Why and how marriages work? Marriages improve till about 20 years and even after

Positive outcomes for couples in long-term marriages are the norm

The Hush Post: The day of marriage is like taking two sacrificial goats to the altar. They don’t know where they are headed to. Bedecked with the best of clothes, jewellery, arrangements, the bride and bridegroom begin a new life based on hope and a mix of true and false assumptions.

Most of us do not have any clue what ups and downs are awaiting us. Yet,  we don’t plan that we go about our marriage this way or that way. We just keep charting our course as we walk down the path of life. Studies have suggested that as we go further on in our marriage, we only improve with every passing year.

The illusions of perfect marriage start getting cloudy in the first five to 10 years, as responsibilities of work and family begin to press in upon us. Diverging views on issues will keep you arguing, especially in today’s times when both the spouses are educated, independent, opinionated.

Marriages improve over decades 

Sociologist Paul Amato in his study “Changes in spousal relationships over the marital life course’ was the first one to compare the relationship trajectories of spouses who stayed married to the those who eventually divorced. His hypotheses, based on research which spread over 20 yrs (1980-2000), are based on law of averages, yet are a clear indication of the reality of marriages.

He says when couples stick together through difficult times, remain faithful to one another, and actively work to resolve problems, positive long-term outcomes (while not guaranteed) are common. Though some marriages of course are deeply troubled, and divorce is the best outcome in these cases.

Research shows that positive outcomes for couples in long-term marriages are the norm. Shared activities, like recreation, eating dinner, or visiting friends together, improved after about 20 years, despite a drop in the early years. The authors note that “about half of all marriages last a lifetime”.

Early years of marriage difficult 

Contrary to what many people think, marital quality does not inevitably decline—it tends to remain high or even improve over the decades. Amato’s study is so relevant in today’s times when marriages don’t even cross the 5-yr threshold. Some break even after as long as 15-20 years of blissfull happiness. The research should encourage most couples to look to the future with a degree of optimism. There is no reason to assume that trajectories of relationship quality are different today than they were in the 1980s and 1990s.

Marital quality actually improves over the years for couples who don’t split up. Marital happiness declined slightly in the early years of marriage, it improved after about 20 years for most long-time married couples, while discord improved continuously over time.

The earliest years of marriage have the highest probability of divorce, at least after the first year or so. Not many people divorce during the first year of marriage. After that, however, the probability of divorce rises quickly. The longer people stay married, the more the probability of divorce declines. But since recent years have shown an increase in divorce in longer-term marriages, it indicates the risk never goes away.

There are a wide range of outcomes for spouses in long-term marriages. Some couples stay in marriages that aren’t particularly good, and things never get much better. Some couple’s relationship gets more distressed over a period of time. In other couples, troubled marriages improve over time.

On an average, being happy, frequently sharing activities with your spouse, and having a peaceful marriage after 20, 30, or 40 years is quite common.

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