Item from the Smart
Marriages Archive, reproduced in the Divorce Statistics
Time Magazine, September 17, 1999
Positive Illusions: From "I do" to the Seven-Year Itch, a new
that marriage (surprise) is hard work BY AMY DICKINSON
Next to fig newtons, there's nothing I like better than a good
longitudinal study. I especially enjoy ones with fancy titles that use
lots of charts and graphs to tell us what we suspected all along. The
latest, entitled "The Nature and Predictors of the Trajectory of Change
in Marital Quality for Husbands and Wives over the First 10 Years of
Marriage," was published this month in the Journal of Developmental
Psychology. Cutely subtitled "Predicting the Seven-Year Itch,"
extensive research charts the decline in the quality of marriages of more
than 500 Midwestern couples, surveyed over 10 years.
According to the research, married couples' assessment of the quality of
their marriage starts to sink rapidly just after the "I do" and
downward through the first four years. The quality of marriage plateaus
after that first dip and then declines again during years eight, nine and
10--the "seven-year itch" part. Couples reported that the presence
children is, not surprisingly, a considerable stress on a marriage; the
research states that having children at home prevented married couples
from maintaining "positive illusions about their relationships."
My local bookstore has a shelf of relationship books that is longer than
most relationships, detailing how to find the love you want, how to get
married and how to create, and try to maintain, those "positive
illusions." In our popular culture, marriage seems to flow naturally
romance--Julia Roberts keeps running off with Richard Gere. Americans
love to get married, but half our marriages don't take. Then we switch
partners and remarry, with roughly the same odds of success.
Natalie Low, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and instructor at Harvard,
counsels families as they navigate their way through the illusions and
into the reality of marriage. She says the couples she sees are trying to
nurture their relationships along with raising perfect kids and
maintaining careers, but in this compartmentalized era, they are without
the benefit of support systems of extended families and communities.
Couples also expect to be happy. But "the facts of life are very
grinding, so the reality of marriage is grinding," says Low, who has
married for 51 years. Marriage is now, as it has always been, hard work.
Marriage is not a static event that can be measured, but a series of
developments--those triumphs and setbacks--that make up life. "There
no obvious course to follow, so couples just have to keep working. A
person sees dramatic changes during a marriage," Low says, "so
has to be committed to a way of life."
Lawrence Kurdek, Ph.D., the Wright State researcher who wrote the
seven-year-itch study, said that its grim statistics actually made him
hopeful. "Knowing the pattern of marriage relationships might help
couples stay together, if they can come up with positive ways to cope
with it," he says. "We have to build into marriage the idea that
will be lots of change."
When married couples hit the inevitable doldrums, they may want to
revisit their Hollywood-fueled expectations about what marriage is and
what it will do for them. Then maybe they can chuck their positive
illusions and rent a good movie--one where the hero and heroine don't
necessarily live happily-ever-after all the time, but stay together
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