For better and worse, marriage changes a person fundamentally.
A new study from the University of Georgia suggests that couples undergo significant personality changes during the first year and a half of marriage. Most notably, both partners become less agreeable and cooperative as they get used to married life.
Researchers studied 169 newlywed heterosexual couples, checking in with them at different points in their marriage to see how they were hanging in: at the six-month mark, around their first anniversary and at 18 months. (A limitation of the research is that it took into account only straight pairings.)
At each check-in, the research team asked the couples to assess their levels of what psychologists call the big five personality traits: extraversion (how social and outgoing a person is), openness to experience (how intellectually curious or adventurous someone is), conscientiousness (how dependable and plan-oriented a person is), agreeableness (how cooperative or compassionate a person is) and neuroticism (how anxious, depressed or angry a person is).
Some of the findings are a ringing endorsement for marriage. On the whole, husbands became more conscientious as they adjusted to their new roles, and wives became less anxious, depressed and angry.
On the less rosy side of things, husbands became less extroverted, and both husbands and wives became less agreeable.
Interestingly, the results did not differ by spouses’ age, demographics, cohabitation before marriage, initial marital satisfaction, parenthood status or even how long the pair had been an item before marrying.
That relationship length mattered very little took lead researcher Justin Lavner by surprise.
“I think these findings point to the fact that getting married is an exciting time for couples but is also one that may involve some adjusting to new living arrangements, increased levels of interdependence and in some cases a coming to terms with the fact that the idealized marriage may not be the actual marriage,” said Lavner, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Georgia.
The newlywed period may be marked by even more changes than we had previously thought.
Justin Lavner, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Georgia and the lead researcher of the study
There’s something about putting a ring on it that changes a person, he said.
“The patterns of change we observed suggests there’s something about the transition to marriage itself rather than other factors, such as getting older or being with your partner for longer,” Lavner said. “The newlywed period may be marked by even more changes than we had previously thought.”