Seven Year Itch or Ten Year Hump? Is There Any Truth to Marital Milestones?

Is There Any Truth to Marital Milestone

A trusted mentor once told me that if a couple can meet the ten year marital milestone, the chances of marriage survival are very good. This made intuitive sense to me. You can get to know another person well in ten years – their habits, what sets them off, how to calm them down. The question of compatibility has long since been determined. Also, a history of shared experiences both positive and negative is likely to have anchored the relationship.

Some facts on marriage

What a surprise it was for me to learn that according to AVVO, a legal resource, in 2015, 20% of marriages end within the first five years (maybe it should be called the five year itch) , 32% end within ten years, 40% end within fifteen years, and almost half of all marriages (48% ) end within 20 years.  The divorce rate does not go down after ten years, cumulatively, it actually goes up!

What goes wrong?

I wonder why? A couple of somewhat cynical, yet practical reasons have to do with the definition of a “long term marriage”.  In some states, like California, conditions for the right to alimony are based on a ten year marriage. With regard to Social Security benefits, after the ten year mark, an ex-spouse is eligible for derivative Social Security benefits based on the former spouse’s earnings over his or her entire career. For those on the fence, income may be the sole reason for couples to stay together.

As a Clinical Psychologist working with couples, I think there is another important reason couples separate and divorce after so many years. They assume they know each other better than they really do.  They’ve learned how to avoid conflict rather than confront it, and no longer believe there is a need to communicate directly because they already “know” how their spouse will respond. Discussions about current needs and desires are replaced by set expectations and habits.

There’s always hope!

No, the statistics were not what I expected. I’d rather believe that if you can survive ten years of marriage, you can survive 50. Yet, as a Clinical Psychologist who works with couples at all stages of relationships, I should know better. There may be no milestone to mark the promise of marital bliss, although, good, open communication, not just at the beginning of the relationship but throughout a marriage, may help to reverse a discouraging trend and increase the odds that a lifelong partnership will be successful.  

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Caroline Steelberg
Psychologist, PsyD
Caroline Steelberg, Psy.D. is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with offices downtown and Andersonville, Chicago. I private practice for over 20 years, she specializes in the treatment of individuals and couples who have experienced trauma, loss or life transitions.

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