What, exactly, is the seven-year itch? Are you at risk? Is there a cure? Charles J. Orlando and Dr. Jessica Griffin, Seven Year Switch’s relationship experts, have outlined everything you need to know about an issue that afflicts millions of loving couples each year.
What is it?
“The seven-year itch is a term used to describe the point in time that happiness and connection in a relationship declines,” explains Orlando. “According to various studies and surveys, this often occurs around the seventh year of marriage, leading the couple to disconnect emotionally and stray physically.” Dr. Griffin describes it as the period you’re most likely to ask, “Did I marry the right person for me?” And it’s not exclusive to married couples. Anyone in a committed relationship is at risk.
Why seven years?
Seven years is the unluckiest number when it comes to love, at least in the United States (and some parts of Europe and Australia). Divorce rates are most common around the seven-year mark. Dr. Griffin explains, “Historically, that’s around the time when couples have moved beyond dating and courtship, beyond cohabitation, and beyond the first years of marriage. ‘Real life’ has set in.” She adds that dopamine and oxytocin (“the love hormone”), which were released in abundance when you first fell in love, have now run dry. As a result, romantic feelings tend to wane.
Can it set in at other times?
Though marital bliss often reaches an all-time low at seven years, it can dramatically drop at any point. “For some couples, disconnection and discontent starts right after the wedding night,” explains Orlando, pointing out that celebrity marriages are notorious for this. But, he also acknowledges Al and Tipper Gore. The politician and his wife decided to part ways in 2010, after 40 years of marriage. There’s no hard-and-fast rule for timing.
What’s the cause?
In a word, complacency. Orlando says that over time people get comfortable – too comfortable. “They stop dating each other or appreciating the little things. Their habits can become predictable or annoying, and they stop going out of their way. Sex becomes routine and release-centric instead of intimate and pleasurable,” he illustrates. “The moment people start taking each other for granted, stop communicating and become complacent, they are on the path of disconnection… and, ultimately, divorce.”
What are the symptoms?
Dissatisfaction, boredom, irritability and resentment are all telltale symptoms. Dr. Griffin gives a common example: “The man who was attracted to his wife’s carefree attitude and sense of adventure may now complain that she’s not ‘serious enough’ or needs to ‘settle down’.” What you once loved about your partner is now a source of frustration. An advanced case is easy to spot. “You start to wonder if the grass is greener in someone else’s yard – and if you might be happier with said greener grass.”
Orlando denotes signs your partner may have the itch: their tone of voice changes when speaking to you, they easily lose their patience with you, or they roll your eyes at things that used to make them laugh. The most dangerous symptom of all, according to the expert? Indifference to things you say or do. “Just because people aren’t screaming, yelling and fighting doesn’t mean that they are connected and happy. Many times silence and distance – under the guise of ‘independence’ or ‘support’ – show a couple is truly disconnected.”
Can it happen to you?
“Every couple will experience some form of an itch in their relationship, although it may be one-sided,” confirms Dr. Griffin. “It’s not uncommon for one partner in a relationship to become dissatisfied while the other partner is blissfully ignorant to the other person’s unhappiness.”
Is there a cure?
Yes, but you have to act fast. The first step, according to Dr. Griffin, is to take some time out with your significant other and with yourself. Many times the feelings stem from something going on with you, rather than the relationship. She suggests any activity that establishes “me time”: yoga, a long drive, a walk or an hour alone, uninterrupted. “Taking some time for yourself may help you achieve the clarity needed to take the appropriate next steps.”
The good news is that the seven-year itch isn’t necessarily a death sentence for a relationship. “This may just be another developmental phase of your love and relationship – a phase far less pleasant than courtship and dating, but totally normal,” says Dr. Griffin. However, just because it’s normal doesn’t mean your feelings should be pushed aside. “Ignoring it is akin to ignoring a cut on your leg, or just slapping a bandage on it and hoping it goes away,” she explains. “Perhaps it won’t get infected. But if it does, the problems can become much worse and impact areas you did not anticipate. It also becomes much harder to treat. If you take the time and clean out this wound, even if small, you may prevent long-term problems from happening down the road.”