If you’re in your mid-20s, chances are, you’re starting to feel as if everyone you know is getting married. Facebook surfing reveals ever more engagement announcements and Instagram feeds fill with picturesque shots of bridal dress fittings and exotic honeymoon scenery – not to mention, the relatives won’t stop asking when “your turn will be”. All the same, while societal convention dictates that finding a partner and settling down is a no-brainer on the path to success, the trending topics of adultery and the steady increase of divorce rates worldwide are causing lovebirds to put the brakes on. Perhaps the real big question should be how long should one wait in a relationship before taking the next big step?
According to anthropologist and human behavior expert Helen Fisher, who has spent decades researching the concept of love, the magic number might just be about two years. Keep in mind, though, that this is just a general rule of thumb: the ideal number fluctuates depending on factors such as each partner’s personality, their frequency of contact, and how committed they are to developing the intimacy between and learning more about each other.
Take, for example, a couple in a casual, long-distance relationship who see each other every other month. Then picture another couple who has just made the commitment to move in together and explore the possibilities of their relationship. I realise that this is an extreme example, but one that demonstrates how being intentional about learning the most about each other before marriage can skew the suggested two-year timeline.
Fisher actually states that “you’re going to [want to] get to know how this person handles your parents at Christmas… how they handle your friends, how they handle their money, how they handle an argument”. Indeed, a couple of years spent observing how your partner behaves in different situations and under various circumstances should tell you a lot about whether you want to be saying “I do” or run for the hills.
Other experts feel the same way. Says Tammy Nelson, PhD, a world-renowned expert in relationships, AASECT-certified sex therapist and licensed professional counselor, “There is no magic time frame when a couple should date before the engagement, but the rule for any happy and successful marriage is to realize this — all couples go through a ‘romantic love’ phase. This lasts anywhere from two days to 26 months, and then the couple will enter into the power struggle or the conflict phase of their relationship. This is natural and probably will last the rest of your marriage, or forever (the bad news).”
She continues, “The good news — with conscious communication and planning, a successful marriage means that conflict is inevitable (it has absolutely no reflection on whether or not you are in a marriage that will last), but how you repair your conflict is much more important. Whether you are engaged, living together or married, work on healing your conflicts, create healthy communication and your relationship will last for the rest of your life together.”
Indeed, it does make sense that the shelf life of relationships are more dependent on our desire and continued efforts to keep them alive, rather than being grounded in a “proven formula” or magical number of years to serve before popping the big question. On the other hand, if you find yourself in a committed, healthy relationship and have weathered the two-year mark… hey, science is on your side!