Hi there! I’m Christina, a mom of two littles, a licensed mental health therapist, and a soon-to-be children’s book author! Thanks for checking out my site. Look around! Besides this helpful article on how to avoid the seven year itch and ensure you have a happy and strong marriage, I’m sure there’s something for you!
One of the ways we learn is by imitation. When it comes to relationships, there is much to be gleaned from examining successful relationships. I come from a long line of successful marriages, so undoubtedly there are things I — and you — can learn to help ensure my — and your — marriage is equally as strong and lasts equally as long.
My parents just celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary; my in-laws, their 40th; one set of my grandparents celebrated 60 years before my grandma’s passing; and my other set of my grandparents are well on their way to their 65th.
All of these relationships are quite different from the next, but what they do share is their longevity. Each of these relationships, warts and all, has survived for decades, long beyond the dreaded “seven year itch”.
If you haven’t heard of it before, the unhappy idea of the seven year itch is simple: after approximately seven years of marriage, a couples’ satisfaction with their relationship declines, in many cases resulting in a split.
The term became well-known from the 1952 play of the same name by George Axelrod, and then by the 1955 Marilyn Monroe movie, where the main character was tempted by infidelity at the seventh year of marriage.
Oomph! Seven years? Didn’t we all promise each other “til death do us part”? I mean, do words mean nothing anymore?? (No, no, they don’t, unless actions back them up…but that’s another post for another day). I don’t know about you, but the idea that many marriages only last seven years is daunting.
It’s as if you could be walking along, living your happy life with your beautiful relationship when suddenly, seven years in, things go south. But that’s not the reality, is it.
Usually, great things don’t go south without warning.
More likely, there have been foundational cracks, relationship fault lines, that have been growing bigger through the years without attempts to repair them, and eventually they are too big to do anything about.
If you need help managing conflict successfully with your partner, read this!
While by seven years there may be positive relationship growth (many relationships are through the tough childbearing and newborn years, and things have settled down), there is a higher likelihood that, unfortunately, there may be a cumulation of relational damage (established unproductive or unhealthy patterns, disinterest, decreased romance, and even apathy).
The seven year itch was on my mind as my husband and my seventh wedding anniversary was approaching — dun dun dun!
Our friends have marriages with similar ages, making this topic even more relevant, as we have already seen some friends’ marriages suffer, (some) survive from, and unfortunately (some) succumb to all sorts of challenges.
What can you do to protect your marriage from the seven year itch and divorce?
Here are 7 tips for not only avoiding the seven year itch, but for coming out the other side with an even stronger marriage than before.
Work on yourself. A relationship is the interplay of two individuals. To give your relationship its best chance at survival, both parts of the whole need to be working towards wellness.
Life can be challenging enough as a single person — then you throw another person in the mix, and it’s even more difficult to navigate in harmony.
So, examine yourself and your role in the relationship honestly.
Are you pulling your weight? Expecting too much? Not setting boundaries? Are you who and how you want to be? What do you need that you feel you’re missing? What can you do to be the best you and best partner you can be?
Make it a priority to work on your relationship, every. darn. day. My mother-in-law playfully says that every year is the seven year itch, meaning that you and your partner need to be working on things continuously in order to keep your relationship strong.
If there are relational wounds, heal them before they get worse and fester. Don’t let little things become big things; even small wounds can become infected.
Day in and day out, check in with each other, see what’s working and what’s not, make changes, speak nicely, be loving, speak their love language.
Choose each other every day.
Expect tough times, and work together through them. Many vows have some version of “for better or for worse”, but just as many couples don’t know what that means.
They say the words but don’t actually anticipate real problems. In the glow of the beginning of a relationship, “worse” seems impossible. Things are so fun! So new!
But then real life happens. Work is stressful, home is stressful, bills need to be paid, chores need to be done, a household needs to be kept, children need to be raised. We fall sick, we grieve losses of loved ones, we experience natural disasters. None of those things are romantic or fun.
When tough times present themselves, allow yourself and your partner to feel what you need to feel and to process what’s happening (note: you will most likely do this differently than each other, and that’s okay!), ask each other what support you need, and then give it.
Experiences that represent “the worse” are a whole lot less terrible when you and your partner expect them, and more importantly, are there for each other.
Watch out for the “four horsemen”.
Renowned American psychologist John Gottman speaks about the four horsemen of the apocalypse in psychological terms. The idea is that there are four conversational styles that are indicative of relationships that will ultimately fail.
These four styles are: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.
Criticism means attacking a partner’s character and values with judgments like “you’re such a jerk”, or “you only care about yourself”. According to Gottman, the way to repair the damage of core-identity criticism is to speak openly and honestly with each other, using “I” statements and offering positive suggestions.
Contempt refers to when you or your partner expresses superiority (thereby implying the other’s inferiority) using negative approaches such as sarcasm, hostility, mockery, and cynicism.
BTW, this ‘horseman’ is most indicative of divorce, so if you and your partner engage in this way, figure out how to knock it off. Gottman suggests that the way to combat contempt is by showing respect and expressing appreciation and gratitude for one another.
Defensiveness is equivalent to presenting yourself as the victim. In order to avoid this, each person has to be willing to accept responsibility for their “role in the drama” (as my father-in-law says).
The final horseman is stonewalling, which means to completely detach from the conversation. In order to resolve problems when one partner is stonewalling, it is best to take a 20 minute break, gather yourself, and try again (while leaving all the horsemen in the stable).
To read more and see a video to help explain, visit the Gottman blog.
Play up the passion. And I mean in small, meaningful ways.
- Talk with each other during a meal instead of scrolling on your phone
- Show interest in each other
- Flirt and show affection
- Give compliments and praise, including about their body
- Speak highly of them to others (and let them overhear it)
Foster a strong friendship. My mom attributes her and my dad’s marriage success to their friendship and humor. Even if you work hard on tip number five, there will be times when the passion is not the forefront of your relationship, which is both expected and healthy.
When that happens, you need friendship to get you through. And along with friendship are the undercurrents of respect and compassion, hugely important in all relationships, but especially your marriage.
Spend time together, just the two of you. Do things that are fun or active or adventurous, or relaxing. It really doesn’t matter what you do, but do it together and focus on reconnecting.
For some affordable date night ideas, see this post.
If wanted or needed, get counseling and support. As a mental health counselor, I am a big fan of everyone seeing a therapist, especially before you ‘need it’.
Go to a couple’s counselor before you feel like you’re at your wit’s end, when you’re both still wanting to stay in the marriage. If you wait until divorce is on the table, it may still possible to see improvement in therapy, but sometimes by then it’s too late. (My marriage counselor friends tell me how most couples come too late…don’t let that be you!)
My recommendation is go early and go often. Or if your marriage is doing pretty well, an annual or twice annual check in is a good way to go. Even a couple’s retreat weekend could be the impetus to an improved relationship. Whatever therapy route you choose, give it everything.
Take the 7 tips above and run with them.
Your starting point doesn’t matter; it just matters that you start.
I wish you and your partner courage and strength as you engage in a personal and relationship inventory.
Your marriage and your happiness is worth it.
May every day, week, month, year, seven years, and seventy years be all that you want them to be, for better or for worse.
Note: If you are concerned your relationship is not a healthy one, if you are experiencing what you think might be abuse, or if you (and your children) feel unsafe, it may be the best option to find your own path, separate of your marriage. Please seek a counselor or relational abuse (domestic abuse) center in your area. My heart is with you.
66 thoughts on “The Seven Year Itch and Marriage — How to Avoid it and Ensure Your Marriage is Happy and Strong”
When we make something socially acceptable then, unfortunately, it becomes the norm. These are great tips to help though!
Thanks! You’re right, there’s a danger to “normalizing” things that are ultimately not healthy. It can be a way to deal with something in the moment, but it can modify how we think about things. One thing that I try to stay away from is complaining about my spouse in a group setting. Somehow that seems to have become a common and even encouraged thing to do, but it can plant the seeds to deeper problems.
GooD thoughts, very helpful and for those in need to know they are not alone or different.
Thanks, Angela. Every relationship goes through its ups and downs, for sure! These tips are good for the seven year itch and really, anytime!
Great article. marriage is HARD! We are going on 21 years and there have been lots of ups and downs. Throw kids in the mix and it can get out of control fast. These are great thing to keep in mind. Thanks!
Oh man, throwing kids in the mix messes it ALL up! Haha. Wonderful that you’ve been married for 21 years. I wish you 81 years more 🙂
It will be 23 haapy years for us in october this year. I never experienced the Seven year itch. Marriage is not always easy and takes commiTMent on both parts! Good advice for those that allow it to happen.
Congratulations this upcoming October! That’s awesome you didn’t experience it. I do think it doesn’t happen to every marriage, especially if they are constantly working on their relationship!
gREAT TIPS! i HAD MORE OF A 21 YEAR ITCH…BUT SOMEHOW WE SURVIVED! aLMOST 27 YEARS!
Haha Kendra! So a 7 year itch just three times seven at 21 years! Glad you made it through it and I hope your marriage continues to grow!
Love this! Marriage definitely takes work and after a while it can feel like you are just going through the motions. Just a thoughtful post and one I will pass along to friends =)
Thanks so much! I’d love if you pass it on! Share away! You’re right that if you don’t keep putting in the work, it becomes autopilot and mundane, not a formula for a lasting marriage!
I’VE HEARD A LOT ABOUT THIS SEVEN YEAR ITCH. I CAN SEE IT BEING A PROBLEM – FOR THOSE WHO AREN’T TRULY COMMITTED. I THINK IT’S GREAT THAT YOU’RE SHARING YOUR WISDOM ON SUCH AN IMPORTANT TOPIC!!!! MORE COUPLES NEED TO GO IN KNOWING THAT THEY ARE REALLY AND TRULY COMMITTED TO EACH OTHER – NO MATTER WHAT!!!
THanks so much, Charlene! You’re so right!
This is a beautiful article and well WRITTEN and number 6 is so vital! Anyone can love someone. But to really like someone, being with them and laughing wIth them and enjoying their presence and bonding is so vital! We were brought to our knees early on in our marriage and it was year 2 and we still say that was the best thing that ever happened to our MARRIAGE. It forced us to look at things THROUGH a COMPLETELY different lens and it changed everything. That was nearly 17 years ago and so We have walked through so many more deep waters since then and realize God was using that first one to change our lens. We began to see each other as God’s children as opposed to our spouse especially when things get tough its IMMEASURABLY helpful. The key is to look at that person as maybe you have never before seen them, but it may take pain to get there. Look at that person, not as your spouse, but as a flawed, flesh and blood person that God thought enough of to make and make not just for you but for his pleasure. Almost 21 years together and 19 years of that as marriage and I WOULDN’T be willing to tackle life with anyone else on the face of the planet. He’s my person but more importantly he is God’s child.
Wow! I am so glad that you were able to work as a team to overcome the challenges that hit your marriage early on. You have endured this far and it sounds like you have the will and work ethic to make it the remainder of you days. I am not a religious person but I do appreciate you and your husband using your faith to support and guide your marriage. That’s fantastic!!
We just celebrated our 23rd this May. I fortunately married my best friend and didn’t experience the “itch” thank goodness! Marriage is hard work, both parties needing to compromise and respect one another for sure!
So glad you didn’t experience “the itch”, Suzan! You got it!
These are great tips! I’ll have to keep these in mind for the future. Thanks 🙂
Thanks for reading, Liz! Hope you don’t even need these tips 🙂
Absolutely fantastic insight and advice! Thanks so much for sharing this info!
You’re so welcome, Maureen! Thanks for Reading! Please share if you know anyone who could benefit from reading this!
I love these tips. I know that I need to work on my tendency to hold a grudge. Mistakes happen, and normally they’re small(ish).
Hey Kyndall! That’s so wise of you to reflect on yourself and acknowledge what you could be doing differently. That’s not easy!! Picking your battles is really helpful, so is practicing gratitude! 🙂
Such a fabulous post on working a relationship, I think complacency can become commonplace for so many leading to neglect and worse. love that you have a long history of happy marriages in your family, my husband’s folks have been married 63 years too! thanks so much for sharing, loved it 🙂
Thanks so much for your comment, Angela! That’s awesome that your husband’s folks have been married for so long. Those couples really help set an example! And you’re so right…complacency is so toxic to the health of a marriage!
Seven years is a long time! There is no doubt. But Then it comes 11-year itch… I’ve heard that one is the worst. According to statistics many couples divorcing after that. But in my opinion (just like you mentioned in the post) strong friendship between two can help get through all the troubles in life together. Thank you for sharing this with us!
I have heard of that too! My guess would be that couples try to make it past those seven years, wait it out for the kids, and then realize it’s just too much by 11 years. And thanks!
Great post. Thanks for the detail and the clear and easy steps. a lot of what you mentioned is basic, but something we often forget to do as time moves forward.
Thanks so much! I appreciate your feedback. 🙂 Sometimes it is those little things, isn’t it?
Great tips! love the one about working on your relationship every day. thanks for sharing 🙂
Hey Robin! Thanks so much! 🙂
We went through pre-marital counseling before we got married and i truly believe it’s very important. we have been happily married for almost 23 years now!
That is awesome, Cynthia. My husband and I did too, and although it was intense and emotional, it was sooo worth it. Congrats on almost 23 years! That’s fantastic!
I think that friendship and humor are so important in any relationship. Humor is such a great way to relieve stress.
You nailed it Jennifer!
Such great advice – we just celebrated 7 years, but we haven’t had the best 7 years. It’s tough right now, but our therapist uses the gottman method and we really like it! The four horsemen are definitely hard to keep in the stable sometimes, but it’s just plain respectful to keep them tied up!
Hey Michelle. So sorry that the 7 years of marriage you have had haven’t been the best. I am glad however that you and your partner are in therapy! Go you! How cool that your therapist uses the Gottman method. I look to them for so much! I hope you and your spouse are able to strengthen your relationship, improve communication, and forge a watertight bond going forward!
Good tips… I wish every young person could read these…I don’t think they last 2 years anymore…
Hey Jen! I know what you mean. Sometimes I think the younger generation is taking things more seriously but there are always those that enter into marriage on a whim. I really feel like this sort of information should be taught in school.
Great post. We’ve been married 14 years, and there are definitely ups and downs (more ups than downs though, so woo!)! I appreciated reading about the 4 horsemen. I definitely tend to shut down when a conflict arises, so thanks for the reminder to keep lines of communication open!
Malia, I loved your comment. Thanks for the feedback and I am so glad it was a good reminder to you to keep the lines of communication open! We all definitely have our tendencies, and some are just straight up not great for the health of a relationship. Congrats on the 14 years of more ups than downs!!
Twice divorced … your post came out too late. 🙁 but that’s okay. It was all their fault. Lots of great information for me if i shall marry for a third time.
“It was all their fault.” <-- this made me laugh 🙂 Sorry to hear you've gone through two divorces. I'd say "that sucks" is an understatement. Hopefully this post will help you in any future relationship, marriage or dating!
I have never been married, but have a large family with many successful marriages. I have seen the joy and the work they all put into. They openly talk about disagreements and tease each other. I think all of that are pieces of healthy relationships1
That’s awesome, Karla! Very similar to my experience. Friendship, humor, and an openness to disagreement are all so key!
Great tips! It is hard, and it is work – and these are some great reminders to help make it a bit easier when the going gets tough
Yes, yes, yes! These are all so important in making a marriage work. It is a daily conscious effort to keep your marriage first!
Nailed it, Michele!
We’ve been married for 10 years and we did hit a bump at seven. We git through it by making a point of doing more together and doing things we both enjoyed.
Hi Pauline! Congrats on 10 years! I’m glad you guys reflected when you hit the bump and made changes. Well done!
This is wonderful. Seven years is such a short time in the scheme of a lifetime. It is so sad that that is how long many marriages last. Each of these tips is important to remember!
Thanks, Meagan! It really is sad. That said, if a relationship is an unhealthy one or if someone really isn’t with the right partner, divorce may be best for both people.
This is an important topic for couples. My husband and I actually renew our vows every seven years. THe first time that we renewed our vows, the theme was “Seven Year Itch? Well, here’s a switch. We are getting rehitched!”
That’s so cool Dawnmarie! I love that you renew every 7 years. My parents have renewed as well, but I don’t know that they have a specific timeline like that. Love the theme of your first renewal!
Great post! We are well past 7 years but in general I’ve learned that through tough times I just had to tell myself that I’D still rather be WITH him than wothout him. The tough times dont last long in the big picture and we always end up happy again!
Thanks, Kim! That’s great perspective and fuel to keep your relationship strong and healthy!
These are excellent suggestions in a well thought out post. MARRIAGE takes so much work. Its worth it. Its just a reality that sharing a life requires awareness and all the things you wrote about.
Thanks Cindy! I really appreciate that. 🙂 Please Share if you think anyone you know would benefit from the post!
My husband and I are coming up on our 7 year anniversary, and I know we really need to work on making time for ‘us’. We’re in a place right now in our lives where we don’t have much time together! 🙁
Aw Tonya, that makes me sad to hear. I hope you guys are able to shift some things and re prioritize to reincorporate quality time. Wishing you a long and happy marriage!
love your suggestions. My husband and I have been married for 18 years (together for 19). A lasting marriage takes work and a lot of people don’t realize how much work it takes. It’s worth it though, I wouldn’t trade him for the world.
Your comment brought a smile to my face, Denise. That is so lovely that you’ve been together 19 years in total, that you still want him by your side, and that you’re willing to work for it!
LOL – I read “seven year itch” and think about the number of those we’ve had in 22 years of marriage. Hands down, it takes work on both sides to make the commitment work and it’s not always easy. This is a great list of things to keep in the back of your head and to put into practice in order to keep refreshing that connection.
Haha I bet the number of times conflict and relationship rebuilding is needed throughout a longterm relationship is many! I’m glad to hear with your years of experience that it’s a great list 🙂