When it comes to the first year and a half of marriage, the seasons aren’t the only things changing: you and your partners’ brain chemistry is changing, too. Ever notice that your friend who got married last year has changed quite a bit? It’s nothing you can put your finger on, really. They seem a little bit more mature; perhaps they’re hosting dinner parties now instead of potlucks, or their car is always clean when it once looked like someone had been living in it. This is a common phenomenon, believe it or not. So much goes into marriage: financial planning, decisions about procreating, home buying or renting, sharing each other’s friends and family. It’s a lot.
Decisions Made in the First Year of Marriage Have Lasting Effects
One recent study published in 2017 titled “Personality change among newlyweds: Patterns, predictors, and associations with marital satisfaction over time,” shows that our minds are changing during the first 18 months of marriage. And these changes appear to be pretty significant. We’re not just talking about a couple staying in more and watching Netflix. We’re talking about big shifts in how a person thinks and feels. It appears that the constant communication, negotiation, and navigation of both minute and big life choices (such as home buying and having a baby) creates lasting effects.
Consider the five main components of a personality: extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience. A study appearing in Developmental Psychology showed that no matter the race, age, location, or amount of time the couple spent together before tying the knot, the same patterns of behavior within these personality components during these first key months of marriage were apparent. The team studied over 150 couples, and here’s what they found.
Scientists discovered a few different patterns. Some of these are positive, and some are negative. On the whole, husbands become better at planning and thinking long-term. They become more reliable, as well. Wives tend to feel calmer on the whole, less anxious, and happier. Husbands become just a little more emotionally stable, though they didn’t experience as large a change as wives do.
One of the negative patterns scientists discovered in this personality change study is that men tend to become a little less socially-oriented. In other words, they become more introverted, preferring to spend time at home over going out with friends. Another negative pattern is that over time, as seems natural in a relationship, both men and women want to cooperate with their new spouse less. They are less willing to compromise, and wives become decidedly less agreeable—perhaps compensating for how agreeable and easygoing they tend to be towards the beginning of relationships. Wives tend to become less open over this time, yet remain at the same level of conscientousness.
In General, Marital Satisfaction Decreases Over Time
A big factor cited in this study is the decline in subjects’ marital satisfaction as the months go on. This has a lot to do with how each person in the relationship undergoes a personality change. Of course, many couples in the study were in their 20s, however, the impact was the same across the different age brackets, implying that the changes aren’t simply due to a young adult maturing over time. Of course, as you live with someone over a long period of time, any illusions you had about them are typically squashed. It’s part of being in a living, breathing relationship.
People sometimes say that being married feels the same as just being in a committed relationship, but according to studies like this one, actually being married seems to cause personalities to morph more radically than simply sharing a bedroom and a puppy. Keep this in mind as you traverse the newlywed waters, and you’ll come out on the other side knowing you and your partner are ultimately growing from the experience.