"I do" to the Seven-Year Itch - Time, Sept 27, 1999

owner-smartmarriages owner-smartmarriages
Thu Sep 23 14:24:30 EDT 1999

from: Smart Marriages 

Time Magazine, September 17, 1999 

Positive Illusions: From "I do" to the Seven-Year Itch, a new study shows 
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," this 
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 continues 
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 of 
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 from 
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 been 
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 is 
no obvious course to follow, so couples just have to keep working. A 
person sees dramatic changes during a marriage," Low says, "so a couple 
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 there 
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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