Why are the First Two Years of Marriage So Important?

Couple embracing in kitchen whilst preparing meal
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Those who are married know that marriage can hit rough patches at any point in time. When it happens early in the marriage, this can be quite alarming and it probably should be. As the topic of matrimonial success and divorce is studied more and more, research shows that how a couple weathers their first two years together can make or break their marriage.

How the First Two Years Foreshadow the Long-Term Marital Fate

Dr. Ted Huston of the University of Texas at Austin provided commentary on a study on the predictors of marital satisfaction and stressors.

"This study showed that couples' newlywed marriages and changes in their union over the first two years foreshadow their long-term marital fate after thirteen years ... disillusionment—as reflected in an abatement of love, a decline in overt affection, a lessening of the conviction that one's spouse is responsive, and an increase in ambivalence—distinguishes couples headed for divorce from those who establish a stable marital bond." The researchers also discovered "differences between the happily married and unhappily married groups were apparent right after they tied the knot."

The Texas study looked at 156 couples who were married for the first time in 1981. Researchers discovered the following after thirteen years:

  • 68 couples were happily married
  • 32 couples were unhappily married
  • 56 couples had divorced

Problems in the First Months of Marriage Are a Bad Portent

The couples who divorced within the first two years showed signs of disillusionment and were negative toward one another in the first two months of their marriage.

It is a sign of trouble if a newlywed couple starts to have disillusionment within the first year. The couples who are still happily married are couples who were able to have positive feelings about their spouse during this early period of time in their relationship.

Facing the Honeymoon Blues

If you find yourself a bit depressed after your wedding, it's okay.

Honeymoon blues are normal. You have both been caught up in time-consuming wedding preparations. It is a sure bet that once you don't have that stress to deal with, you will have a sense of loss. It's similar to the post-holiday let down that many people experience.

However, it is important to not ignore this period of depression. Being prepared for the newlywed blues can help you get past them. It's time to move on to setting the marital stage for the rest of your lives together. As mentioned by Dr. Huston's study, a top priority for newlyweds should be keeping romance alive.

There are other priorities a couple will need to face as well. Several major goals that need to be settled the first year include how to allocate and handle money, who is going to do what chores, ways to spend free time, finding time to have sex, dealing with in-laws, understanding differences in spirituality or religion, learning how to deal with conflict, and discussing expectations. Unfortunately, many couples avoid topics that may become heated, but doing so will do a disservice to your union.  

Red Flags to Watch Out For

  • Lack of romance and intimacy
  • Inability to have fun together
  • Selfishness
  • Fear of conflict
  • Lack of respect
  • Over-commitment of time to other things
  • Over-spending
  • Too much dependence on parents
  • Sexual problems
  • Addictions and/or substance abuse
  • Emotional and/or physical abuse
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Married too young or for the wrong reasons

What to Do if You You're Struggling

The best thing to do is have an open and honest conversation with your spouse, without blaming, about your concerns. You can start by saying something like, "I think we are both struggling to adjust to being married."  From here you can figure out what options might be a good fit for you both. It could be reading self-help books, seeking guidance from your house of worship, a marriage education class or couples' therapy.

Build the Foundation for a Successful Marriage

Although the first couple years are said to be the most difficult, they are often remembered as the most joyous.

They can be a tremendous time of intimacy and discovery. There is so much to learn about each other and so much to express to one another. During the newlywed stage of marriage, you can both build the foundation and set the stage for a life-long, meaningful marriage. So enjoy and romance one another!

Source:  "The Connubial Crucible: Newlywed Years as Predictors of Marital Delight, Distress, and Divorce" by Ted L. Huston, John P. Caughlin, Renate M. Houts, Shanna E. Smith, and Laura J. George, published in "The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology." (2001;80:237-252).

*Article updated by Marni Feuerman