The Ties That Unbind

Focuses on a study conducted by Lawrence Kurdek, a psychology professor at Wright State University regarding the marital quality of married couples. Status of marital quality over the four-year period after the marriage; Why marital quality declines in the seventh year of marriage; Impact of having kids on marital quality; Advice of Kurdek to couples.

By Aaron Dalton, published January 1, 2000 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

MARRIAGE

Our cultural vocabulary indicates that marriages move one way--downhill.

The "honeymoon period" implies post-honeymoon strife; the "seven-year itch" suggests that we tire of our mate at year seven.

Now, Wright State University psychology professor Lawrence Kurdek, Ph.D., confirms that our lexicon is accurate. His surveys of over 500 couples have revealed that most married couples experience a gradual but steady decline in marital quality over the four-year period after they tie the knot. Newlyweds tend to wear rose-colored glasses at first, says Kurdek, but reality kicks in after they see their partner drink from the milk carton or forget to take out the trash one too many times. Though happiness stabilizes after four years, it declines again around year seven. This dip is harder to explain, Kurdek says, but may stem from the tendency to reexamine life as time goes on.

Having kids is another factor: Pairs with biological children had lower marital quality than childless couples or those living with stepchildren, reports Kurdek in a recent issue of Developmental Psychology. "Caring for children may result in time taken away from the marriage," he says.

Not all spouses are destined for dissatisfaction, says Kurdek. To prevent disappointment down the road, new couples should temper high expectations with a dose of reality; like any relationship, wedlock has its ups and downs.

PHOTO (COLOR): Our cultural vocabulary indicates that marriages move one way--downhill.