June 08, 2011
The Seven Year Itch: Why it Happens and How to Prevent i
The Seven Year Itch: Why it Happens and How to Prevent it
There are many reasons for infidelity, but an interesting fact provides a useful way to understand one major source of the problem. Research has shown that many divorces occur at about the eighth year of marriage and thus the preceding year has been called the time of the "Seven Year Itch". Remember the Marilyn Monroe/Tom Ewell film from 1957? Today we're going to look at this phenomenon, why it happens and what couple can do to prevent it. It's also important to know that there is nothing magical or fixed about the number seven and that the issues involved in this particular phenomenon often apply to infidelity whenever it happens.
What is the Seven Year Itch ?
Psychologically, the seven year itch is an emotional experience where in:
--the idealized image of one's partner and magical feelings of early infatuation have worn thin and frustrating differences and conflicts have surfaced.
-- doubt or worry appear in one or both partners and they may wonder if they have made a mistake in their partner selection or even by getting married at all.
--one or both partners may find him or herself attracted to another person and may actually begin an extra-marital affair.
What Causes the Seven Year Itch?
I believe the seven year itch is caused by immaturity, ignorance and believing in the romantic myth that marriage is easy and when it isn't the marriage is bad. These unrealistic expectations combine with several other predictable factors:
--With time, the neuro-chemical buzz of the love chemical PEA wears off. The reduction of emotional/sexual excitement is then misunderstood as a lessoning of love. (i.e. the loss of feeling = loss of love) Worse, it is common to believe that once the feeling is gone, nothing can be done to get it back.
--With time and without the chemical buzz, we get to know our partners more completely and accurately than we did when we first fell in love. The idealized image is lost and we begin to see other elements we may have overlooked or ignored. Unfortunately, we sometimes erroneously conclude that "my partner changed" or "isn't the person I married".
--Frustration. Living together involves conflict but this obvious fact is obscured by the initial glow and effortless agreement that comes with new love. With time, the occurrence of conflict and differences between the couple can be misinterpreted as a sign that the couple is not compatible, i.e. differences means you have a poor match. Beside with responsibilities and conflict marriage isn't always fun(which I thought it should be).
Thus, when one experiences the erotic buzz with someone else, persons are tempted to regain the intense feelings they once had for their spouse. While the attraction is a normal phenomenon, it is often misinterpreted to be a sign of a bad marriage and acted upon.
Five Tips to Prevent the Seven Year Itch
Scratching the seven year "itch" is neither necessary nor inevitable. There is a middle way which neither acts on nor denies the itchy experience but, instead, addresses and resolves the issues which cause it. For example, although the initial buzz of PEA is gone, passion can be rekindled with a little consideration and empathy. It is not automatic, however; it does require effort.
1. Examine your Marital Expectations and know what is normal concerning conflict, differences and the feelings of infatuation. Partners have to grow up, grieve the loss of naive notions of marriage and accept that sustaining love and passion in a successful relationship, involves work, sacrifice and compromise.
2. Decode your feelings of attraction to another and understand that they really express frustration, disappointment and anger with your mate. Don't be literal and don't be fooled. The feelings are normal and important but they need to be translated into relational terms. For example, if one is attracted to another person, check one's own experience of frustration in life or anger and address it directly with your spouse.
3.Communicate your feelings and thoughts. Simply identifying concerns, being understood and hear by your partner can go a long way in lowering the intensity of the problem. In a relationship it is important to learn to reach out to your partner for help and not simply hold it inside. (Unacknowledged temptations are much more dangerous.)
4. Empathize. You may be surprised to learn your partner is feeling some of the same things.It is important, however, and this is a difficult step, that the listening partner express empathy and not judgment or distressed emotion. If one can acknowledge one's own experience of letdown or disappointment, honest exchanges in this area can result in deepened intimacy and trust.
5. Problem solve and make changes , e.g. decrease the negativity and criticism and increase consideration and understanding. Sexual attraction to others is often the symptom of an unresolved problem in the marriage or the individual's life. Dealing with the underlying issue directly not only reduces the vulnerability to temptation and affair but also increases the intimacy and love you'll experience in your marriage .
Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC prepared these remarks for Bridge Street 6 8 2011