The Hard Facts: The Three-Year Glitch

Yesterday was Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“The ‘three-year glitch’ has replaced the ‘seven-year itch’ as the tipping point where couples start to take each other for granted, according to a new survey. … The findings showed that 67 percent of all of those surveyed said that small irritations which are seemingly harmless and often endearing during the first flushes of love often expand into major irritations around 36 months.” (“The 7-year-itch is now the 3-year-glitch: A study”; Reuters, 3/8/2011)

You guys. The long weekend threw me for a loop and, when I was writing my post yesteday, I thought it was Tuesday. For the first time I completely missed Research Wednesday, and didn’t even realize it until last night! I don’t know what’s going on, but I’ve been confused about what day it is all week.

Never fear, though. The research is here. Albeit late.

The above findings are, obviously, about romantic couples rather than friendship. But it got me thinking. If couples start to  irritate each other after only three years, does the same hold true for friends?

I’ve heard over and over again that the average friendship lasts no longer than five years. In her book Best Friends Forever, Irene Levine says that most friendships are “fragile rather than permanent.” Which I guess makes sense–people move, have babies, switch jobs, or simply grow apart. Circumstances change, turning friendship maintenance into work that we’ll either do or we won’t.

But when we hit year three(ish), do you think we start to grow less enamored of our friends or more annoyed? Personally,  I think there’s some validity to this, but I’d word it differently. Just as friendships go through honeymoon stages, where months go by in which you’d happily see your new BFF every day and chat with her every night, reality eventually sets in. Nobody’s perfect, and after a while, you start to recognize faults and shortcomings. You know, the things that make your friend human. First, maybe, these “flaws” are fun and quirky. Eventually, it dawns on you that they are, in fact, not the greatest traits. Maybe she talks a lot about herself. Or interrupts too much. Maybe she’s a dissappearing friend. Or a flake. You try to look the other way for a while, but as your friendship grows and you lean on each other more, there’s no ignoring it. She is who she is, imperfections and all.

It can get frustrating. And that’s when a decision needs to be made. Sure, you can talk to her about her flaws. Try to change her. But in my experience that’s not very effective. People, mostly, are who they are. So you can accept her faults because ultimately you want her in your life, or you can move on to different–maybe better, maybe not–friends.

I think this happens in all relationships–romantic, friendship or otherwise. I don’t know that I could have pinpointed a time frame like this study did. But three years seems about right. A year to grow close, another year to be true friends and live with small faults, and then in the third year, when you’re comfy and settled into your friendship, the annoyances creep in. Seems logical to me.

The good news, given this reasoning, is that if you make it to year four, you might be stuck with each other forever!

Have you experienced this same friendship cycle? Do you buy this research about the three-year-glitch? In romantic relationships, or friendship too?

{I’m back on The Debutante Ball today, revealing my writing space and showing off the best gift I ever received. Check it. If you will.}



Filed under The Search

3 responses to “The Hard Facts: The Three-Year Glitch

  1. Mia

    Not sure about the 3-year term for friendships, although given frequent moves in my 20s, I’m not sure how much can be attributed to nature or domicile changes. However, the 3-year itch certainly applies to my relationships. Two of my most important relationships couldn’t survive the 3-year mark. In one case it was definitely mutual and due to a number external factors, however, in both, I tended to get bored. Definitely makes me nervous for future relationships!

  2. Cheryl

    I have – I just didn’t know that that’s what it was!! Makes a lot of sense, though. High school is 3-4 years, depending on where you went to school. College can be the same – you may only have those intensely close friendships for about 3 years…. Wow. That might make a difference in expectations of friends, too, maybe? Thank you again, Rachel, for the insight!!

  3. I’m not sure about friendships, however, I guess it does apply to romantic relationships.

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