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10 Things That Have Surprised Me About Marriage

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10 Things That Have Surprised Me About Marriage

A year and a half ago, this handsome fox and I tied the knot.

And, as everyone had promised, that magical day really was just the starting line for bigger adventures to come.

It feels crazy, really, looking back on all that has happened in that short amount of time. From finally moving in together after we got married, to fixing up and putting Barclay’s 120-yr-old house on the rental market, to jumping through a hundred hoops to get our Spanish visas, to sorting through and giving away nearly everything we both owned, to packing up what was left into a handful of suitcases for our big move, to saying good-bye to everyone and everything we loved back in Kansas City, to flying across the ocean with our two pups to begin this new chapter in Spain, to moving flats yet again a few weeks after we arrived, to making the most of cheap airline tickets and traveling around Europe as much as possible, to hosting nearly a hundred days of visitors here in Barcelona, to the endless daily adventures that have come with learning a new language, a new culture, a new social circle, and a new rhythm here in this country we call home — the past year and a half has been a wild and wonderful whirlwind, to be sure.

Still, our biggest adventure through it all has been just the ordinary, behind-the-scenes, everyday-ness of learning how on earth to be married. 

I feel like the two of us went into marriage fully “expecting the unexpected”, ready to pivot and learn and deal with lots of new curveballs that would be coming our way. But to be honest, we’ve both been a bit surprised by how unsurprising marriage has been so far, in the best of ways! Maybe it’s because we got married later in life and had already done some of the deep work to know our own selves well, maybe it was years of honest conversations and counseling together as a couple before we ever tied the knot, or maybe we’ve just been exceptionally lucky to have a relatively smooth ride thus far. Whatever the reasons, both Barclay and I have been pleasantly surprised at how the transition into a new season of life together as the has felt like the most normal, natural thing in the world.

We’re love being married!

For sure, though, there have still been a few little surprises that we didn’t see coming with this whole marriage biz. So in honor of Valentine’s Day this week, I thought I would dust off our old 10 Things I’ve Learned series and share a few.

Barclay and Ali Martin Wedding

10 Things That Have Surprised Me About Marriage

1. Just how much fun it is.

Last month during our Ask Ali Q&A on Instagram, someone asked what has surprised us the most about marriage. And this was the first thing that popped into my mind — marriage is fun!

I know, it probably sounds like the most obvious thing in the world. But in the months leading up to our wedding, both Barclay and I were amazed by how often people repeated the word “work” when giving us marriage advice — how much work it is, how to make this or that work, how the work will all be worth itso much work.  It’s all true, of course, marriage is undoubtedly work. But here’s the thing — as two people getting married in our mid- and late-thirties, who had spent all of our adult lives watching most of our friends go through various stages of marriage, separation, divorce, and even loss — this wasn’t news to us. If anything, we had ditched the rose-colored glasses about marriage long ago, and were already counting on a lifetime of constant, nuanced, loving work to make this marriage last.

What we didn’t hear many people talk about was how much sheer fun marriage could also be. ♡

Oh my gosh, you guys, I smile and laugh at home now more than I ever have in my life. Usually in the tiniest, simplest, most ordinary everyday moments. Whether it’s hitting the snooze button for a few extra minutes of groggy morning snuggles, to cracking up as our dogs lose their freaking minds when it’s time for breakfast, to texting an endless stream of inside jokes back and forth during the day, to cozying up on the couch while we finish our Spanish homework, to sharing that last pour of wine while we finish the dishes after a dinner party, to indecipherable end-of-the-day chats through mouthfuls of toothpaste — getting to live this married life together has just instantly added so many extra little sparks of joy to our days. And over time, they’ve added up to create a vibe here in our home that feels so light and comfortable and fun. I love it so, so much.
To be sure, we totally have our hard days too, when marriage does feel more like work. But most of the time, I just feel so lucky to get to hang out with my favorite person in the world each day. It’s the best.

2. My inner introvert isn’t overwhelmed by all of the togetherness.

I have to confess — one of my biggest worries going into marriage was how my super-introverted-self was going to handle all of the nonstop togetherness that comes specifically with living together. Not to mention, living together in a brand new foreign country where we moved knowing hardly anyone. And on top of that, working from home together five days a week in a tiny little European apartment.

As an introvert who has always loved keeping a pretty full social schedule with friends, I’ve always relied heavily on my solo time at home to rest and recharge my extroverted batteries between hangs. So I was a little nervous about giving up most of that precious alone time when we got married. Lol, so much so, that I even made Barclay sit down for a little nerdy pow-wow before we moved to brainstorm a list of possible ways that we could give each other space if someone (read: mostly me!) got overwhelmed.

Turns out, it’s all been surprisingly ok! Actually, more than ok. :)

I think that I completely underestimated the fact that:

  1. I was marrying a man who knows me (and can read me) incredibly well.  Like, he already knows that after a party, or a long day, or having hosted visitors for a few days, I’m totally going to be that girl who makes a beeline for the sofa and doesn’t want to go anywhere (or probably chat much) for the rest of the day. And he’s cool with that, and is happy to give me space and not take it personally.
  2. I am capable of communicating my needs too. I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but I underestimated how easily I could just speak up (!!) if I need to stay in for the night, or go off into another room, or just in poke my earbuds and be in my own world for a few hours. I’ve always felt comfortable doing that around my close friends, and also felt super-comfortable speaking up when Barclay and I were dating, so I’m not sure why I thought it might be harder in marriage. But it’s quite the opposite — I think that any partner is always relieved to have the other speak up for what they need, rather than trying to read his/her mind.
  3. Hanging out with him is a completely different kind of social energy. This was probably the biggest surprise of all. I think I underestimated how hanging out with my husband is just a totally different kind of social energy than hanging with a group or even other close friends. And also, how time spent just doing everyday life around the house with him now also feels notably different than the time we spent together when we were dating and engaged (<– when our time was focused more actively on hanging out on “dates”, versus being home together and often doing our own things). Our life together as a married couple now just feels incredibly comfortable and easy and natural. And I think because of that, it doesn’t require the extra extroverted energies I was expecting.

To be sure, I still really mega-enjoy those random hours when I get the house to myself. Or when he’s out of town traveling, Barclay likes to joke that I don’t really start to miss him until the third or fourth day. (Lol, not true, but also kind true.)  But in general, my introverted self gives marriage two thumbs up. ;)

3. Two words: fried eggs.

Gotta say — I had no idea until we got married that my husband’s fried egg game was so strong! It has been a eggcelent surprise.

Also, gotta say that looks smokin’ hot first thing in the morning in the kitchen holding that sauté pan.

4. Opposites don’t always attract. 

For some reason, I think I’ve always had this subconscious idea that “opposites attract” when it comes to the not-so-fun adulting parts of marriage. Like, I always assumed that there would be one partner who’s just naturally (and happily) better at figuring out tax stuff, one who would be better at keeping the plants alive, one at turning off the snooze button and rolling out of bed, one who’s good at home repairs, one at keeping up on mail/email/texts, one who likes to manage investments, one who’s really into lawn care, etc., etc.

Mmnm, nope. ? Turns out both of us are equally terrible at all of these things.

In retrospect, I’m sure this has always been the case with most couples. Dad probably was never “better” at handling our family’s finances — he just took that responsibility on decades ago, and figured it out as he went. Mom was probably never “better” at grocery shopping and meal planning — she just stepped up to the plate and taught herself how to cook the kinds of food she wanted to feed her family.

Here in our new marriage, we’re still in the experimental stages of how exactly to divvy up those responsibilities. For example, dread them as I do, I’m newly in charge of taxes for two people. As much as he loves hitting the snooze button, Barclay drags himself out of bed first in the morning (and bonus, brings me coffee in bed!). We also made a joint new year’s resolution to make ourselves read some finance books and try to learn more about investing. And together, we have concluded that we have zero interest in tackling more home remodeling projects in our life, ha, so we have agreed to just always live enough below our means that budget in a contractor when we need one.

I will note that — as two individuals who were single for the first long stretch of our adult lives — we both thankfully have at least moderate experience with the full spectrum of adulting responsibilities. But if you come over to our house and notice that all of our plants have accidentally died, well, you can know that we’re both to blame.

5. This whole marriage thing still often feels surreal.

Even a year and a half into this marriage business, I’m surprised at how I forget that we’re husband and wife.

Like, I still wake up many mornings and turn to see him sleeping next to me and think, “Oh yeah…we’re married now!” Or I’ll catch myself calling Fiona “his” dog or Henry “mine”. Or I’ll be listening to friends talk about being single and start nodding along, still feeling like I still am too. Or, perhaps most often, I’ll hear someone mention the Martins, and completely space off that they’re referring to us. (This whole name change business is still weird!)

Most of the time, it does seem real. But this whole “feeling married” thing was definitely not a flip-of-the-switch kind of thing. It’s all still sinking in.

6. We go through impressively more…



…than either of us ever expected.

Lol, deep down, I think that Barclay still doubts that women really need that much toilet paper. (And doubts that the middle-of-the-line tp is worth the “splurge” over the cheap, papery stuff.)  Likewise, I still marvel at our ever-growing pile of clothes in the laundry basket. I mean, I know men’s clothes are bigger, but still.  :)

7. Our issues are still our issues.

When Barclay and I first started seeing a therapist together years ago, I think that I imagined that with enough work, we would eventually be able to “get past” most of our main sources of tension/conflict.

Turns out, our main issues are still our main issues.

Or, as our therapist calls them, our “unsolvable problems.”

We’ve actually come to find the idea quite freeing — that every couple (or every relationship, really) has a few core tensions that will probably never really be “solved” or disappear. And that that’s ok. The goal instead is to find healthy ways to hold those tensions as a couple, and better communicate through them. It’s not always easy, of course, and I know that we’re just young pups as a couple and have decades more to learn about this. But even in our first year and half of marriage, it’s been cool to watch us slowly getting better at navigating some of our own “unsolvables.” And learn how to better give more grace to ourselves as individuals and as a couple.

8. What it’s like to have a caregiver.

From the moment I first met Barclay, I was blown away by the depth of his compassion, generosity, and caring heart for the world. But I have to say, being on the receiving end of that kind of love — especially when it comes to the day-in, day-out, inconvenient, non-glamorous needs that can come with chronic pain — gosh, it still brings tears to my eyes each time I think about it.

He has simply been amazing

I honestly had never let myself imagine that someone else could step so fully into that space in my life. And more, that someone like him could do so day after day, week after week, year after year with such patience and generosity. (Like, he’s the man who is actually happy to offer me my 1000th back rub. And spins doctors visits into “dates.” And regularly breaks out in sweats because he insists on sherpa-ing both of our suitcases everywhere we go.)  His steady care behind the scenes is one of the most powerful gifts I’ve ever experienced. And while it’s still hard for me at times to not feel guilty that I was the one who brought this challenge into our marriage — a challenge, no less, that will probably only get harder with time — I’m slowly learning how to receive and believe this love. I’m so grateful for it everyday.

9. Europeans think we’re crazy.

Specifically, when we mention that we got married almost exactly two years after our first date. Most of our European friends’ eyes grow wide as they exclaim, “Really?!  You only knew each other for two years?”

People in Europe definitely tend on average to wait much longer to get married. Which has definitely been a bit of a change coming from the Midwest, where waiting for two years seemed like — oh — an eternity.

10. The “little stuff” still doesn’t get old.

More than anything, I feel like the best surprise of marriage has been the simple fact that all of the tiny everyday things I was looking forward to with our life together really are just as sweet and as wonderful as I had hoped. Like, I still can’t get over the fact that he wakes up early to bring me coffee each morning. And I still smile seeing his clothes in the closet next to mine. And I still appreciate having him as my dog-walking date, and still grin each time I pass by our mailbox labeled “Señor y Señora Martin,” and still love sitting side by side with our laptops to book tickets for our next adventure, and still get butterflies in my stomach anytime he pulls me in for a kiss.

I had hoped that I would never come to take any of these things for granted in marriage. And at least so far, they haven’t lost their magic. I’m so thankful for this chance to experience it all. And grateful, as ever, for him. ♡♡♡

Ali and Barclay Martin Wedding in Kansas City

How about you? Any surprises to share?

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56 comments on “10 Things That Have Surprised Me About Marriage”

  1. I’m beginning to think there is more to this therapy thing!
    Ali – being that I live in Kansas City, do you have a recommendation for a good person to talk to, by you or your family/friends? Thank you!