gets to do whatever he or she wants without first consulting with the other.  What married folks fail to recognize (at least those folks who manage to find their way to my office) is that among all the other changes brought on by married life is a brand new reality—mainly the reality that each member of the couple will forever more have to deal with a room-mate and all the restrictions on their freedom that all such relationships entail.

Just as they and their college roommates may have had to negotiate the terms of their rooming arrangements—for example, who would clean the toilets before a big party—so too must married couples negotiate their new agreements. What that means is that many of the behaviors they had each previously taken for granted will now have to be reconsidered and perhaps renegotiated.  Thus, even though you might not mind sleeping in an unmade bed, and even though you are usually in way too much of a hurry to even think about making your bed in the morning, you may no longer, if you are in a committed relationship, have the luxury of making that decision for yourself.  That will certainly be the case if you happen to be married to someone who feels differently than you do about bed making.

[Before illustrating this point with an actual case study, this might be an appropriate time to say a word about client privacy and confidentiality.  It should be understood by anyone reading this that it is my policy in all of my clinical writings to protect the identity of all of my clients.  What that means is that every person described on my website has been disguised in ways that make identification of the actual person being described nearly impossible. Besides changing all names, I have changed enough details about their presenting complaints and about the specifics of their life that it is unlikely that any of my clients, or their friends and family, would recognize themselves in these case studies.]

I recently treated a married man who was a serious photography hobbyist.  His special interest was taking photographs in the rain or snow.  During his bachelor days he thought nothing of grabbing his camera and running out of the house at the slightest sign of a drizzle.  He therefore couldn’t understand why in the world his wife might be even the slightest bit annoyed over the fact that a few days earlier he had abruptly left a restaurant where they had been eating in order to run with his camera after an exciting photo opportunity.  As he told me later, “She could have simply put my food in a carry-out container and brought it home with her.  The food would not have gone to waste.”  What this fellow had failed to comprehend was that the problem was not about the uneaten food. The problem was his failure to recognize that once he had answered the minister’s question at the wedding by saying “I do,” his right to decide unilaterally when his meal in the restaurant was over had ended.  Why?  Because he was married and no longer single.

Other married individuals have been shocked to learn that they might not be able to continue the regular communication either one might have been having with a former lover.  These individuals are surprised to learn that even though that former lover may now be nothing more to them than a “very good friend,” they might nonetheless be expected by their new partner to severely restrict whatever contact they might wish to have with that person.

Differences about how to deal with money issues is for many couples a vexing concern. Conflict about money becomes most intense when individuals accustomed to having the final say about how they will spend their own earnings are now expected by their partner to consult with them first.  What that means is that even though you may have worked long and hard to earn your money, and even though in some cases you are the only member of the couple who is working outside of the home and earning any money at all, nonetheless, you will forever be required to consult with your spouse before agreeing to make any significant purchases.  (Keep in mind that the dollar amount of what each couple considers a “significant purchase” is itself a negotiable item.  I remember working with an extremely wealthy couple where the rule they decided upon was that either spouse could make a purchase without consulting with the other so long as the total monthly cost for all such items for each spouse did not exceed $25,000!)  And why are couples required to consult with one another and get agreement regarding their behavior in all these different arenas?

Because to be married means you are no longer single.

Click for Unlikely Fact Number Two