Ups and downs are par for the course in any long-term relationship. But it’s a commonly held belief that at the seven-year mark specifically, couples tend to fall into a slump, which often leaves them feeling restless and dissatisfied with the marriage. This is known as “the seven-year itch.”
Indeed, the median length of marriages that end in divorce has long hovered around seven years, according to U.S. government data. But, overall, relationship experts are divided on whether this phenomenon is real.
“No one has discovered anything particularly special about the seventh year of a relationship,” Karl Pillemer, the author of 30 Lessons for Loving: Advice From the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships, and Marriage, told HuffPost. “So couples should not dread the seventh year as a unique threat. On the other hand, studies do show that on average, marital satisfaction and overall quality drop over the first several years people are together, as ‘real life’ — and in particular kids — enter the picture.”
Couples can, of course, fall into a rut at any point in a relationship ― whether it’s been six months, seven years or decades. But if you’re one of the couples who feels the so-called itch coming on, don’t fret. We reached out to experts who gave us their advice on how to reignite the spark in your marriage right now.
1. Ask yourself if your marriage is really the thing making you feel stuck or listless.
“If you feel the itch to leave your relationship as you near seven years, ask yourself if you are itching for a change in general. If you feel your relationship is stagnant or boring, look around at your life as a whole. Is your relationship stagnant, or is your life stagnant? People can transfer their feeling of boredom or lack of enthusiasm for aspects of their life onto their partner when their partner may not be the cause at all.” ― Marie Land, psychologist
2. Remind yourself why you’re grateful for your partner. Then let him or her know.
“Ask each other if you feel grateful for your partner’s presence in your life. If you find that your feelings of gratitude ― or lack thereof ― are less than ideal, now would be an excellent time to ask yourself why. Once you discover the answer, I recommend that you actually do something to express your gratitude ― and to do it frequently in a way that your partner knows in their heart that you sincerely appreciate them. If you truly can’t find reasons to feel grateful, that is a strong indicator of other problems. Start having conversations with your spouse, no matter how difficult it may be. You need to get to the root of why one or both of you are not feeling and/or expressing gratitude.” ―Gary Brown, marriage and family therapist
3. Remember that the honeymoon phase isn’t meant to last forever.
“Realize that hot, new love inevitably becomes not-so-hot, older love. People in search of hot, new love and bolt every time there is an itch discover, sadly, that they are unable to sustain relationships. Because that can’t-eat-can’t-sleep euphoric phase of romantic love is biologically unsustainable in humans. Our body chemicals kick in at around the two-year mark and the euphoria turns into the less sexy attachment phase of a relationship. I have interviewed lots of divorced men and women who bolted when the new became old, and often these are the people who go on to have multiple, unsuccessful marriages. That’s the challenge in making a marriage last: We must embrace the reality that, through time, our relationships lapse into a predictable routine that may not have the heat of a honeymoon but has something larger and more important — and that is security and friendship and commitment.” ― Iris Krasnow, author of Surrendering to Marriageand The Secret Lives of Wives
4. Take up one of your partner’s interests.
“Do something your partner is interested in and you aren’t. When a relationship goes stale, resentment of a significant other’s independent interests often plays a part. The long and happily married elders I’ve studied ask this: What’s more important, how you spend your leisure time or your relationship? Choose a week and, at one point in it, join in your partner’s interest. He loves country music and you hate it? Get tickets to a country concert. Her love of hiking bores you out of your wits? Choose a local park, pack a lunch and give it a try. Some elders actually found they enjoyed the other’s interest. And it can be better than sitting at home feeling angry and left out.” ― Karl Pillemer
5. Let go of the need to have a ‘perfect’ relationship.
“If you find that you need everything in your life to be perfect ― or at least to appear perfect ― you’re in trouble. The very best of marriages are never perfect. Fairy tales are nice, but they are just that; they’re fairy tales and they bear very little resemblance to real life. If you want to avoid the pitfall of any ‘itch,’ then you have to learn to let go of your need for your partner (or yourself) to be in a perfect marriage. That puts way too much stress on your relationship and actually increases the chances that you will divorce.” ― Gary Brown
6. Don’t stop talking. Or touching.
“If you’re not talking, you’re not touching and if you’re not touching, you’re in trouble. Sex is really fun and can ease the tension of all the other stuff that comes up when you are living with the same person in the same house, sharing kids and bills, year after year.” ― Iris Krasnow
7. Volunteer together.
“The long-married couples I spoke with found one ‘magic bullet’ to rev up a relationship: Volunteer together. Find an activity that helps others that you can do jointly. Whether it’s an environmental organization, volunteering in an inner-city school, Habitat for Humanity or another good cause, working together to make the world a better place is a powerful relationship refresher.” ― Karl Pillemer