The Wax and Wane of Relationship Satisfaction

There’s this idea that once you find “true love”, everything is on the up-and-up and, no doubt, your partner will be the love of your life forever. But let’s take off these rose-colored glasses for a moment because this isn’t the reality for some people. 

If you’ve been a long-term reader, you’ve definitely seen us refer to “relationship satisfaction” many times, but what is it really? Relationship satisfaction is a catch-all term and a popular measure in relationship psychology for how content people report feeling in their relationships. One of the most robust findings on relationship satisfaction is that it behaves curvilinearly (imagine a U) and constantly fluctuates as time goes.

Generally, at the beginning of a relationship, satisfaction is at an all-time high. This could be in part due to the chemical high of infatuation or the all-encompassing presence of passionate love. But as time passes, these effects wear off. People start reporting declining levels of relationship satisfaction and some may even fall out of love. Those who do fall out of love report experiencing a loss of intimacy and/or trust, holding negative perceptions of themselves, and feeling strong emotional pain. 

However, such changes in relationship satisfaction don’t have to be as clear-cut or detrimental. In a meta-analysis analyzing over 165,000 individuals between the ages of 20 to 76, satisfaction was found to start to fall from a peak that occurs within one year from the beginning of the relationship. Satisfaction then reaches its lowest point 10 years into the relationship, before rising and stabilizing at a moderate level after 30 years. 

Based on these findings, the researchers proposed that relationship satisfaction may be affected by life stages. For example, the dip 10 years into the relationship could be the result of a midlife crisis, whereas the stabilization after 30 years could be the result of older people having more time and energy to invest into developing positive social relationships. 

If you’re in a relationship and things are currently feeling a bit rough, you may long for the good old days where things were fun and exciting. Take solace in the fact that you are not alone, and this is probably love running its natural course as it has done with billions of other people throughout human history. You feel less satisfied right now, but maybe give it a decade or two! Science suggests your satisfaction levels may bounce back once again.