Want to live happily ever after with your partner? Consider this: Both the number and severity of a couple's problems remain steady over time, according to a new study published in the Journal of Family Psychology. But what does worsen over time is the satisfaction level as those problems fail to be resolved, the researchers find. "It was kind of a surprise," the lead author tells Phys.org. "Our study disproves what the researchers thought, that if satisfaction is declining, problems must be increasing. ... There is this idea that relationships don't need maintenance. People say, 'We have a good relationship, so that should just protect itself.' Well, it's pretty clear that's not true."
Some 169 couples weighed in on 19 issues eight times in the first four years of marriage, and researchers found that how the couples rated almost all the problems—with, say, in-laws, time spent together, and household management—did not change in that time period. In fact the only area that consistently changed for both husbands and wives was showing affection, and that worsened over those four years. With the number of problems not really budging, the researchers suspect the couples increasingly struggle to tolerate those issues as the years go by, which drives the drop in satisfaction. "The advice we would give is to pay attention and to talk about what's going on, because it's not going to improve just on its own," the researcher says. (Another study finds that divorce rates are highest among heavy drinkers, particularly when the woman drinks more.)