You have properly heard about the seven-year itch. Back in 1955 a popular movie on the seven-year itch was released and the concept has been widely accepted as true.
In the movie, a man sends his family off on holiday for the summer, similar to what happens in expat life in the Middle East and Asia actually. Many families decide that the husband will stay and work and the wife and any children will go back home or on vacation as a break. So back to the film the man stays back to work. He begins to fantasize about women that he previously had feelings for, when his new neighbour (Marilyn Monroe) moves in next door he decides to try and seduce her. Things don’t go as he planned but he is still concerned that his wife may some how know about it and that he has not been faithful. He is carrying the worry and guilt of cheating. As a side note cheaters guilt can be common so I will do an episode on that too coming up.
So the 7 year itch theory is and there is some research to support this that the risk of divorce rises after a few years of marriage and peaks at the seven-year mark and then the risk starts to decline again.
There’s no consensus among experts as to why the seven-year itch may occur. Perhaps it’s a matter of timing: after seven years many couples would have got through intense busy years of having young children and then may realise that they have drifted apart or no longer value the same things and want to be together any more.
Also by the seven year mark many couples may have found that their less attracted and excited about one another. The sex life may have become too routine, annoying habits may have become more and more unbearable and they may feel like have become so used to one another that they are more like roommates than lovers.
I’ve looked into other theories behind the 7-year itch and found the work of philosopher Rudolf Stenier who created a theory of human development that is associated with us going through seven year cycles associated with astrology. His theory suggests that humans experience large changes every seven years. It makes sense then that if a person makes changes to their life, seeks new experiences, become less interested in old activities or has a shift in values and goals for their life that this could create distance between a couple. The marriage therefore becoming less stable, as the couple may feel less compatible and increasing the risk of divorce.
Interesting when you think of it, can you identify big changes at age 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49, 56, 63 etc. I definitely do have many couples coming to me at 28, 35, 42 and 49 and I do know that I went through some major shifts at 28 and 35 but I also think that I develop and grow every 1 to 2 years, not every 7.
So I did some more research into this and found that there are three other studies that have looked into the seven-year itch and found different patterns.
I’ll quickly share them with you as there interesting also.
Four- and seven-year
A 1999 study by Dr Larry Kurdek a psychology professor from Wright State University demonstrated the validity of both a 4 and 7-year itch. In his study he concluded that
“couples often began their unions with high levels of marital quality, but that it appeared to decrease twice: once rather steeply over the first four years and again after about seven”.
His study also showed that couples with children experienced a more rapid decline in the quality of their marriage.
A study conducted by Grant Thorton Accountancy and Consulting Group in 2010. Found contrary to the 7 year itch that the majority of couples who divorce spend more than a decade together. They surveyed over 90 law firms known for offering family law and divorce cases and concluded that most marriages are likely to end in divorce after about 12 years together.
A 2012 study done by parenting website Netmums looks to have gone against the widely accepted 7 year itch. The study showed that relationships when there are young children are
“four and a half times more likely to split after three years than the traditional seven years”.
They had over 1,500 respondents reply to the survey and a whopping 42% said that having a child had driven them apart from partner.
Siobhan Freegard, founder of Netmums, believes that this 3 year itch is a result of more people getting married later in life in pursuit for personal and professional goals. She suggests that as women react to their ticking biological clock they may rush into marriage and children, rather than taking more time to assess compatibility, get to know their partners better before getting married and have a family.
So what can we learn from this? Well whether you believe the 7 year itch has become a 3 year itch in modern times or relate more to 7 or 12 year mark for marriage troubles to me it highlights 3 main things.
1 – During a marriage life-time many individuals and couples can experience an itch – relationship doubts.
2 – Clearly then it is necessary to put in extra effort every day in order to sustain happy marriages. Especially when couples begin a family and have young children.
3 – If a couple doesn’t prioritize their relationship, their marriage will fall by the wayside — no matter how long they’ve been together.
So, coming up next I will discuss what to do if you or your partner is having the relationship itch – that something isn’t right and are considering leaving.
So I will just end sharing a great success story of Anna and Chris
Anna and Chris had been married for 7 years – they have 2 little boys and have a house close to both sets of families.
Before having the kids both Anna and Chris lived in London and didn’t see much of their family, they spent weekends together relaxing and having fun going out. When they moved out of the city they began to spend less time together and more time on their new jobs, their kids and now they were spending more time seeing family.
I took Anna and Chris individually through the25 most important needs people have in a relationship to be happy, feel loved and connected. Chris felt unsupported in his career, like an ATM machine and was frustrated that he could not parent the way he wanted. Sarah felt like she had a 3rd child picking up after Chris and managing all the house on her own with little help and care.
As they had less time together, they noticed they were drifting apart and less time to talk through things meant more arguments would occur. They would have heated conversations over the smallest things like the dishwasher not being stacked correctly or the tone in which one of them would say something.
Because of their jam-packed family life, they weren’t dedicating the time to talk through issues and miscommunications kept happening so nothing was ever resolved after an argument. Everything just got swept under the carpet.
Once they had both worked out clearly what they needed to be happy and feel respected we created an action plan for change. I as a professional couple counsellor in Abu Dhabi helped them each individually again to see the resentments they were still carrying and how it was draining their energy and blocking fun times. We cleared their resentment and covered communication skills to stop both being defensiveness and passive aggressive. We then set in regular couple time, screen free time and ways to enhance their sex life.
Anna and Chris noticed immediately how much their love for one another changed when they focused on making each other happy. Before they felt frustrated and alone.
Nicola Beer is a Relationship and Anxiety Specialist. US certified grief recovery specialist, life coach and hypnotherapist based in Dubai, UAE.