The seven-year itch is used to mark that dreaded time in a relationship when things begin to fall apart — leading to cheating, distance, and the big D. The phrase came to mean a miserable time in a marriage after being compared to irritating skin problems that you really wanted to get rid of. Isn’t that nice?
Of course, not everyone breaks up at the seven-year mark, but it is very common for most relationships to go through a rough patch where you find your partner (or yourself) boring, predictable, and insufferable. The day-to-day monotony has you asking, “is this all there is?” You may begin to seek outside sources — or people — to fulfill you.
According to Psychology Today, one theory that explains the timing is that “after seven years of marriage many couples have successfully raised one or two children through the risky infancy years and realize they don’t want to be around each other anymore, or else they haven’t had children at all and decide it’s time to look for another potential mate.”
They note that Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston divorced after having spent seven years together (five of those married) with no kids.
“In marriages there are three separate times when they are at risk of failure,” she explains. “One is within the first year…You may think ‘What did I do?’ These are called beta marriages, where people get married to test the water, to see what it was like, and weren’t committed to the whole concept and got out.
“The next time is between the sixth and eighth year — the seven-year-itch time — enough time to be married have at least one child and get really disconnected from each other. All the focus is on the kid. (Like Channing Tatum/Jenna Dewan-Tatum and Chris Pratt/Anna Faris, for example.) You figure you have a kid, maybe two and you start thinking is this my life? Part of that is that we’re in a very child-centric society and we stop being partners and just become parents. Nothing thrives on neglect, your marriage included.”
Doares says the third time that poses a threat is around 25 years, once the kids leave home. “Sometimes couples can make it through, but their marriage is on autopilot, the marriage isn’t bad but they’ve become disconnected and have nothing in common. It’s like another 40 years of this?”
But about that seven-year itch. Doares often coaches couples through their rough patches around this time, and advises that they find out what marriage is…and isn’t.
“It’s not a panacea and all my problems are solved,” she says. “How is Prince Charming 10 years in? They think they ride off into the sunset. When ‘why can’t I get him to put the toilet seat down’ is the reality.”
Doares says that expectations have to be grounded in reality and not rom-coms.
“Most of the time when things get hairy in romantic relationships we break up. How do we figure out how to deal and stay married?
You want to be married and you understand what that means. It’s not all about you. It’s partially about you and it’s being able to negotiate that. The biggest challenge to marriage is that you are and always have been two different people, and you always will be two different people.”
Preventing [the split] is possible if you slowly take steps to positively feed and focus on you and your partner. That way, surprises likely won't come knocking you on your ass.
“The idea is to recognize we have more choice in what our life looks like than we think,” Doares tells us. “If something is happening that we don’t like in our relationship, what are our options? Leaving is one option. But one major thing is, am I seeing the whole picture? Am I seeing my partner though a ever-diminishing lens? Am I only focusing on behaviors that drive me up the wall? It’s called confirmation bias, where you have a belief and you find all the evidence to support that belief.”
Happiness studies say it takes five positive interactions to counteract one negative one. “Finding three things your partner did today you really liked and appreciated and then telling them that. Say ‘thank you’ for doing such and such. You’re actually focusing on what your partner is doing that is positive, and that flips the way you look at them.”
Be conscious of doing this way before seven years hits, she adds.
“Continuing to interact as partners matters,” Doares adds. “Marriage work has a date night, an interaction without talking about work, kids, or your relationship. Preferably not a movie, but if you do, you have to go talk about the movie after. You don’t necessarily have to leave the house. One night a week, feed the kids early and then have a romantic candlelit dinner in your own home, just the two of you.”
This helps keep the itchie scratchies at bay, because you remain connected as a couple, and continue to do the things from when before you’re married, even if you have annoying kids running around. “We tell people our priorities by how we spend our time, so how much time do we spend with our partner? If it’s only five minutes a day, your marriage is probably going to end up in a ditch somewhere.”
Which brings us to why it’s nearly impossible for many celebs to hit the seven-year mark and survive.
“You have to make the person a priority,” Doares says, adding that it’s hard when you’re on opposite sides of the planet and you can’t dedicate time to the relationship and being a couple.
“Celebrities are a bit of a challenge, one because they have these really wacky schedules, you go off for three, four, six months and of course that’s not reality. People have to be pretty grounded as individuals and in relationships to be able to really talk about their fears and overcome them. Some won’t work at the same time, but then are you going to turn down the role of a lifetime? It’s about choices, many choose their careers. When they stay together, it’s purposeful and they understand their relationship is a priority.”
A huge part of it, Doares adds, is being a spouse first, it’s about deciding “this is going to work.” “It isn’t about that I want to be with my spouse forever, but I am committed to this relationship, even when you don’t like them very much. If you are struggling and in a questioning phase, it is not a punishment or a failure to seek professional advice. Even go by yourself, it’s about learning.”
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