After I got married, our relationship changed in ways I never expected.

Like many other girls, marriage was never a major goal of mine. It was one of those things I knew would happen eventually, but probably not until my thirties. It was more important for me to get an education, travel, and build a career I’m proud of.

Those things are still important, but marriage came almost ten years before I had planned. I met the love of my life at seventeen, knew I would marry him by eighteen, and moved into an apartment with him at nineteen. We were together for six years before tying the knot, which was plenty of time to move out of the “honeymoon phase” and into the reality of a relationship. We lived together, planned a future together, and supported each other through the ups and downs of early twenty-something life.

When we decided to get married right after college, it was a mutual decision that we both made without a second thought. After the rings were on our fingers, the marriage certificate signed and the thank yous sent out, we expected our life to return to exactly what it was before. We had already been living together for several years and had talked about our future ad nauseum. What could really change?

Now that it’s been nearly two years, I can see that marriage really did change how I think about our relationship and future. Having that piece of paper legally binding us makes our future seem even more real and closer than ever. Here are a few ways my priorities shifted.

1. I became more invested in our health.

He will probably always have a soft spot in his heart for Taco Bell, and I’ll never pass up an opportunity to have some Wisconsin-made ice cream, but I realize now that our food choices impact more than our waistlines. My health matters to him, and his health matters to me.

Ideally, we’d like to have at least two children, probably in our mid to late thirties. Since we’ll be having children relatively late, it’s extra important that we take care of ourselves now. I want to have healthy pregnancies, and I want us both to have plenty of energy to keep up with little ones when the time comes. I’d never ask him to completely give up Taco Bell and I’ll never give up ice cream, but we do a good job of eating well most of the time because we realize there’s a lot at stake.

We also hope to have several happy, healthy years together in retirement. As much as we still feel like invincible twenty-somethings, we know the day will come when we start to feel our bodies slowing down. I don’t have any fear about getting older (it’s better than the alternative), but I hope we both age gracefully without too many problems. For that reason, it became more important that we both regularly visit the doctor for check-ups and screenings.

Before marriage, we did our own thing; we didn’t discuss our food choices and we definitely didn’t talk about doctor’s appointments. Now that we’re officially together ’til death do us part, it’s more important to both of us that we live our best lives.

2. Our finances merged (and I took control).

We kept our bank accounts separate while we were dating. We shared an apartment, but we each wrote a separate check out for our half of the rent. We even paid for our groceries separately. I never had any idea what was happening with his accounts and he didn’t know anything about mine.

It came naturally to me to be responsible with money. I understood credit, kept an eye on my credit score, and never spent outside my means. He didn’t have quite the same philosophy. Since we live in a marital property state, though, his debt became my debt when we got married. Suddenly I had credit card debt for the first time in my life. A few balance transfers and aggressive payment plans later, we now only have student debt to worry about.

Similar to physical health, our financial health as a couple became more important after we got married. Not only was I worried about the new debt I acquired, but I also started researching our options for purchasing a home (someday far in the future) and for emergency and retirement savings. We hadn’t ever discussed these things in detail before, but now that we’re married, we knew we needed to get more realistic about the future.

3. I realized compromises and apologies are more important.

Having been together for so long, we’re used to apologizing and compromising sometimes. Most of them come from me because I tend to be controlling sometimes (I know it’s bad, I’m working on it!).  Since we got married, I’m more mindful of his feelings. Instead of pushing for my own interests all the time, I listen to his input and respect his decisions just like he respects mine.

It began to feel even more important after marriage because I see the long-term more clearly than I did before. Here is a person who agreed to be by my side through all of life’s joyful moments and painful times, a person who I’m happy to spend every day of the rest of my life with. If I can’t admit to him when I’m wrong and ask for forgiveness when I need it, then what kind of companion am I? If I can’t make a few sacrifices for him, why would he ever make sacrifices for me? Marriage is a balance of giving and taking, and I can’t always be the taker.

I genuinely thought marriage wouldn’t change me, and I didn’t want it to. In many ways, things are the same as they always have been, but now we are more focused on our future in a realistic way.

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