How to Survive the Realization Stage

Researchers found that the steepest drop in marital happiness occurs after 18 months. Here's what to do after that honeymoon period ends.

By Sarì Harrar and Rita DeMaria | Ph.D. from The 7 Stages of Marriage

You may feel bewildered or alone in the Realization stage. You may find yourself criticizing your spouse — either internally or out loud. If you’re anxious that something’s gone wrong, you may pull back from your mate or cling tightly. The Realization stage can seem scary, marriage experts say, because we see our own shortcomings reflected in our spouses’ actions now, just as we saw our own sterling qualities reflected in our partners in the Passion stage.

Your mission: Get in the driver’s seat. It’s time to make love happen instead of waiting for it to happen to you. Keep on doing the fun, marriage-building stuff we recommended in the Passion stage: Make time for sex, for romance, for checking in with each other. It’s more important than ever.

When University of Oklahoma researchers studied newlyweds, they found that expressions of love and affection between a wife and husband drop by half in the first two years of marriage. British researchers who tracked married couples for 20 years found the steepest decline in marital satisfaction came about 18 months after the wedding. Perhaps that’s the reason why national divorce statistics show that most marital splits occur in the first five years — and that couples married for about three years are especially vulnerable.

The rest of your Realization stage missions:

     

  • 1.

    Uncover your hidden marriage expectations.

    We all come into marriage with a set of mostly unconscious ideas about how great things will be — expectations no human spouse can meet. “Expectations like ‘Everything will be fabulous, this is my one true love, this person will make me finally happy, I’ll avoid every mistake I’ve made in the past’ put a huge burden on ourselves and our spouses and our marriages,” says Patty Howell, a relationship counselor and author of World Class Marriage: The Art and Science of Relationship Success. “We judge what’s really happening very harshly when we use those standards.” You’ll discover how to see and understand your hidden expectations, sort the reasonable ones from the unreasonable ones, and talk about them with your spouse.

  • 2.

    Learn to talk calmly and confidently about your needs and wants.

    Your spouse cannot read your mind. Many spouses report that sharing their feelings, thoughts, desires, and expectations feels scary; others just don’t know how. Why it’s vital: Clamming up in order to preserve the status quo will just leave you resentful and angry and keeps your spouse in the dark. Coming on too strong will put your partner on the defensive. In this chapter, you’ll learn assertive speaking techniques to ensure that you’ll be heard, without criticizing or blaming your spouse.

  • 3.

    Learn to listen empathetically to your spouse.

    Create a safe haven where your partner can reveal his or her innermost emotions, thoughts, ideas, and expectations — without your jumping to conclusions, inadvertently criticizing your partner’s vulnerable feelings, or trying to fix things when your spouse simply needs a listening ear. The combination of open, honest talk and empathetic listening fosters acceptance and deeper understanding — making the two of you feel safer and closer.

  • 4.

    Be your real, full self -- and let your spouse be himself or herself too.

    New research from the University of California, Los Angeles, finds that newlyweds who act as friends as well as lovers have happier marriages. Learn how to be more genuine, more empathetic, and more accepting — friendship skills that go beyond communication techniques to bring your heart, soul, and whole being into your relationship.

  • 5.

    Sort out the laundry...and the dishes...and the vacuuming.

    Housework can be an early battleground for couples. Learn how to get past traditional roles and divide the work fairly.

  • 6.

    Become expert money managers.

    No subject sparks more couples conflicts than money. Research shows that newlyweds today face a new challenge: significant debt brought into marriage from school loans, car payments, credit cards, medical bills, and the wedding and honeymoon. Find out how your money personalities can work for — not against — you as you set a calm, organized course toward meeting your financial goals and achieving your dreams.

Become more interesting every week!

Get our Read Up newsletter

Sending Message
how we use your e-mail