View Full Version : Question about Marriage

10-18-2018, 11:28 PM
Hey gang, I'm writing a book with a married couple as the protagonists. As things stand I am unmarried myself and would like some insight from those of you who have tied the knot, both male and female. I really want to nail their character interactions to help them relate better to the audience.

They've just recently gotten past the honeymoon phase and are settling down into domestic life. They just bought their first house and are considering the logistics of children. What was your experience during this time?

What are some things you do with each other that stand apart from a "dating" relationship? Inside jokes? Annoying habits you overlook? Famous arguments?

And don't worry, your secrets are safe with me.

Michael Myers
10-18-2018, 11:52 PM
How do we pay for this?

Maggie Maxwell
10-18-2018, 11:59 PM
Really, marriage changes very little. It's the living together that is where things get interesting. I was with my husband for six years before we got married and we lived together for 4 of those. The only thing that really changed was my last name. If they didn't live together at first, it's going to be a lot of discovery of each other: who does what chores? What chores does the other KNOW how to do? What dish is he going to complain about because it's not like his mother makes it? What won't she eat because her college roommate cooked it every night and she can't bear the smell? If they've been living together for a while, even in apartments, they're going to know each other's quirks. If they haven't been living together, oh, you can do anything and it's conflict.

10-19-2018, 12:12 AM
That's a pretty broad question, because the experience of married life is really going to depend on the couple themselves--their own expectations of marriage, past relationship experience, how long they were together before they married, whether or not they lived together before, what their culture is, what time and place the story takes place in and so on. Matters like religion and culture figure in too.

One thing many modern married couples struggle with is who fills what role in the relationship and the pressure to revert to traditional gender roles, even if they don't consciously believe in them. For instance, most women, even those who believe women and men are equal, default to changing their name to their husbands'. When they don't, there will be subtle and not-so-subtle pressure to do so (like the relative who always addresses mail to "Mrs. His first and last name," even though they know I kept my own).

Other "honeymoon is over" issues revolve around who does what domestic chores (and who ends up doing most of them or who has the lowest tolerance for the consequences of not doing them), and how to talk about and handle money issues, and how to deal with income disparity (if it exists). When and whether to have kids can be another issue that comes up. And how many kids (and what gender distribution) would be an ideal number is something couples don't always agree on.

Most couples have areas of conflict over something, but what that something is will depend on who they are and on their values. Some couples (if one is more introverted than the other) struggle with how much "down" time they should spend versus active or social time. Couples can have different expectations surrounding obligations to their parents or extended families. How much alone together time they each need or want could be another issue. Religion and the role it should play in the relationship can also be an issue for some.

My husband and I are pet people and never had kids. We talk and joke a lot about our animals, and sometimes there is mild tension about whose turn it is to scoop the litter boxes, or who has been walking the dogs more lately. We have some mild tension, not to mention humor, over housework. Neither of us are big on it, and we've both noticed that we are messier together than either of us were living alone. There's the "seeding" issue.

It bugs me more that our 1960 tract house does not, and never will, resemble anything found in the pages of Sunset Magazine.

What couples do together will depend on their interests and on what brought them together to begin with. My husband and I are both scientists, neither of us are terribly religious, and we are similar politically. So we are more likely to have mutual rants about political situations than arguments. We have similar taste in movies, and we both like video games (not always the same ones, but some we play together). He's not interested in participating in dog agility, though, a sport I enjoy training and competing in with the dogs.

I've noticed that over time, one person in a couple that differ in politics or religion will gradually come to align more with the other. This doesn't always happen, but it's not exactly rare. Sometimes one person is more committed to their values, or a better arguer, or simply more socially dominant than the other. Other times both people retain their original values, or they both change a bit. Still, there can be tension if the couple differs in various sociopolitical views.

10-19-2018, 01:10 AM
It may help if you could give a few more details about your characters. Do they have a pretty solid relationship? How old are they? Did they live together first? Cultural background and expectations, economic status, employment. All these things make a difference.

We did the house buying thing when one was three and the other on the way. Home buying was stressful enough on its own but hey, we got through it! There were several fraught talks about expectations, logistics, and funding. Daycare is ungodly expensive. Do your characters have a support system? We relied heavily on advice and material assistance from older siblings who already had children.

Some of our money conversations were complicated by ignorance and/or unrealistic expectations. That might help to make the relationship dynamic realistic. We really didn't know what the hell we were doing.

One conversation that stands out in my memory combined money worries with ignorance about breastfeeding:

Husband: What about paying for formula? My sister says that costs a fortune!
Me: We won't need formula. I'll breastfeed, like my mother did.
Husband: What if you can't? My sister couldn't.
Me: *quotes stats in breastfeeding book*
Husband: *remains unconvinced*
Me: *stews in frustration, thinking there must have been more to his sister's story (there was)*

Little anxieties masking bigger anxieties, fear and hope and expectations and tons of research. And never enough money.

Good times. (So glad we had those kids, though. They're the best, IMHO.)

10-19-2018, 01:29 AM
Hubby and I have been together 6 years, married 3.

Two things stand out to me;

1) The arguments that will arise between any two adults that live together. My husband's annoying traits, for example, include not picking up his laundry from the floor, his inability to wash up properly and his habit of putting lids on things but not doing them up. I have whined about these things FOR YEARS. He mostly whines about the amount (or lack) thereof of sex he gets, particularly since we had children. We don't tend to argue about money. Occasionally I'll say, do you really need that 50 Call of Duty game or he'll say, do you REALLY need a new bag? But we don't argue about it. We do, however, argue about food. My husband hoovers food up without care. I can buy a packet of my favourite biscuits and he'll inhale the lot. So I'll hide them. Then he'll complain I don't share. Bicker, bicker, bicker.

2) Our thoughts on parenting. Obviously after the baby was born, our opinions rocketed and I can write a whole new post on that. But pre-parenting, we still had our own discrepancies. Like Coddiwomple, this exchange happened;

Me: I'm going to breastfeed.
Husband; You are not.
Me: I bloody well am. My boobs, my baby, I'll do what I want.
Husband: But it's....ew. Boobs aren't for that.
Me: Boobs are EXACTLY for that and I'm going to do it, so nose out.

And I did. And Husband was rather grateful for that trick at 3AM when the baby wouldn't shut up for him, let me tell you. We also disagreed about names (a LOT) and how to tell family/when to tell family/whose family first?

But there were good times. Evenings spent playing Xbox games, learning how to cook properly (he's the better one now, I dislike cooking), day trips to the city and weekends abroad, all those things you can do before you make the leap into the parenting and you stop being 'lover' and become (predominantly) 'parent'. They're not wrong when they say a child'll get straight down the middle of your relationship.

Chris P
10-19-2018, 01:51 AM
Aparently I don't put the coffee cups away properly. Nor sort the laundry in the right way. And when I hang shirts on the hangers I do so backwards, with the openings facing right instead of left as they are supposed to be.

All my egregious failings aside, as with anything we do with our characters I think it is best to do so with purpose beyond realism for realism's sake. What does it say about a character who cares how the coffee cups get put away? Or about a character who continues to put them away "wrong" even if he doesn't see why it matters and could just as easily put them away right? What does it say about their communication dynamics or latent story-driving conflict if they spend a page fighting about it? Your words on the page are an investment of your time as a writer and of mine as a reader; therefore every word should do something specific for the story.

Michael Myers
10-19-2018, 01:58 AM
We really didn't know what the hell we were doing.

I was 19, she was 18. So, yeah, we had no clue. We've been together 45 years. The most trivial of things can blowup into a huge argument. Somewhere along the line we (they, your couple) come to understand that it's not "me" versus "you" who resolves an issue. The key word is "we".

Perhaps they should share an experience with a couple that's been married for much longer than they. Let the subtext flow gently underneath what is said and happens. A garden party?

10-19-2018, 01:58 AM
When we were first married, division of chores and finances were the biggest issues. It didn't help that I had a therapist with very strict traditional values, who kept insisting that I needed to do all the housework and laundry and cooking, regardless of my state of health. For a long time, I listened to her, and when I couldn't manage everything, I felt like a failure. But after 16 years, we've worked out a system that (mostly) works.

As far as finances, when we were first married, we didn't have a lot of money and we had a lot of medical bills. I'm disabled, so I couldn't work. My husband brought home the money and paid the bills, which meant I never knew how much was in the bank. Or if I did, I didn't know how much was slated for upcoming bills. I hated having to constantly ask, "Can we afford to buy this?" It made me feel like a child. So if I needed something, either for myself or for the house, I would buy it. And then I would get yelled at for spending money on things we couldn't afford. I repeatedly asked my hubby to share the financial info with me, so I'd know how much money was available, but for whatever reason, he didn't do that. It got very frustrating!

What finally made things better was getting me my own bank account. We still have the joint account, which I can access if need be, but I have my own account, too. My husband arranged for an auto-transfer every payday, so I receive a certain amount of money every two weeks. I also teach sewing classes now, so that income goes straight into my bank account, too. I use my account to pay for my own clothes and shoes, decorative items for the house, things I need for sewing, and entertainment, like books and music. It's been probably ten years since we came up with this arrangement and it works pretty well. It certainly reduced the stress levels!

10-19-2018, 04:58 PM
I don't tidy up and clean properly; Mrs Waylander is late for everything and I'm habitually punctual. Mrs Waylander hates anyone else driving, but isn't a great driver herself.....but we've been married 32 yrs

10-19-2018, 05:27 PM
Married 16-1/2 years. (Wow. Doesn't seem that long.)

Assuming a basically healthy relationship: I think the first symptom of "settling down" is almost always going to have something to do with innocuous habits: where you store the dishes, how you do the laundry, that sort of thing. When you're still in the honeymoon phase, socks on the floor can be cute. Later on, when you're having to deal with it on a day-to-day basis? Not so much. :) (I say this as the slob in my marriage, which is counter to traditional gender expectations, but does happen.)

Regarding children: Before becoming pregnant, we did a lot of reading and talking about how it was all going to go. (Spouse had two grown children, so he had a MUCH better idea than I did of what was coming, but still.) I had lots of logical thoughts and philosophies; I was confident we could handle whatever was coming.

There's a big shift when "we are going to start trying to become pregnant" becomes "the test is positive; here we go!" And yet another big shift when the actual small human arrives. (Hint: All those plans you were so happy with? Turn out to apply to absolutely nothing you have to deal with in the real world.)

Fundamentally, though: if you've ever had a roommate, you're aware of most of the issues that are going to come up between two people settling down into a cohabitating situation. One big difference between marriage and roommates: you don't have your own room.* I had one friend for whom this was a huge stressor; they worked it out, but the amount of alone time you get can be a big negotiation for a lot of couples.

*I'm aware some couples have separate bedrooms for completely healthy reasons, but I suspect they're a pretty small minority.

10-19-2018, 05:51 PM
Age will make a big difference.

For a younger couple (say early 20s), this may be their first experience of a long-term relationship. They are likely to be less "settled" in terms of where they are in life, and are in a sense growing into themselves at the same time as they get to know their partner. They are more likely than older couples to have money worries. They probably have many single friends. They can delay the decision to have kids for a while.

An older couple (say mid 30s) is more likely to have previous experience with relationships, which can have either a positive or negative effect. They know themselves better and are less likely to change their ways, which at least means the partner knows what they are getting into. Typically, they have more money than younger couples, although this varies a lot! Their friends are typically also married or coupled. If they want children, they are entering the "now or never" phase.

This is supposing a modern developed-world culture, and even there YMMV.

10-19-2018, 09:32 PM
This is going to be fairly useless to the OP, sorry!

I've married twice, at ages 20 and 41. I'm not trying to extrapolate my experience to others, just claim my own anecdotes and conclusions.

At age 20, I didn't know myself. I didn't know what made me happy. I had unrealistic expectations in that regard. I thought simply being married meant that my wife and I were aligned on simple but important things: Who does what chores, long-term goals, how much to spend versus save, etc. My wife and I discussed none of this when dating, and that was my second biggest mistake. My biggest was in not seeing that we were fundamentally incompatible in some keys ways that ultimately broke the relationship.

But I don't want to dwell on the past. When I married Lizmonster, it was a different experience in every possible way. I understood this time the difference between petty differences and the things that "feed" me. Spouse's idea of "neat" is different than mine? Petty stuff, ignorable. Affection? Trust? Honest, respectful dialogue rather than hurtful passive-aggression? Those feed me.

Here's what I do if spouse hangs my shirts the "wrong" way (not saying she does, but this is how I'd handle it):

1) Say "Hey, thanks for hanging my shirts! Much appreciated!"
2) Either suppress my obsession to have them hung the "right" way, or when she's not looking, rehang them the way I prefer.

Easy. Petty stuff. Ignorable.

Also, we talked about life goals when we were still dating. Was being married a goal, or a deal-breaker for either of us? Did we want children? (I already had two, so this meant, did I want more?) What did money mean to each other? (I told her I thought of money as "freedom" -- a means to reach goals like retirement, buying a house, being able to pay bills during job loss, etc.)

An observer probably would've thought we were heartless corporate entities negotiating a merger ;) but we'd both had bad relationships, and still carried the baggage from those, and I felt too old & tired to be discovering shitty mismatches down the road if they were going to be hard to live with.

Regards the "honeymoon" phase. It's a term we all use, but what does it mean? Does it mean, still get heart flutters every time I see her? Still want to hold her hand, and kiss her? Still enjoy spending time with her? Tell her every day that I love her? If so, I'm still there! Yay!

One difference: When we were still dating, and living apart, I'd invite her over for a nice homecooked meal. For the first months it was: sex first, food after. Eventually it became, do you mind if we eat first? then sex. :ROFL: Was that the Honeymoon Meridian? :D Maybe, if you want to define it that way.

My question for the OP is, what does your plot want of your married protagonists? Are they going to live more/less happily within your book? Or are they doomed?

If doomed, I'd be most invested in the story if they are fundamentally okay people, just bad together. Some pairings of good people don't work. A marriage can fail with neither person being a villain.

10-19-2018, 10:55 PM
This thread is been an interesting trip down last twenty-odd years of my second marriage.

You don't mention if either of your characters has been married before. My first marriage left me with a moving truck full of emotional baggage, even if it did just shy of three years. That heavily affected how I interacted with my new wife both when we were dating, and after we were married. By the time my second marriage rolled around, I had a very well-developed ability to suppress my emotions and bury things that bothered me. I also had something of a long-running perfectionism streak that affected me in a lot of ways.

My second wife and I dated for about four months before I left my parents' home, and moved into my own apartment. It was supposedly my apartment, but she spent more time there than at the sorority house. Then she officially moved in after she graduated from college about fourteen months after we started dating. So we'd lived together about 2 years before we got married.

I think where your characters are now is going to depend in large part on the length of their relationship before they got married and their backgrounds, because the latter will have a lot of effect on their personalities.

10-21-2018, 07:18 AM
Are your characters similar in personality, or are they polar opposites? This is a pretty important choice to make, because marriages look a lot different from the outside (or as described in a work of fiction) based on this distinction. It affects all the questions you asked about early interactions. I'm 26 years in, married to an opposite personality. Our days past the "honeymoon period" were loud and contentious, but also awesome as we started the long trek towards equilibrium. I imagine that two wed introverts would face entirely different issues than two extroverts, and it would look totally different to those watching. No marriage is easy, but unless you define your characters first, your questions are hard to answer.

10-21-2018, 06:24 PM
Are your characters similar in personality, or are they polar opposites? This is a pretty important choice to make, because marriages look a lot different from the outside (or as described in a work of fiction) based on this distinction.

Yes, this! My hubby and I are both introverts, kind of shy, not big on social gatherings unless they're small. So the downside is, we don't have many friends, either individually or as a couple. The upside is, we never fight. We both hate conflict and will go out of our way to avoid it. We might nag each other on occasion, like when he leaves an open box of cereal on the counter, instead of putting it away, which annoys me because it will go stale and/or attract ants. But in general, we get along really well.

11-21-2018, 09:51 AM
Traditionally there will be a dissagreement or a full blown fight about a, "fact," neither has ever thought to question. (and mostly based in being tired, stressed and/or hungry)

A friend's parents had a huge blowout over which way the paper roll goes.

We had some sort of fight over the proper way to arrange the silverware drawer(sorry, details lost to the mists of time.)

I used to collect similar stories but....

Despite the stupidity both marrages survived.

12-04-2018, 07:12 AM
Traditionally there will be a dissagreement or a full blown fight about a, "fact," neither has ever thought to question. (and mostly based in being tired, stressed and/or hungry)

A friend's parents had a huge blowout over which way the paper roll goes.

We had some sort of fight over the proper way to arrange the silverware drawer(sorry, details lost to the mists of time.)

I used to collect similar stories but....

Despite the stupidity both marrages survived.

This. Our first year, we fought like cats and dogs over where the AC should be set. Sixteen years later, we laugh about it.

Siri Kirpal
12-04-2018, 11:11 PM
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Just noticed this. In case you still need info: Mr. Siri and I noticed one year into our (now 46+ year) marriage that we were arguing about semantics. Which is to say, we were saying the same thing, but in different words, and we didn't realize it. Arguments went way down once we figured that out.


Siri Kirpal

12-05-2018, 12:25 AM
Marriages tend to have phases, each of which may present issues . . . human nature, you know?

An early phase in a typically traditional marriage (and it usually takes a while to realize) - Women marry the man thinking they can (and will) change him. Men marry the woman thinking she'll not change. They're both wrong. (paraphrased tongue-in-cheek comment usually attributed to Lenny Bruce, although I couldn't find a clear citation)

A later, yet long-term, phase - Finances will always present issues . . .

Another comparatively long-term phase - Children, having, rearing, etc. Every aspect, problem, decision, etc. will matter and have consequences.

As these phases pass, the bond between the married partners matures - and if you're lucky, you find you are still best friends in love. The final phase is the most tender of comfortable companionship; you are truly each other's other half.

Yeah, married life can be all that.

L M Ashton
12-05-2018, 12:23 PM
The husband and I met over the Internet, I flew from Canada to Sri Lanka 2 months later, we were married 8 hours after that. We were 35 at the time. We're both hermit introverts and we both love science fiction & fantasy. He's a computer programmer, I was an accountant although I'm disabled and can no longer work.

The hermit introvert bit plays into us both being quite content to sit together, watching TV/movies or reading books or playing computer games together. We don't fight. Ever. We hate conflict. We work things out, we talk things over. We don't yell, scream, swear at, call names, say nasty things. We just don't. We also get along extremely well - we're very much alike in our likes and interests. Heck, we even work on our language learning together. And, as much as we both really like to not be around people, we can handle being around each other more so than with anyone else on the planet.

Before we got married, we discussed how we would handle finances, who would be responsible for what in the partnership, and so on. I didn't want to have to earn a living anymore - partly too much stress for me, partly me being too sick and disabled. So I don't. Earning the living is solely his responsibility. I keep him fed/clothed/watered. It works for us.

We don't have kids, so that just doesn't play a part in anything.

He's Sri Lankan, I'm Canadian. He's Muslim, I'm Christian. He's brown, I'm white. We've never had any disagreements/arguments about these things. We've never had any conflict due to religion/culture. It's part of being hermit introverts who talk.

Maze Runner
12-05-2018, 08:32 PM
One thing I've noticed is things that used to annoy me, I now find kind of endearing. For instance, her aversion to proper names. She'll start a sentence with she or he and I'll have to figure out who she's talking about while also trying to keep up with her line of thought. I used to interrupt her and say, "Who?" Only reasonable, right? But that only annoyed her so I stopped. I'm pretty sure that I don't do anything that regularly annoys her.

Debbie V
12-06-2018, 06:30 AM
"Traditionally there will be a dissagreement or a full blown fight about a, "fact," neither has ever thought to question. (and mostly based in being tired, stressed and/or hungry)"

We weren't yet married when we realized how easy it was to look things up and avoid the argument.

be frank
12-06-2018, 06:57 AM
An early phase in a typically traditional marriage (and it usually takes a while to realize) - Women marry the man thinking they can (and will) change him. Men marry the woman thinking she'll not change.

Your idea of a "typically traditional marriage" seems to be based on stereotypes and/or watching bad sitcoms.

FTR, I have no clue what a "typically traditional marriage" is. Typical compared to what? Traditional to where? I find that phrase problematic on several levels. (And the lazy generalisations even more so.)

L M Ashton
12-06-2018, 02:01 PM
Could not agree more with be frank's assessment of that comment by ironmikezero.

Lone Wolf
12-06-2018, 04:16 PM
By this stage you know each other very well and have developed patterns of interaction (good & bad).
It all depends on the personalities of the couple. Hot tempered? Easy going? Controlling? etc etc

Eg. 1. She reminds him to put the rubbish out. He hates being "nagged" so he tunes her out. He is unresponsive so she tells him again. The conflict and resentment below the surface most of the time.

Eg. 2. He avoids conflict where possible so he doesn't complain until things are really bad and have gone on some time. She understands him - she knows she get away with a lot, most of the time, but when he says something she knows it's an issue and will do the right thing... for a while.

Eg. 3. She is never ready on time when they are going out. He knows this of her so by now he simply tells her they have to leave at 6 instead of the real time of 6.30