Disillusionment in New Marriages

Studies show that sixty percent of couples in failed marriages experienced marital doubts and dissatisfaction within the first year of their marriage. In two-thirds of these cases these thoughts and feelings arise within the first six months. Marriage researchers have long identified the post-honeymoon phase – first two years of marriage – as one of the key benchmarks in which divorce is most likely to occur. [See related article.] Why are new marriages so vulnerable to the disillusionment and discouragement that can jeopardize a happy and lasting union?

Many marriage experts believe that most new couples become ambushed by what is called illusionary intimacy. During their courtship they experience a strong sense of closeness without realizing that their feelings are being influenced by romanticism and infatuation. Couples unconsciously form idealistic perceptions of what their partners are like based upon their expectations of what they would like them to be.

What actually changes is not one’s partner, but one’s perceptions of his/her partner. Not long into the marriage couples experience the disillusionment of their partner not living up to the unrealistic and unachievable standards that have come to be expected. Their idealistic views are challenged by the reality of normal life. [See related article.]

Another reason for this disillusionment in new marriages is that when newlyweds begin to live together they often put less and less emphasis on hiding their negative characteristics. During courtship great care is given to be on one’s best behavior. But, often people feel they have the right to relax their self-presentation and be more comfortable in the relationship once the marriage vows are exchanged. This results in the less desirable attributes being revealed. Some refer to this phenomenon as “seeing behind the curtain.”

Related to these concepts is the notion that individuals naturally create needs-related cognitive distortions of their future partners in the initiation phase of the relationship. In other words, the desire or need to have a relationship is so powerful that it causes one to fashion a distorted view of his/her potential mate. This view fabricates or overemphasizes positive attributes while overlooking or minimizing negative ones.

However, once a commitment is made to the institution of marriage partners leave the initiation phase and enter the maintenance phase. At this point they no longer need to work to attain one another’s love and acceptance as this objective has already been achieved. The needs-based distortions are no longer necessary and disintegrate when subjected to the reality constraints of an ongoing relationship.

Therefore, the disillusionment and disappointment that is experienced in the early months or years of marriage stem from two related factors. The first is the actual change in behavior as partners no longer see the need to put their best foot forward. The second is the disappearance of the needs-related distortions which cause us to view our partners through rose-tinted glasses.

The important take-away of this discussion is that these are completely natural and common occurrences. It would be a grave mistake to think that one's new marriage is in dire straits merely because one's partner is not the perfect individual that was previously and naively perceived. There is still great hope for the future and many reasons to remain committed to the relationship. Don’t accept disillusionment and disappointment at face value. Rather, accept the challenge to continue to progress through this normal, albeit important, stage of marriage.
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