The Three-Year Glitch

The three-year mark is now a make-or-break time for modern relationships, according to new research. Learn what common issues can push couples to the breaking point — and how to stay strong.

By Dave Singleton

ccording to new research originally commissioned by Warner Brothers to promote the film Hall Pass in the United Kingdom and subsequently published on, maybe you don't have as much time as you'd like before the blissful honeymoon period of your relationship ends. In a study of approximately 2,000 adults in both short
Something changed, but it wasn't my behavior.
and long-term relationships (defined as less than three years and more than three years, respectively), researchers found that the tipping point for a romance happens at around 36 months — not the more traditional seven-year marker, as was previously thought.

"This isn't surprising to me," says Virginian Claire, 36, of the emerging three-year glitch concept. "You're told about the seven-year itch, but everyone I know seems to hit a rocky patch after the first few years of being together. The relationship may survive, but there's definitely a really rough patch for most of us." That doesn't make it easier for those of us whose relationships turn sour without much forewarning. "My boyfriend of three years started acting distant toward me," says Washingtonian Marie, 27. "At the start of my relationship, he loved the way I was. But then everything I did — from what I said to what I wanted to do for fun — just seemed to rub him the wrong way. Something changed, but it wasn't my behavior. It was his attitude toward me."

Is brain chemistry to blame?
Why is there such a schism at the three-year mark? Some point to a brain chemistry rationale. "I think that there are natural breaking points in relationships, and the most powerful (and the one we inherited) was breaking up around fourth year of the relationship," says Dr. Helen Fisher, the author of Why Him? Why Her? How to Find and Keep Lasting Love whose latest book, Why We Love, furthers her investigation of genetics and neurochemistry. "So by the third year, you are beginning to face a powerful breaking point when the wild infatuation has worn off. Research shows that initial, intense passion lasts one to three years. When that starts to wear off, there may be a strong emotional attachment — but there may not. I found through research across the world that if you are going to divorce, you tend to divorce around the fourth year of marriage."

Break bad habits to avoid a breakup
Others think it's influenced by behavioral changes, the proverbial "bad habits." According to the latest research, the biggest relationship deal-breakers at the three-year mark are weight gain, being outwardly consumed by stressful jobs, and letting hygiene go. These top the list of "passion-killers" which are torpedoing love in the modern age. So what does that mean for your relatively new relationship? While they're seemingly harmless now, which small irritations will become major issues after about 36 months together? And what, if anything, can you do to prevent becoming another statistic?

Three steps that'll help you avoid the glitch
From picking the right person to creating a reservoir of goodwill to stopping bad habits as soon as possible, here are three ways to ward off the three-year glitch:

1. Pick the right person — for you. Of course, making the right selection upfront so that you avoid a glitch down the line is easier said than done, "but you do this by focusing on characteristics that are going to be more longer-term, like shared hobbies, values and a real sense of friendship," says Dr. Fisher.

"I'd been through a three-year glitch in two previous relationships," says Marylander Anna, 34. "Breakups are so hard. You're madly in love, and it's the most magical thing. Then one or both of you changes, and the spell is over. My boyfriend Ben and I have been together five years, and we survived our third-year bump in the road. I attribute that to
Your goal should be to build the bond up and form a strong attachment.
picking a guy I really liked who really liked me. It sounds simple, but I knew our chances for survival would improve. I'd been madly, passionately in love with my previous two boyfriends — but in retrospect, we weren't each other's best friends, and that's what I think you need to survive the three-year glitch… and the glitches after that, too."

2. Create a reservoir of goodwill. "At three years, couples reassess," says Dr. Fisher. "Is this right for me? Are we a good match? Yes, small irritations can become major irritations, but if you are deeply attached to the person, you can overlook them. If you're not, you can't." Your goal should be to build the bond up and form a strong attachment so that when your well runs dry — as it will, after a few years — you have a full reservoir from which to draw emotional sustenance and fuel patience. You can do this by creating as many positive experiences with your partner as possible, carving out quality time as a couple, and as obvious as it sounds, complimenting your sweetie.

The study noted that those in the first flush of love get an average of three compliments a week from their partners — a figure which falls to an average of a single weekly compliment at the three-year high tide mark. The prognosis gets worse the longer we stay in relationships, three in ten of those surveyed that have been in a relationship for five years or more said that they never receive any compliments from their partners. So start ratcheting up the frequency of your flattery!

3. Be willing to work on fixing the problem together. "I looked at a photo of us and I just knew right away we were in trouble," says New Yorker Lisa. "My boyfriend had gained about 30 pounds. Work stress was showing in my face. We hardly resembled the cute couple who'd met three years earlier. So we made a deal to focus on health as a way to recommit to our relationship. For him, that meant losing weight. For me, it meant actively finding ways to de-stress. I carved out quiet time and took a yoga class. Our honest assessment after seeing the photo led us to make changes which saved our relationship."

If Lisa's story reminds you of your own relationship, make the behavioral changes you need to make. Learn how to argue. Learn what to overlook. Avoid getting overstressed, overweight, spending too little time together, or adopting bad habits that could become issues for your relationship's health. "Romantic love and attachment don't have to end," says Dr. Fisher. "In a long, good relationship, they both remain."

Dave Singleton, an award-winning writer and columnist for since 2003, is the author of two books on dating and relationships. Send your dating questions and comments to him at
Related Articles

print send feedback subscribe to
What kind of relationship are you looking for?

Marriage—I'm definitely looking for The One.

I'd like a committed, serious relationship, but not marriage.

I want someone to have fun with—I'm not ready to settle down.

Browse singles in your area.
About | Your Privacy | Terms of Use
Contact Us | Advertise with Us | Become an Affiliate

Copyright 2011, L.L.C.

partner sites:  HSN  Citysearch  Evite  Expedia  Hotels  Ticketmaster  ReserveAmerica  Hotwire   LendingTree 
Entertainment  TripAdvisor  CondoSaver  TravelNow  ClassicVacations  LiveDaily  Udate