Love: What Makes It Last
BY LOUISE JARVIS
Whether you've been married for days or decades, here's how to stay connected after...two years, seven years, 14 years and beyond
Marriages are like snowflakes: No two are the same. But look closely and you'll notice they all have a lot in common.
And the more anniversaries you log, the more likely you are to hit milestones most other couples share. "We're all familiar with the developmental stages of childhood - well, marriage goes through a similar set of stages," says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., author of How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free. "It's important to look at them as a sign that your relationship is maturing, rather than thinking, Uh-oh, it's the seven-year itch." Yes, there really is a seven-year itch, so to guide you through that challenge - and others - we asked experts to share their tips for making every crucial transition an opportunity to get closer.
Although your sex life is still hot, it may seem like your romantic connection has hit a cool spell. It's not your imagination: Most couples experience a 50 percent drop in loving gestures (holding hands, pillow talk, etc.) during this stage of marriage, says Ted Huston, Ph.D., a marriage researcher and professor of human ecology at the University of Texas at Austin. In fact, in his study of couples throughout 14 years of marriage, Huston found that the pairs who were the "most lovey-dovey" in the initial 24 months were more likely to divorce later. "They start at a high, lose it and then look elsewhere to recapture that bliss," he says. Best off were the less over-the-top romantic couples. Why? Being less gushy is a sign you've transitioned to grown-up love. "This second year is when you should move out of the infatuation phase ‑- the Tom-Cruise-jumping-up-and-down-on-the-couch phase ‑- and begin to move into the period of deeper love and commitment," says Scott Haltzman, M.D., author of the upcoming book The Secrets of Happily Married Men.
What to Expect
Love gets real (in a good way). Those first dozen months of marriage may be challenging, but they're thrilling, too: You're telling your honeymoon stories, christening wedding gifts and feathering your nest together. The second year, "it gets real," says Tessina. "You see your husband tossing his underwear on the floor and it dawns on you, Oh, my God, I'm in this for life." Even living together before saying "I do" doesn't prepare you for this shock, because when you're shacking up, you know the arrangement isn't necessarily permanent, so annoying habits and disagreements are less likely to register as lifelong challenges.
At the same time, you're both figuring out how to have solo time, which can feel exhilarating and threatening.
"When you were just dating, your focus was, 'When can I see you?' But now that you're married, it's, 'How do I get away from you?'" notes Tessina. "It can feel like a bad thing, but it's not."
So don't panic if you sometimes wish you could trade that soup tureen for a big vat of Valium. "It's natural to feel bursts of anxiety, especially after arguments," says psychologist Laura Berman, Ph.D., coauthor of Secrets of the Sexually Satisfied Woman: Ten Keys to Unlocking Ultimate Pleasure. "Everything can seem catastrophic ‑- even a fight about where to store the new dishes." That's because even if you easily resolved minor arguments before the rings were on, you may now be worried that any conflict is a sign that your marriage is shaky. Anxiety and preconceived notions about married-couple "shoulds" can make disagreements seem more important than they really are.
Reality check: Take a deep breath and don't worry about whether you'll make it to your golden anniversary. Instead, focus on the day-to-day and the chance to build ‑- from the ground up ‑- the kind of marriage that will make you happy. "You're the ones who get to set how it goes," advises Tessina. "So do it your way." To make sure you and he are on the same page about what "your way" is, set aside a sacred 20-minute block each week to talk about your relationship. "It will help you build a strong foundation," notes Tessina.
Year 2: Biggest Reward
Getting closer, just you and him. The years before children can be magical, says Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, Ph.D., codirector of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. "It's a time when you develop your own routines and rituals and build your unique identity as a couple," she says. So have fun creating private rituals now, knowing they'll make you both feel more invested down the road.
Liz and Dan Figenshu
What's this Union City, NJ, couple's favorite way to bond? They go on road trips. "We know that once we have kids, we'll only be able to dream about this kind of spontaneous travel," says Liz.