A colleague of mine asked me last week if married couples really do develop such a thing as the seven year itch. He had been talking to his buddies the night before and some of them were referring to feeling the symptoms. The symptoms are very similar to being bored with life in general, a loss of passion with their spouse, a sense that they are on a treadmill, and they don't have fun anymore as a couple. Not only were they feeling the symptoms, they were conflicted because, for the most part, their marriages were healthy, and content. They just weren't exciting or passionate anymore.
Marital research shows us that the seven year itch is a real thing. The first dip in marital satisfaction (defined as a decrease in marital quality measured by taking into account passion, satisfaction with the relationship, amount of time shared in an activity and agreement between partners) happened at four years post marriage. There is a slight increase then in satisfaction, and the next dip happens at the eight-year mark. The eight to twelve years married is a time many seek counseling or other forms of guidance, and as a marital counselor this is a common time for me to see couples.
Understanding that the seven-year itch is common, and trying to prevent experiencing it makes it more important to understand what sorts of things precipitate the itch. The list of factors are many, but the most common ones are financial dilemmas, working long hours and feeling tired, bills, a house, and the expense and upkeep of your home, children, babies, lack of time to talk with each other, and the stress of everyday life. When you are dating, these stressors are not part of your life, and the years following marriage many times are blissful. You are able to go out as a couple, do fun things on the weekend, and once you are married with kids much of the couples' time together is spent with child care and child focused activities on the weekends. Soon you may find that you are parents, but no longer an intimate couple.
When determining how to prevent the seven-year itch in your marriage, we look to the couples that report that the itch did not happen in their marriage. There are those couples who say each year their marriage has gotten better, and this is usually due to the one golden rule they have discovered. That rule is that they continued to give their marriage regular attention. This may have meant that even before their children got attention they made sure the marriage got it. Below are a few more "Golden Rules" that can help with preventing the seven-year itch, or if you are experiencing the itch, it can help you scratch it and improve your marriage.
1. Talk to your partner prior to making plans and/or decisions. When both partners do this, they report that they get to do more of their own things. This creates less tension if you both are getting to do what you want once in awhile.
2. Make it a habit to sit down and talk to one another for at least fifteen minutes each day.
3. Take the time to date your partner once a week. Get fixed up. This makes them feel attracted to you, and helps you feel attractive.
4. Make it a habit to do one small thing each day for your partner that you know will please them.
Experiencing the seven-year itch is not a bad thing, but ignoring it, trying to sweep it under the rug, instead of dealing with it means your marriage has a greater chance of succumbing to the itch. Nothing is more important to your children than seeing their parents deal effectively with stress, conflict and prioritizing their marriage. –Mary Jo Rapini
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