‘It is confusing when a couple splits very early after marrying’

Your wedding day is supposed to represent the apex of your romantic love, your moment of greatest certainty and commitment, when you make your lifelong vows to one another.

And, so, it is confusing when a couple splits shortly after marrying, as Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth have done, a mere eight months after saying "I do". Of course, we’re used to celebrities
having short lived unions. Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries, Jennifer Lopez and Cris Judd, and
Nicolas Cage and Lisa Marie Presley all split months after tying the knot, and others like Katy Perry and Russel Brand barely made it past a year.

Liam Hemsworth and Miley Cyrus arrive at the premiere of Avengers: Endgame in LA on April 22. Credit:Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

But it’s not just the famous whose marriages end quickly. In Australia, in 2017, there were nearly
3000 separations and over 500 divorces within the first year of marriage, a figure that has been
largely stable for the past decade.

Why do some marriages crumble just months after the ceremony? What can go wrong so quickly after taking vows? And is there any way of predicting which marriages will fail?

Sabina Read is a psychologist and relationship expert who saw many a short-lived marriage during
her stint on Married at First Sight. She explains that we need consider when a relationship began, as opposed to when a marriage takes place, in order to understand the issues.

I think some people have a fantasy marriage will shift the challenges: something will change magically because we have made a commitment.

“There’s quite a bit of research to suggest there are two pressure points in relationships,” she says. “One is at the fifth to seventh year, around high conflict, and the other is at 10 to 12 years around loss of intimacy and connection.” Cyrus and Hemsworth were right on the ten-year mark.

So why get married when there are problems in the relationship?

“I think some people do have a fantasy that marriage will shift the challenges, and something will
change magically because we have made a formal commitment to each other,” says Read. “The
fantasy of marriage is still quite strong. But things don’t change because we exchange vows.”

Elizabeth Shaw, CEO of Relationships Australia, NSW, agrees that couples can have unrealistic expectations of marriage. “It’s the belief that marriage is a developmental leap and that people will change,” she explains.

“There is a built-in assumption that marriage is a part of growing up and that relationship issues will improve as a result, that people will stop drinking or focus more on their career or be more financially responsible or that their sex lives will improve.”

But a marriage isn’t a developmental leap, and issues do not magically resolve with commitment. There are, however, often societal and family pressures on couples to marry, especially when they have been together for many years.

“If there has been a long relationship it’s almost a question of ‘why now?’” Shaw explains. Some
couples don’t feel strongly either way, and get married when they have children, or to appease
relatives, and their lives continue as before.

But sometimes there is a problem that propels people a couple marry: the death of a parent, for example, or a problem within the relationship. Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth reportedly decided to marry after their home burned down.

“When you get married on the back of a crisis or to rebuild a flagging relationship, you want to be sure that the relationship is solid,” Shaw says, “because marriage won’t fix it. And when you are caught up in wedding planning you can be distracted from the relationship itself. When the wedding is over – when the high romance situation ends – that’s when the real work begins.”

Read believes that couples shouldn’t marry in the first two years of a relationship. “In the first two years couples are in the oxytocin love bubble and won’t see the challenges that lie ahead,” she explains.

Then again, marriage is always a risky business. In this age of reality show weddings and quickie
divorces and second and third marriages and a greater-than 30 per cent divorce rate, taking vows of permanency seems excessively optimistic.

We have all fought so hard for marriage equality. Perhaps the most equitable idea is to not get
married at all.

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