Psychologists Tell Us How to Make It Through 5 of the Most Dangerous Periods of Marriage and Not Break Up
Writer Robert Stevenson once said, “Marriage is one long conversation, checkered by disputes.” Sooner or later, every couple goes through a crisis, it’s absolutely inevitable. The good news is, when coping with the crisis, spouses reach a new level in their relationships and find new ways to be happy with each other.
Bright Side believes that there’s no need to be afraid of a marriage crisis because it’s a sign that the relationship is evolving. The main thing is to not give in and look for ways to overcome the difficulties. Because when we promised to be together “for better or for worse,” we need to prove that those words were not just empty rhetoric.
The 1st year of marriage: Realization stage
The bodacious singer Pink proposed to her boyfriend herself. However, the couple broke up one year later... Then they reunited again! The couple is now raising two children.
Rita DeMaria, a marriage and family therapist, calls this crisis a “realization stage.” It usually happens after 6-12 months of living together. The first charm of being in love disappears and you start seeing your partner the way he/she really is with all of their weaknesses and sometimes not very pleasant habits (that you gladly ignored before). “It’s the time to learn to work as a team,” DeMaria says.
What should you do? “If you haven’t discussed serious subjects like finance, children, relatives’ visits, free time, etc. before your marriage, it’s time to do it now,” Beverly Hayman, a psychologist, recommends. You need to speak honestly about your values and priorities. There is a probability that they will not entirely coincide with those of your partner, and it’s then you two will need to find a compromise. It’s very important to reach a firm agreement to the most “burning” questions during this period of time.
3-4 years of marriage: A dangerous “comfort zone”
The marriage of Madonna and Sean Penn lasted only 3 years, but these stars say in their interviews that they still love each other. Perhaps they rushed to get a divorce?
Research conducted with 2,000 British married couples showed that in 3 and a half years, spouses start taking each other for granted, and stop saying “I love you” to each other. Every couple finds its own “comfort zone.” On one hand, this is a wonderful feeling of security and relaxation, but on the other rather, unpleasant things become normal in their lives, like keeping the door open when you pee and wearing shabby pajamas. Though 82% of participating couples said that they were happy in their marriage, 49% mentioned that they wanted their partner to be more romantic.
What should you do? You need to keep a certain degree of emotional intensity in your life. Compliment each other more often and praise each other’s achievements. It’s better to avoid saying everything that’s on your mind to your partner; sometimes, it’s best to keep silent. If you see that there’s a problem, begin your conversation softly without accusations. The family psychologist John Gottman recommends looking within first. Growth in marriage happens when each partner is capable of viewing themselves from the outside and understand how much he/she contributes (or doesn’t contribute) to the relationship.
5-7 years of marriage: “The seven-year itch”
David Schwimmer from Friends and his wife Zoe Buckman announced that they wanted to take a break from their relationship after 7 years of marriage. Their fans hope that this is a temporary decision.
There is a certain term in western psychology called “the seven-year itch.” This is one of the most critical periods in every marriage. By this time, the couple has a fine-tuned life, settled relationship, and the spouses treat each other like they’re on autopilot, which is a big mistake, Beverly Hayman reminds. Interest towards each other decreases due to routine. It seems that the partners know everything about each other. Sometimes a couple makes a decision to have a first child (or a second one) in order to save their marriage, but it’s worth remembering that a child is a separate person, and not a rescue device.
What should you do? Robert Taibbi, a family therapist, suggests the following:
1. Keep your communication open. You should be less formal, like “How was your day?” “OK”, but more sincere and emotional.
2. Solve your problems immediately as they arise, don’t let them pile up.
3. Listen to yourself. Assess your state from time to time, refresh the list of your wants and your vision of the future. Share your thoughts with your partner.
4. Discuss the future of your relationship. Which plans do you have for the next year, or next 5 or 10? Again, the key is openness and honesty, not politeness and vagueness.
10-15 years of marriage: “A difficult age”
Megan Fox and Brian Austin Green almost got divorced when their relationship reached 11 years together. Still they managed to save their marriage and now the couple has 3 children.
In accordance with a recent study, 10 years is the most difficult threshold of any relationship. 2,000 married women from the USA who were interviewed said that the 11th year of marriage is the most difficult. Women experience a huge load of responsibilities during this period of time: they have to take care of their tween children, of their home, and they also have to work. Since they always lack time, the quality of their relationship decreases. A husband can stop seeing his wife as an attractive woman. Statistical data claims that an average marriage in Europe lasts for approximately 11 years.
What should you do? The good news is that if you overcome this time period, the satisfaction with your relationship will continuously increase during the following 20 years. Family therapists Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart recommend that you treat your relationships with humor—including yourself. Laugh together more often and lower the level of your expectations. Maybe your marriage isn’t perfect, but is it really that bad? Focus your attention on the positive side of your marriage and your partner.
20-30 years of marriage: Midlife crisis and “gray divorce”
Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman broke up after 30 years of marriage which shocked their fans. However, a year later they understood that they had made a mistake and reunited.
The crisis of 20 years of marriage happens due to the personal midlife crises of both spouses. The effect is increased by a so called empty-nest syndrome when children grow up and leave the family home while the spouses stay by themselves, like in the beginning of their relationship. The spouses may feel that their marriage is exhausted because its main mission is completed. American psychologists call this divorce “gray divorce” because some spouses have already become gray-haired by this time. In recent times, the number of these divorces has been growing.
What should you do? Don’t distance from each other. Look for other meanings of existence for you as a couple. If spouses ignored their marriage problems while raising children then, when it’s just the two of them, the conflicts may become more intense. On the other hand, you have more time to solve them. It’s a great opportunity to rebuild your marriage. Steve Seabold, a relationship coach, recommends doing sports together and creating new common goals, like travel, new business, language courses, or something that will help you to create unforgettable experiences.
Non-standard recommendations to overcome a marriage crisis
Mort Fertel, a relationship expert, thinks that popular recommendations to marriage rescue like sharing feelings with a partner or visiting a family psychologist are not always effective because they don’t define what exactly needs to be done to overcome the crisis.
Here are some unusual recommendations by Mort Fertel on how to save your marriage:
1. Save your marriage even by yourself. It’s usually believed that a marriage can be saved only when both partners are ready to work on problems. “The efforts made by even one person can change the marriage dynamics and can motivate the more stubborn spouse to join the process of the marriage rescue,” Mort Fertel says.
2. Don’t ask yourself wrong questions. Don’t ask yourself, “Is this the right person I’ve chosen for a spouse?” The key to a successful marriage is not to find the right person but to learn to love the one that you found. Because love is not luck, it’s your choice.
3. Separation drives you apart, not closer. Separation, which allegedly can refresh your feelings, can distance you from each other even more, especially during a marriage crisis where your goal is to be closer again.
4. Talk less about problems. Conversations about marriage problems don’t solve them but make them deeper. They cause arguments and anger. Talking about a problem doesn’t mean you solved it. Talk less, do more. Find real ways to solve your difficulties.
5. Don’t think that a therapist will give you the exact answers. Therapy sessions help spouses talk to each other and understand each other’s point of view, but they don’t give answers regarding what needs to be done to save the marriage. As a result, couples remain very disappointed with their therapy.
6. Don’t tell your relatives and friends about your marriage crisis. “One of the most important values of marriage is confidentiality, that’s why talking to your relatives or friends about your marriage or your spouse is a big mistake. This is a violation of confidentiality for your spouse, and it’s wrong,” Mort Fertel says.
In 2017, one of the most stable Hollywood couples — Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne — celebrated their 35th anniversary. They’ve lived through different hardships during their relationship but still managed to save their love.