London - The pressures of modern life mean the seven-year-itch comes round much sooner than it used to as troubled couples split up earlier, a new study shows.
Dubbing the phenomenon the “three year itch”, the research shows that couples with young children are now most likely to go their separate ways at the three year mark.
Experts say trying to juggle careers and parenting while struggling with changing gender roles is causing more relationships to fail.
They also cite a growing trend for “fast forward” partnerships as couples get together later in life, but spend less time getting to know each other before having children.
The study by parenting website Netmums found couples are now four and a half times more likely to split after three years than the traditional seven.
A significant 21 percent of couples who split, saw their relationship fall apart after they had been together between two and four years. Worryingly 12 percent split within a year.
In contrast, just three percent of couples broke up after seven years.
Having children was shown to put the greatest strain on a relationship.
Almost half (42 percent) of the 1,500 parents questioned said having children had driven them apart and only a third said it had brought them closer.
Four in five admit their relationship suffered as a result of exhaustion caused by the birth of a new baby or looking after young children.
Many struggle to spend quality time together with 15 percent 'never' going out as a couple after having children and 14 percent managing just one night out a year together.
Yet many seem to be having children earlier in relationships.
One in 20 couples confessed they fell pregnant within three months of meeting and 15 percent were expecting a baby within a year.
Netmums founder Siobhan Freegard, 44, said: “Relationships are tough at the best of times but having children puts an extra strain on them.
“Add in lack of time, exhaustion, work and money worries and maybe it's little surprise couples are splitting up earlier than ever before.
“Certainly, there is unprecedented pressure on women to be the perfect wife, mother and career woman while men are feeling more and more unsure of their role.
“There seem to be a lot of people having children later in life but earlier in relationships.
“Whereas women tended to have children in their twenties, now it tends to be in their thirties.
“Perhaps some women hear the biological clock ticking and start looking for a father rather than a boyfriend.
“After ticking off various life and career achievements first, people may want to find someone and for everything to be instantaneously complete.
“The problem with 'fast forward' relationships is if the foundations are not strong then children can quickly make a relationship very wobbly.
“The research shows we are then giving up too quickly - maybe because it seems there are more choices than there used to be.
“But often simple tricks which cost nothing, like taking time to really listen to each other, can be the key to keeping love alive and remind you why you first fell in love.”
The study found two thirds of couples believe it is harder to maintain a relationship now compared to a generation ago.
Almost two in five couples said keeping love alive is more difficult with both parties working, while 22 percent believe couples are less committed and too quick to split.
Indeed, one in ten claim couples take having children “too lightly”.
After having children, 46 percent of women say they went off sex and two in five felt less attractive after putting on weight.
Over half blamed money worries and debts for driving a wedge though their relationship and one in 14 admitted starting an affair.
To help couples stay together and improve their relationships, Netmums, which is largely used by women aged 25 to 40, is offering free online relationship counselling courses.
The course is being run in conjunction with relationship experts One Plus One.
Director Penny Mansfied said: “OnePlusOne promotes early action in relationship support as we know this is the best way to build stronger relationships and thriving families.“
THE CELEBRITY RELATIONSHIPS THAT FAST-TRACKED TO FAILURE
1 Dannii Minogue and Kris Smith - four years (21 months after birth of baby Ethan)
2 Kate Winslet and Jim Threapleton - three years (13 months after birth of baby Mia)
3 Peter Andre and Katie Price - three years (16 months after birth of Princess Tiaamii)
4 Kerry Katona and Mark Croft - three years (two years after birth of baby Max)
5 Halle Berry and Gabriel Aubry - four years (two years after birth of daughter Nahla)
6 Britney Spears and Kevin Federline - two years (one year after birth of Jayden James)
7 Ashlee Simpson and Pete Wentz - three years (two years after birth of son Bronx)
8 Tina O'Brien and Ryan Thomas - six years (13 months after birth of baby Scarlett
9 Kerry Katona and Brian McFadden - four years (one year after the birth of Lily Sue)
10 Heidi Klum and Seal - six years (two years after birth of last child Lou). - Daily Mail