02/23/2013 12:17 pm ET Updated Apr 25, 2013

Premarital Wisdom: The Truth About Marriage

How would your marriage be different if you had been handed an honest, comprehensive guide on what to expect after the wedding? We attempt to tell women what to expect when they're pregnant, but it seems that the Marriage 101 manual has neglected to become part of the premarital canon. And I'm not talking about the personality tests and sex quizzes that comprise most premarital classes. I'm talking about the truth, the nitty-gritty, honest, no-holds-barred truth about marriage: what your grandmother knew but never told you, what People magazine, Cosmo, and Facebook gloss over, what Hollywood avoids and what Jane Austen never knew (because, although she wrote romantically about love, she never married).

Quite often, my clients and e-course members who are in the midst of the marriage transitions cut right to the core and express with simple honesty what needs to be said. Such was the case five years ago when a very wise woman, who I'll call Emily, wrote the following post (which remains one of the most popular threads on my ec-ourse forum):

Since I have a problem with the "should feel likes" or "should be likes" revolving around growing up and marriage, I thought maybe we could all collect a list of things we've learned that are OK and even normal in marriage, things that society makes us think aren't. What do you all think? I'll start.

It's OK not to like your husband.

It's OK, and even healthy, to want to be alone for a day or two.

It's OK not to want to do every activity with your husband.

It's OK to find other men attractive (just don't act on it).

It's OK to feel nothing but love one minute, hatred the next, annoyance the next, ambivalence the next, back to love toward your husband all in one hour.

It's OK to want to be selfish sometimes.

It's OK to do things and think about things in different ways. It doesn't mean one of you is right and one of you is wrong.


It's OK not to want sex all the time (but giving in even when it's the last thing you want to do is OK, too).

Those are just some that I thought of. Anyone find anything else that caught them off guard but is really OK in the realm of marriage?

And women did. Here are some other responses:

  • It's okay to feel bored.
  • It's okay to sit on the couch and have nothing to talk about.
  • It's okay to want time alone.
  • It's okay not to miss your partner every time you're away from each other.
  • It's okay not to want to rip his/her clothes off every time he/she walks through the door.
  • It's okay to feel annoyed.
  • It's okay to wonder about other people.
  • It's okay to have doubt.
  • It's okay to have uncertainty.
  • It's okay not to think all of your partner's jokes are funny.
  • It's okay to feel awkward around each other, even after being together for many years.

When I wrote to Emily to ask for permission to quote her thread, she shared the following update:

After five years of marriage and almost one year of motherhood, I can say that change will continue to happen. If you're someone like me who has a hard time with transitions of varying degrees (hey, I have a hard time choosing a new computer because "what if I buy that one and find another one I like in a day or two?"), life won't always be easy. Add to that any sort of general anxiety and it can be a challenge.

That being said and going back to marriage: I still struggle sometimes when I hear in movies or read in articles that marriage shouldn't feel hard or challenging. However, I know that it's often not the marriage itself that is bringing on the challenges. It's my husband changing careers at the same time I found out I was pregnant. It's becoming a mother, which I knew would be a huge transition but I had no clue HOW huge of a transition it would be for me. It's figuring out how to find ways to do things for myself while living hours away from any family and not having a huge support system with my baby while my husband is working and learning his new job. These are the challenges that are going on right now in my life that are impacting my marriage.

And I do know it's OK to feel anxious about the stability of my relationship right now because it's not really my relationship. Ambivalent feelings surface from time to time. Then, the next day, I'd probably not be able to get enough of my husband. What truly matters is if you know your partner is truly there for you, in good times and bad, in the ways that count.

And those are the kinds of honest words you just don't see expressed very often in the mainstream People-and-Facebook culture.

Sheryl Paul, M.A., has counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, her e-courses and her website. She has appeared several times on "The Oprah Winfrey Show", as well as on "Good Morning America" and other top media shows and publications around the globe. To sign up for her free 78-page eBook, "Conscious Transitions: The 7 Most Common (and Traumatic) Life Changes", visit her website at And if you're suffering from relationship anxiety - whether single, dating, engaged, or married - give yourself the gift of her popular E-Course.