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Marriage and "That Seven Year Itch"

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

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“I have been married to my husband for almost 15 years. 7 years ago we started having troubles. He lost interest in everything. I know at that stage we all can feel content and take for granted that we need to continue to show interest in our partners. But whenever I brought it up, he’d make excuses. His lack of interest in sex, his inability to show any type of interest or affection in me, even in small ways, began to eat at me…..Then, the unimaginable has happened, something I never thought I’d do. I had an affair. And now I feel like I have a chance with someone new.”

This is an example of a problem that afflicts many marriages. There is something about hitting that seven year anniversary that puts a damper on many marriages. This is so familiar that it is popularly referred to as “The seven year itch.” Of course, this can happen before seven years or many years afterwards as well. For this woman marriage problems began seven years into her marriage and persisted until today, 15 years after this couple married. Why does this happen to so many people?

It’s been pointed out in another blog, http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_index.php?idx=119&d=1&w=5&e=49973, that something called habituation happens with most novel situations. This refers to the fact that, after a certain amount of time passes, all the initial excitement that accompanies something new and exciting, things settle down into a routine. Therefore, after 5 to 7 years of marriage, people become so accustomed to one another that it can feel like marriage is boring. Often, this is expressed through a lack of interest in sex, a sense of no longer being in love with this person and/or in wanting to have an affair and a divorce. The myth that accompanies the crisis at this stage of a relationship is that happiness is to be found elsewhere. In point of fact, a second marriage also becomes routine after some time. The cycle then repeats itself.

Even though the divorce rate is high, there are many couples who seem to be resilient and weather the storms that come with marriage. What are some of the strategies that successful marrieds use to maintain the health of their relationship? There are a number of strategies that have been suggested. For one thing, it’s important to discuss the mundane events of an average day and listen carefully to what your partner is saying. Introducing humor and playfulness into the talk is also helpful and makes talking more fun. In addition, listening helps validate what is being said. After all, the humdrum events are those that fill an average day of living. It is important for couples to make time to engage in this kind of talk each day.

Talking sometimes involves one spouse communicating good news to the other. whether it’s a promotion, increase in salary or getting a really good bonus, this is an opportunity to jointly celebrate and validate. If anything, it is also important for a spouse to help their partner achieve the goals they have set. Marriage is a cooperative venture. It is equally important for couples to help one another cope with stressful and traumatic events. Who better to turn to then your husband or wife when facing difficult times.

Add to all of this the importance of touch. It is amazing how a touch can feel reassuring and warm. It’s important not to forget to touch one another. By the way, this is not sexual touching but just a spontaneous way of expressing interest in and warmth for your partner.

These and other activities are important in building and maintaining a vital marriage. Couples can plan vacations together, set up dates with one another to go out for a romantic dinner without the children. Doing unexpected things such as buying flowers if that is rarely done, writing romantic notes to your spouse and giving a warm kiss when coming and going can all work towards building enduring marriages.

Forgiveness is also an ingredient that is necessary. Life can be difficult at times and couples can say and do things that are cruel and nasty. Talking about these things and forgiving can go a long ways to ensuring an intact marriage.

What are your thoughts about all of this and about your marriage?

Your comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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