First Two Years Of Marriage Are Critical

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Couples who marry before age 18, on average, part ways in the first two years of marriage. Adult couples, on average, divorce within seven years of their marriage. New studies show that the long-term outcome of marriages between adults can be predicted from how well the couples do in the first two years of their marriage and how much their relationship changes in that period.

Actually, the harbingers of an early divorce are often present during courtship. Nonetheless, partners often ignore these signs, fondly hoping that the vows and ties of marriage will fix any problem that might have come their way. "Story book romance," and the fiery and stormy passions of courtship don't always indicate that a marriage will last: these can be signs that the marriage is destined to fail.

Once upon a time, when I was the new kid on the block at a mental health center, I walked into the office of a female colleague. She was "lost" in a reverie, as if mesmerized by a bouquet of seven beautiful red roses on her desk. I couldn't help but ask, "Who sent you such beautiful roses?" Without interrupting her daydreaming, and with her gaze still fixed on the roses, she replied "My husband. This is our seventh." "Oh, wow!" I said, "Others get 'seven-year-itch' and you get seven beautiful roses. Congratulations on your seventh marriage anniversary!" She turned to me and, for the first time in this whole conversation, looked at me and said, "We married seven months ago. He sends me flowers every month on this day of the month."

Yes, you guessed it right. Before their second marriage anniversary, they had separated. They got back together within a month only to soon separate again. After several separations and reunions, the couple divorced before their fourth marriage anniversary.

Unfortunately, some partners pitch their relationship at a very high level, one artificially high. It's downhill from there on. They can't keep up with that level of performance and passion for too long. But, their expectations of each other remain at an unrealistic level. In trying to live up to those expectations, partners end up exhausted, angry and frustrated with each other. Divorce can seem to be the only solution at that point.

A majority of marriages in India are still "arranged marriages," one that are not made by couples in courtship, but arranged by their families and relatives. Often brides and bridegrooms don't know even know each other prior to their marriage. To a western couple this may sound strange, but these marriages endure.

A cultural anthropologist had a cute analogy to compare Eastern and Western marriages. He said marriage is like a pot of water. Western couples marry when the fire is in flames, the pot is hot and water is boiling. After the marriage, the fire dies down and the pot soon begins to get cold. But, Eastern couples go out to collect the wood after they get married. Then they light the fire and start warming the pot. By the time the water comes to the boiling point and starts cooling, life is almost over. I always get a chuckle when I relate this analogy and end it with, "Don't let your marriage go to pot."

Psychologist Ted Huston studied couples from their wedding day through the next 13 years. The following findings from Huston's research are noteworthy:
1. Many newlyweds are far from "blissfully in love."
2. Couples whose marriages begin in romantic bliss are particularly prone to early divorce because such intensity is too hard to maintain. Marriages that start out with "Hollywood romance" have a doubtful future.
3. Marriages that start with less Hollywood type romance usually have a more promising future.
4. Spouses in lackluster marriages have relatively long-lasting relationships and are less prone to divorce because there is no significant erosion of such things as romance, passion, expectations, dreams or ideals.
5. It is the loss of love and affection, and not the conflicts and the arguments that send the couples hurtling towards divorce.

Those couples, who become less loving, more negative and critical of their spouses during the first two years of marriage, may be headed for divorce. Marriages that last longer are those in which couples tend to express less negative feelings towards each other, view each other more positively and experience stable love for each other.

Lovers initially behave at their best in an idealized state of courtship. After they tie the knot, the submerged aspects of their real personalities emerge. This disillusionment can soon destroy a marriage. To save the marriage a couple needs to understand that "all that glitters is not gold." A steady relationship with stable feelings and a good bit of endurance and tolerance of each other goes a long way in making for a long lasting relationship.

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Copyright 2000, Mind Publications 


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