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How the 3 Year Itch Has Become the New 7 Year Itch


How the 3 Year Itch Has Become the New 7 Year Itch

Goodbye 7, hello 3. 

It’s commonly known that after several years of relationship problems, couples experience the ‘7 year itch’ and seek couples counseling in an attempt to repair their relationship. Often times its too late and their relationship eventually dissolves. 

But, it appears the tide has changed and the 7 year itch has been dethroned and replaced with the 3-4 year itch.

Helen Fisher (Biological Anthropologist and total guru on the biology of love) states that “perhaps its no coincidence that the American divorce peak corresponds perfectly with the normal duration of infatuation – two to three years.” Further, this 3-4 year itch is biologically aligned with having children.” As it turns out, the standard period of human birth spacing was originally four years. We were built to have our children four years apart and I think that this drive to pair up and stay together at least four years evolved millions of years ago so that a man and a woman would be drawn together and stay together, tolerate each other, at least long enough to rear a single child through infancy.” And so it goes. And often times so does the marriage. 

In our fast-driven, ‘I want it now’ society in which we live, people have an expectation that relationships should be how they appear on television. They aren’t. People expect their spouse to be ‘the one for everything’ and thus depend on them to a degree that no person could ever attain. They will not. People expect their relationship will always be fun filled, sexually driven, and exciting. It will not. They believe their relationship should be like it was in the first couple of years of a relationship and that just ‘being together will be enough.’ It will not. That the ‘business part of any marriage – finances, bills, kids – are avoidable. It is not. Love, like life, is up and down. Fun days peppered with boring days. 

Unfortunately, these misguided expectations become a fantasy that no healthy relationship can compete with and is often correlated with feeling antsy in the relationship.

But, before you ‘scratch that itch’, consider this: according to John Gottman, there are many things a couple can start to do that can help put their marriage back on track.

  1. Start a dialogue about the problems in your marriage—gently, without blame. Begin with a soft start-up – for example, ‘is this a good time to talk? or ‘when might be a good time to talk?’.
  2. Just because you think it doesn’t mean you have to say it. Sometimes you should listen to your inside voice and ‘edit yourself.’ Some things are better left unsaid. 
  3. Find a marital therapist. Couples wait, on average, 6- 7 years before they get help. By then, they are hanging on by a thread and have said mean and destructive things to their partner that oftentimes causes irreparable damage.
  4. Men benefit from accepting influence from their wife. Women do this naturally and so it benefits the couple as a whole if the man can do this, too.
  5. Don’t let arguments get out of control. The key to this is having healthy and effective repair habits. This helps keep the argument to a minimum. A couple’s ability to change the topic, add some humor to diffuse the tension and the letting it go (backing down or reaffirming you are a team and in it together, is important.
  6. Say positive things to one another. Gottman stresses the 5:1 ratio – happy couples make at least five times as many positive comments about their marriage than negative ones.
  7. Look inward. Growth within the marriage occurs when each person looks inward and examines how to they contribute – or not – to the relationship. Doing this examines what their part is to the ‘marital dance’ and what changes each person needs to make to strengthen the marriage.

Sure, these are not guarantees that your marriage will survive but small steps become bigger steps that often turn into greater growth for both people as well as the couple. And taking steps now can put you on a path of marriage recovery with greater clarity and awareness. 

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