Newlyweds who keep the romance alive for at least the first two years of marriage may be more likely to stay together for the long run, a new study suggests.
Couples headed for a quick divorce – married for less than two years - tended to become disillusioned and negative toward one another within two months of being wed.
Those who go the middle distance - two to seven years - may be very romantic and loving at first, almost "giddily" in love. But if feelings wane and partners become disillusioned within the first year, it could be a sign of trouble.
Those couples most likely to be married for the long-term are those who maintain their positive feelings for their spouse for at least the first two years, researchers report.
In order to determine whether couples' newlywed years predict the fate of their marriage, researchers led by Ted L Huston of the University of Texas at Austin followed 156 couples married for the first time in 1981.
After 13 years, 68 of the couples were happily married, 32 were unhappily married, and 56 had divorced.
The researchers divided the divorced couples into two groups: those who had divorced between two and seven years after marriage, and those whose marriages lasted at least seven years. They chose this point because the average length of marriage for couples that divorce in the United States is seven years.
The researchers found that the "likelihood of divorce depended significantly on how much the marriage changed away from the romantic ideal over its first two years.''
"Couples that divorced quickly had a weak, frayed alliance as newlyweds,'' they write, "whereas those who divorced after two or more years showed evidence of becoming disillusioned with each other and their relationship over time.''
Among couples that stayed married, the researchers found, differences between the happily married and unhappily married groups were apparent right after they tied the knot.
Compared with the unhappily married couples, those with happy marriages "were more deeply in love as newlyweds and saw each other as possessing a more responsive personality; they also reported less ambivalence about their relationship and expressed negativity toward one another less often," the researchers write.
The couples who wound up divorcing after seven years were actually the most affectionate as newlyweds, even more so than those with happy marriages, but their affection toward one another dropped dramatically during the first year of marriage.
"Their short 'whirlwind' courtships suggest that these couples may have been particularly motivated during courtship to make their relationships work,'' the researchers write. "It may have taken these couples several more years to completely lose faith in their marriages, perhaps because they harboured the hope that their relationship would recover its original vibrancy.''