There’s a commonly held belief that the happiest time in your marriage is the months immediately following your wedding—you know, “the honeymoon period.” After that, of course, it’s all downhill. Right? Well, not so fast.
A new study published in the journal Social Networks and the Life Course claims that’s not at all the case.
Paul Amato of Pennsylvania State University and Spencer James of Brigham Young University examined six waves of data from the Marital Instability Over the Life Course study, which includes information on 2,034 married people with an average of 35 for women and 37 for men, to determine the curve of marital satisfaction over time.
Surprisingly, the researchers found that while happiness in a marriage did decline for the first 20 years, it stabilized after that point. The reason, according to the study, is thanks to the fact that couples tended to engage in more shared activities during this period in their marriage, and had developed deeper levels of appreciation for one another than the hormonal bliss they experienced during their newlywed phase.
“Marital happiness does not decline, on average, among spouses in stable marriages,” the study authors wrote. “Indeed, our results suggest that marital happiness increases slightly in the later years of marriage, especially for husbands.”
The findings are in keeping with a 2012 study, which found that couples who were in their first year of marriage were unhappier than those who had been together for over 40 years, a phenomenon that researchers attributed to the “marriage hangover,” a term for the moment that all of the festivities are over and the work really begins.
All of this science indicates that perhaps our parents had it right and our current culture of bailing when we no longer feel butterflies isn’t really conducive to lasting bliss. After all, it’s been a tough year for love. Beloved couple Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan Tatum recently announced they were separating amid clear signs of strife. And, more recently, Chris Pratt opened up about his shocking 2017 split from Anna Faris, pithily summing up the pain of divorce proceedings with the phrase, “Divorce [stinks].”
The research also indicates that if you don’t want to head to Splitsville, it’s crucial to do stuff together, whether it’s cooking, going for long walks, or even exercising. After all, Hugh Jackman credits the agreement that he has with his wife, Deborra-lee Furness, to never work when the other person is working as the secret to their 22-year-marriage. (Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively, for what it’s worth, share a similar pact.)
And while divorce seems to be everywhere these days, statistics show that the divorce rate actually peaked in 1980 and has been declining ever since, so that’s more good news for people hoping to avoid the marriage axe. And for more advice on how to make it for the long run, check out the 40 Worst Mistakes Married People Make.
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