This Year Of Marriage Is The Hardest, According To Research

A therapist shares her 10 best tips for how to manage the rocky year that couples never see coming.

married couple posing for photo Shutterstock 

After one failed marriage, I was determined to stick with my second. Yet there I was, ten years in and dissatisfied. The pounding of a question in my head grew too loud to ignore: "Is this it?"

Except for his morning snort from his nose, there was nothing wrong with the man lying next to me. We were parenting three children together, we shared cleaning and cooking duties, and we were trying to keep it together. He would be mortified to know how harshly I was evaluating him. Was it the daily sameness that had gnawed away at my logic and good sense?


Is this what the end looks like? 

As hard as I tried to refocus, it seemed everyone else was having a better life— I had obviously made my biggest mistake and this time, it was irreparable. Everywhere I turned, couples were holding hands, gazing into each other’s eyes with the unbelievable PDA I longed for.

When I asked my friends about marital boredom or bliss, all hands raised to claim happiness beyond their wildest dreams. So, I resorted to an old friend called “Fantasy” and reimagined my significant other as everything but the partner right next to me.

The hardest year of marriage happens around your 10th anniversary

I was not surprised to learn that in a study conducted by Brigham Young University, 2000 women surveyed over the course of 35 years, say their highest level of marital dissatisfaction occurs around the 10th year of marriage.


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The study uncovered that after 10 years, festering issues become full blown complaints loud enough to disrupt a household or break a family’s heart.

The belief that happiness is automatic, promoted by my favorite storyteller Walt Disney, is the first unwitting culprit in marital dissatisfaction.


Disney's role in the 'ten year itch'

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The Cinderella promises of ‘happily ever after’ had let me down, and I believe there are many thirty-somethings who unconsciously equate a prince to the path of a good life and personal bliss. So, when they notice this is not the case, they spend several years in mourning, while waiting for him to pick up his socks, wield a hammer and say you look amazing. I get it.

Cinderella animatedly walked across the screen in 1950 and the movies we love and watch today all seem to end in the "our guy is everything we need" fantasy. Yet, real love means commitment and intention.

The women in BYU's study reported grievances that range from "I do all the work in this house", to "You spend money like it grows on trees" to "You need to discipline the kids". The more damaging complaints remain unsaid, unheard and cherished in silence. 


There are many women, I am sure, who never experience this tension ten years into marriage. They deal with uncomfortable subjects as they arise, address differences before they fester and their relationship toddles forward at a comfortable and manageable pace. For them, maybe ten years isn't the hardest years of marriage. Maybe they were given tools early on that help them avoid any one "hardest" year — at least one caused by marital issues. 

This is where healthy relationships should be. But for those of us who have felt the ten-year discontent, let's understand why it occurs and learn how to forestall any negative outcome.

Ten ways to avoid 'the end' after 10 years of marriage

1. Get to the root of the problem.

Like you, I was determined to make this marriage last, but I was not going to spend the next ten years discontent. My first step was to decide if the problem was his or mine. So, I set the ball rolling by getting a few answers about his state of marital joy. Was he happy? Did he hope marriage would be more fun and adventurous? What did he long for and had I changed?

I realized my husband (and yours too) also nurse disappointments. He confessed he no longer recognized his warm and flirty Cinderella of ears ago who wore tight jeans and had bushy hair. I didn't exactly fit into my old jeans, but I started to pay attention and was glad I had asked the questions. We planned regular date nights, weekends away and committed to keep growing together without losing ourselves. You can too.


2. Recognize raising kids is tough.

Raising children can be the biggest challenge of your life. It involves the combination of personalities, special needs, and conflicts. The impact on your home and relationship is unpredictable. If you have three children, one may try hard to please you, another may need you more, and the third might constantly challenge your beliefs. Even with one child, you could have a ‘feisty pleaser’.

Your children have emotional needs, require learning support, and might be too energetic or plain troublesome. When you have jumped one hurdle, child number two will be tugging at your hand and heart. There are some reading this who have had greater or fewer challenges, but altogether the business of child-rearing will leave you both drained and ecstatic in ways you would never have believed.

Because the relationship with your children is unconditional and your relationship with a partner is negotiated, date nights take a back seat, and your exhaustion leaves little room for relaxed conversations let alone play and intimacy. After a few years of this, you feel disconnected and question your marriage.

3. Get on the same team.

My husband and I were moving in different directions. When he went east to swimming lessons, I went west to soccer practice. We were not on ther same page about parenting decisions at all.


When he said yes to a later bedtime, taking food upstairs or a sleepover, it became World War Three, with frustration and stress crowding out any positive feelings I might have had. We had to make a change.

We created a manageable chore chart and began brief but regular ‘Family Council’ meetings to review the past week and plan for the coming week. This allowed the kids space to share, and for us to make plans and reinforce structure. As much as possible, we drove together to the kids’ activities and used the time to talk and stay on the same page. An organized, peaceful household reduced the stress of our lives and allowed more bandwidth for date nights and connection.

4. Beware of the power struggle

Ten years in and you have weathered reality checks and disappointments and are in the uncomfortable stage of wanting them to change and thinking “if only”.

Your differences can feel insurmountable and at times make you say, “I just can’t take it anymore”.


They have called you unpleasant names, you are either fighting back, defending, or retreating to a calmer or quieter ground. I selected the latter, and ultimately lost my identity in the home while louder voices won.

Perhaps you have dealt with challenges at home by gravitating to work, a place to shine. Others will join a weekend baseball team, be the life of the party or seek friendship with a sympathetic, fun, and easygoing person. You wake up one day, and your significant other is no longer your person. You have lost each other in the power struggle.

5. Keep your eyes on the prize.

If you can see the big picture is becoming more and more of a problem, it’s time to act on it. Stop any thinking and actions that fuel the power struggle. The hardest year of marriage doesn't have to ruin what you've built and planned to continue building for a lifetime. 

6. Share more and ask more.

You may have developed a prickly veneer, but it tends to fall away when you open up about your successes, hopes and failures. So, take a chance and share, ask them questions, wait around for answers, ask questions about their answers, and follow up, it shows you care. There may be nothing more tender and energizing to your love life than your genuine interest.


7. Celebrate again.

Remember when you celebrated your five-month anniversary and every long weekend you made your own kind of fireworks? You had so much fun, but now you miss birthdays and anniversaries and make no apology. That’s the part most people miss. When you are planning the fete— my Caribbean heritage loves a fete— you are also stirring your own excitement and it’s like a circle, you stir theirs, you stir yours, they stir yours, they stir theirs.

Don’t miss a chance to excite them and let them know they are valued.

8. Have enough sex.

In your ten years together you have had illnesses, stresses, and sleepless nights. You have also had breakdowns, family crises, and betrayals so it is no surprise that your sex life has suffered its own ups and downs. It is normal for couples to have these fluctuations, but if they last too long, sex can be awkward and too slow to restart.

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9. Confront tough topics head on.

When you notice any discomfort, start talking before the topic becomes too uncomfortable. In fact, don’t stop there, look for moments to introduce painful subjects and plan to be a calm supportive presence. Sex, getting older, in-laws, money, and other unresolved issues can become the elephant in the room that crowds out emotional intimacy which, in turn, compromises sexual intimacy.

10. Consider the mid-life crisis.

It is no accident your ten-year discontent or itch began at a time researchers identify as the middle years, which are characterized by emotional turmoil and a desire for change. This drive is so strong it can push you to unhealthy coping, disregarding routines that brought stability, and even the dreaded affair.

In an article, Michael G. Wetter, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist practicing in Los Angeles says this is the time you question what brings meaning and fulfillment, and may resort to risky behavior, abrupt career, or relationship changes.


Remember — your spouse is not disposable.

There is no shortage of print on the subject of midlife crisis and the drive to find meaning in your life. The key is to ensure you don’t lump your significant other in with disposables like your car, job, and clothes.

It is time to dig deep and reset. What does that mean? For me, it was soul searching and the acceptance of a good enough life was good enough, and knowing a partner won’t fulfill every area of my life or every last whim. It was acknowledging a well-lived life demands questions that may not be answered in one sentence. I had to remember I was most fulfilled when I was intentional and purposeful, when I did small kindnesses regularly, did more than my share and remembered to season “please” and “thank you” with a smile.

As a society where choices abound, you can resolve the ten-year discontent, exit, or stagnancy with the murky question, Is this it? The key is to make a decision.

If you decide to renew and remain in your relationship, the easier way is to collaborate and communicate more, resolve chaos in parenting or family, spend time to celebrate and strengthen your emotional connection and solve the confusion of mid-life.


The same study conducted by Brigham Young University has some news that may relieve the tension of the ten-year itch.

After 15 years of marriage, the couples who stayed together say they got happier as time went on. This sounds like they answered the question, “Is this it?” with a confident, “This is it!”

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Reta Walker is a therapist who specializes in healing relationships. She offers one-on-one sessions, couples retreats, and courses to help couples get back on track.