“Of course our romance will be different twenty years into marriage,” I said matter-of-factly to Amber, as we pulled into a Subway shop for lunch. I mean, that does happen as couples get older, I was thinking. She didn’t say anything, but she shot me an icy look, and she didn’t say much as we munched our chips and sandwiches. We weren’t married yet, but in talking about our future, and what marriage might feel like years from now, Amber was worried that I would change for the worse after marriage: specifically, that I would start taking her for granted and that our romance would fade, and we’d just be two old fogeys living with each other. So, as you can imagine, my comment about romance feeling different in twenty years didn’t exactly help me build my case that I was her man for marriage.
That conversation raises the question: is it okay if you change after marriage? Sometimes you hear people say that marriage changes things for the worse, but last week Carrie talked about how her husband changed her. Is that okay? Is change after marriage always bad, or is it possible to change for the better after marriage?
I think there are four kinds of ways that a person can change after marriage.
1. You change because you start taking the other person for granted after marriage.
This is typically a bad change. I’ve written before about the time, a few years into our marriage, that I had been slacking on helping Amber out with the chores around the house, letting her wash the dishes, take care of the laundry, pay the bills, and change the diapers—while I grabbed a book and relaxed on the chair. Not good! Just because she promised to love me for life, and just because she forgives me for my mistakes, does not mean that I get to go into cruise mode. Why? Because I also promised that I would always love her! Merely saying “I love you” does not fulfill those marriage vows. I have to constantly show her that I love her through my actions—otherwise I’m not following through on the vows I made to her at our wedding.
2. You learn something good from your spouse, or from someone else, and you change as a result.
For instance, before I met Amber I didn’t really take emotions seriously. I thought they were something to be stuffed, rather than listened to. So whenever Amber would ask me, “How do you feel about that?” I’d get all nervous and not know how to respond. But Amber helped me to see that our emotions can be a right response to reality, and instead of ignoring them, I could “talk” with my emotions. I think I’m a fuller person because of her insight.
3. You change because you’re a living human being, and changes are a natural part of the life cycle for living human beings.
For instance, I’m not going to have as strong of a sex drive when I’m 65 as I do when I’m 25. That’s okay! It’s part of the natural life cycle. A guy told me once that “love takes on different flavors,” and I think that’s true as a couple ages. That’s not something to be afraid of, but to embrace. Just think of the glowing couples you’ve seen who have been married fifty years and more, and are still holding hands and full of affection for each other. It’s natural that sex drive decreases as you age—but it doesn’t mean that love has to decrease.
4. You change because marriage changes you for the better.
This change can happen very subtly, and many times without us even noticing. But it’s real. For instance, before we got married I constantly thought about the possibility of Amber breaking up with me and getting together with another guy, whom she would like more than me. Not that I actually thought she would do it, but I let that jealousy consume me. It was miserable. That jealousy didn’t completely vanish even after marriage, but about a year after marriage, I noticed that I had stopped thinking about the possibility of her breaking up with me. Our commitment to each other—as expressed in a very tangible way through marriage—gradually did a number on my jealousy, and today I’m a more confident and free person as a result. That was a positive change.
So have I changed after marriage? Yes, and some of those changes have been for the better. As Carrie said, we shouldn’t go into marriage in order to change someone—that’s “more like manipulation than transformation.” We also need a basic level of honesty, responsibility, and other character traits before going into marriage. You can’t just expect that marriage will magically transform you from an irresponsible person into a responsible person.
At the same time, life involves change, and living up to the commitment of marriage can help us to become even better people. As long as we’re already striving for greatness in character, and honoring our promise to love through thick and thin, we don’t need to be afraid of change after marriage.