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    Timeline of a Love Affair

    Sharing Keys, Swapping Rings

    Most people in long-term relationships end up getting married, if the law allows it. But in the United States today, couples commonly live together for a while first. According to surveys conducted 1997 by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, more than one-third of adults in their mid-20s to mid-30s who had been married lived with their spouse before marrying. About 40% in this age group had ever lived with a romantic partner while unmarried.

    Nevertheless, such arrangements are usually short-lived, lasting on average one year before the couple breaks up or gets married. Looking at it another way, the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics estimates that 30% of unwed couples living together will get married after one year and 70% will after five years. The likelihood of breaking up instead of getting married is 30% after one year and 49% after five years.

    The University of Chicago surveys also found that about half of unmarried people involved a love affair thought they would likely marry the one they were with.

    For many people in the United States, being married is no more "forever" than being in love is. The CDC estimates that two out of five first marriages will end in divorce or separation after 15 years. U.S. Census numbers show that only about half of those married between the years 1970-1979 celebrated a 25th wedding anniversary.

    Sex and Marriage: "Seven Year Itch?"

    Couples probably have sex with each other less often the longer they are married. That's assumed because surveys find that married people report having sex less often the older they are. The University of Chicago's survey shows married adults under age 30 say they have sex an average of 109 times a year. The average number drops to 70 times per year for forty-somethings, 52 times a year for people in their 50s, and so on.

    The survey also shows that married people younger than 30 are those most likely to have sex with someone other than their spouse. But there's no clear increase or decrease as people age, and by extension, the length of marriage.

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