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.