The Myth of the Honeymoon Phase

There is a common misperception that couples are happiest at the start of marriage, however, recent research challenges that assumption. An Australian study showed that newlywed couples scored lower on satisfaction surveys compared to all married couples, including couples married for over 40 years.

Researching Happiness in Marriage

Researcher Dr. Melissa Wineburg said that decreased happiness among newlyweds is connected to having a “wedding hangover.” Essentially, this means couples are unprepared for the letdown that often follows the nuptials.

While the engagement period is typically very exciting for couples, they usually avoid any relationship issues that arise during that time. After the wedding, couples must deal with them as well as the financial fallout of marriage and the ceremony. Additionally, they realize they have now made a lifetime commitment to one another and must learn to live harmoniously.

The study involved measuring levels of happiness amongst 2,000 people in Australia, using a range between 0-100. The study revealed that:

  • The Australian population as a whole scored 75 on the happiness scale.
  • Couples married for less than a year had a happiness score of 73.9.
  • Couples married for forty years or more scored 79.8.

Now the Good News!

The good news is that the researchers found that the happiness scores increase during the second year of marriage. The actually rebound from their first challenging married year together. The average happiness score was 78.4 for these couples.

In addition, those who had the longest marriages, in some cases lasting forty years or more, were the happiest in the study. The study authors point to three reasons why:

  1. These couples adjusted from their first married year and learned how to live together.
  2. They started resolving conflict more effectively with one another.
  3. They started getting to know each other and learned how to work well together.

The researchers also compared marriages that went through a separation and reunion. Not surprisingly, they found that these couples were unhappiest and had an average score of 69.2.

The “Honeymoon Period”

When people think of the “honeymoon period,” they are generally referring to the period after marriage or the first year of dating. However, many couples today are together for much longer periods of time prior to marriage. They live together and already share many responsibilities shared by married (living in a home, dividing responsibilities, etc.).

Future research should focus on comparing couples with a short courtship versus those who dated for a while before getting married. Also, it’s possible there are some cultural differences between the study’s Australian participants and those in North America.

The Takeaway for Couples

Overall, this research tells us that marriage takes work and there often isn’t a smooth road for most marriages. If couples identify issues arising during the first year of marriage, they should not wait to seek professional couples counseling. A skilled therapist can help couples navigate this challenging time period. Counseling can empower them to communicate more effectively, understand each other better, and learn to resolve conflict together.

Unfortunately, research shows that couples wait way too long to get help. Couples wait, on average, six years after problems begin before seeking help! Six years! That’s much too long to wait before addressing these important relationship issues.

The whole notion of a honeymoon phase is mostly divorced from reality. Couples can be so blinded by the feel-good parts about their relationship and their wedding ceremony that they don’t recognize real relationship challenges or simply choose to ignore them. People too often mistakenly assume that if they are compatible with their partner then everything will be continuously blissful. The reality, of course, is that having a healthy marriage actually takes a lot of work!

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