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THE 4-YEAR HITCH; That's how long nature wants us to stay married.

Byline: JULIA HUNT

MARRIAGES are doomed to fail after four years, if we allow nature to run its course.

Couples are programmed to remain faithful by a "love drug" that wears off after that period, a new study claims.

Dr Helen Fisher, an evolutionary psychologist, says we are designed to be monogamous for four years - the time it takes to raise a child through infancy.

Divorce rates in Scotland correspond with her theory, peaking after four years.

Dr Fisher, who spent 25 years on her study, said: "I used to think divorce was a seven- year itch, but I now know it's a four-year itch."

She found that when a couple falls in love, the brain produces large doses of dopamine and phenylethylamine - chemicals which have similar effects to amphetamines (speed).

The amount of dopamine in our bloodstream is at its peak during the first 18 months to three years of a relationship and serves to bond us to our partner. The effects eventually wear off and the brain begins producing more mind- calming chemicals which help us remain together for long enough to rear a child.

Dr Fisher, of Rutgers University, New Jersey, said: "Mating is governed by three patterns - sex drive, romantic love and attachment.

"The romantic love drug helps us focus on one person because being with them makes us feel so good.

"It gives us a natural high which can be addictive, so once it starts to fade we want to move on to our next dose. But, other drugs - oxytocin and vasopressin - are emitted which help us maintain an attachment to our partner."

Divorce figures around the world also back up Dr Fisher's theory. She said: "Our hunter-gatherer ancestors would pair up to mate and stay together long enough to rear the child through infancy.

"At the age of four, a child can be looked after by older children or relations. He is not so dependant on his parents."

Last year, more than 30,000 Scots couples got hitched while just over 10,000 divorced. In the last 10 years, almost 20 per cent of divorces took place after four to six years. After that, figures decrease rapidly.

Divorce rates are also highest for the 25-29 age group.

Dr Fisher said: "People tend to divorce in their mid-twenties, which is the height of their child-bearing years.

"The more children people have, the less likely they are to split, because if you're having so many babies you tend to be getting on, plus it becomes more difficult to leave. Marriages that last longer than four years have a lot to do with familiarity and attachment, with only brief moments of romantic love."

Hilary Campbell, chief executive of Couple Counselling Scotland, described Dr Fisher's research as "interesting".

But she believed most marital problems were down to poor communications.

She said: "It's easy for couples to communicate when they are madly in love and all is going well, but it becomes a lot harder later on, for example after major life- changing events like having a baby.

"Couples who make it past the first flushes of love do so because they listen to each other and compromise."
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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Sep 22, 2002
Words:529
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