Recently, there has been an explosion of news stories (also see here and here) that seem to suggest that in today’s fast-paced world couples are getting sick of each other even faster. Namely the 7-year-itch is now a “3-year-glitch.” Interestingly, the study was funded by Warner Bros. and timed to be released with the movie Hall Pass. Notice the use of “seems to suggest” because I have been unable to find a direct account of the study that these articles are based on and so can only comment on what has been reported about this study. The article points out various entertaining foibles that are annoying to husbands and wives (not enough sexy underwear, too much slovenly behavior), but in terms of quality research it is important to note a few things.
Warner Brothers is promoting a film about couples whose relationships have grown stale and need some spicing up. Thus, funding a study showing that husbands and wives did not get annoyed with each other would be bad for their movie. This does not mean the findings presented are false, but it is important to consider that this is essentially a marketing gimmick which makes it less shocking that the results support the movie’s concept. The study compared couples in short term (defined as less than 3 years) and long term relationships (defined as over 3 years) on a series of behaviors and desires. Those in the shorter relationships reported having more sex, spending more time with their partner, and being less irritated by their partners’ foibles. Why the 3 year cutoff? Good question. Relationship research has shown that passion decreases gradually throughout a relationship, making 3-years seems like an arbitrary cut-off (but perhaps not arbitrary in terms of tying in with the movie).
It is argued that this new 3-year-glitch has developed because of our fast-paced modern lives, but there has been evidence that the early years of marriage are characterized by a significant drop in passion and affection for decades1 and this fizzling of passion was even discussed by sociologist W. Waller in 1938! This would suggest that modern technology certainly isn’t the only or even the primary force driving disillusionment in the early years of marriage.
Finally, notice that the top ten complaints couples endorsed were hardly indicative of an epidemic of annoyance as very few people endorsed them as being annoying at all, ranging from 4% complaining of bad bathroom habits to 13% complaining of weight gain in their partner.
The reports are entertaining(!) and possibly accurate, but always consider the source and the study techniques of research before accepting findings and arguments at face value. For more information on what relationship science is, please click here.
1Huston, T. L. (2009). What’s love got do with it? Why some marriages succeed and others fail. Personal Relationships, 16, 301-327.