Is the 7-Year Itch a Myth or Reality? (2024)

The phrase "seven-year itch" comes up periodically in casual conversation: Observers try to make sense of other couples' relationship troubles, people try to explain their own relationship restlessness, or partners might use it as an excuse for their wandering eye. But how good of an excuse is it?

Does the seven-year mark put couples' relationships at risk?

The basic idea behind the "seven-year itch" is that romantic partners experience turbulence and a potential point-of-reckoning around seven years together. Viewed as a critical juncture, the seven-year itch is defined as a time when couples re-evaluate: They either realize that their relationship isn't working, or they feel deeply satisfied and committed to their relationship.

Is the seven-year itch a real thing?

From a developmental perspective on relationships, the seven-year itch has a commonsense appeal. Initially, newly-married couples experience a well-documented relationship high, often referred to as a honeymoon phase. This honeymoon phase is characterized by high relationship satisfaction (Kurdek, 1998). Couples are basking in mutual infatuation, joy (or relief) at meeting the social expectation of marriage, and/or rosy illusions of what marriage and their life together with their partner might be like. It's a wonderful feeling.

And then... there's a transition. Newly-married couples, particularly those who have not cohabited previously, must negotiate chores and responsibilities, coordinate their work-life balance, and in other ways merge their lives. This process is not always smooth. While not all couples move through their first few years in the same way (Lavner & Bradbury, 2010), most experience at least some declines in satisfaction as their relationship continues.

If declines in satisfaction reach a height at approximately seven years, maybe that would explain the common phrase, seven-year itch. A peak in instability, however, appears to come earlier.

Or is it four years?

Although people talk about seven years, divorce rates have historically peaked at around four years (Fisher, 1989). Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher argues that this four-year peak makes sense from an evolutionary perspective.

In the course of human evolution, women who changed partners after four years together (enough time to co-parent through the early hard years of having a couple of kids) may have had an adaptive advantage. By engaging in "serial pair-bonding," they could vary the genetic make-up of their offspring. The timing of today's peaks in divorce rates may reflect the ingrained drive towards variation.

More recent research (Kulu, 2014) suggests that divorce rates rise after marriage and then peak at about five years. Rates of divorce then steadily decline as years together increase. This rising-falling pattern is reminiscent of the seven-year-itch argument but occurs slightly earlier (a five-year itch?) than the phrase suggests.

Time-based relationship vulnerability

It seems that a seven-year itch might be better named the four-year itch or the five-year itch, but even then, there's room for improvement. For instance, when do the seven (or four or five) years begin? Is it when a couple begins dating? Or is it when a couple gets married? The minimal research into this specific topic seems to assume a point of marriage; yet, couples often cohabitate prior to marriage, co-parent outside of wedlock, or never marry yet are fully committed to each other.

Even if relationship instability might crest at certain intervals, it's unlikely that time itself is the factor driving couple uncertainty, interest in other potential partners, or general distress. If external stresses tend to peak along a particular pattern (e.g., heightened financial or family stress), then those stresses (rather than time) would be worth our attention. Learning how to buffer couples from the adverse effects of external stress could help support their own smoother, more stable trajectory.

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Fisher, H. E. (1989). Evolution of human serial pairbonding. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 78(3), 331-354.

Kulu, H. (2014). Marriage duration and divorce: The seven-year itch or a lifelong itch?. Demography, 51(3), 881-893.

Kurdek, L. A. (1998). The nature and predictors of the trajectory of change in marital quality over the first 4 years of marriage for first-married husbands and wives. Journal of Family Psychology, 494–510.

Lavner, J. A., & Bradbury, T. N. (2010). Patterns of change in marital satisfaction over the newlywed years. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 1171-1187.

Is the 7-Year Itch a Myth or Reality? (2024)


Is the 7-Year Itch a Myth or Reality? ›

-- In the 1955 movie "The Seven Year Itch," Marilyn Monroe tempts her neighbor to stray while his wife and children are away for the summer. Ever since, the seven year itch -- a period of restless angst -- has been used as an excuse for infidelity. Now, a study suggests that such an itch is often a reality.

Is there any truth to the 7 year itch? ›

The answer is: it's hard to know for sure. There isn't any conclusive evidence that shows the seven-year itch is real. But there also isn't evidence that states it isn't.

Is The Seven Year Itch a thing? ›

Is the seven-year itch real? There's no definitive proof that the seven-year itch is real — or that it isn't, either. “While research outcomes vary somewhat, the percentage of divorces, particularly in first-time marriages, tends to spike around the seven- or eight-year mark,” Dr. Borland notes.

What is the 7 year itch psychology today? ›

The seven-year itch refers to the popular belief that marital bliss tends to dissipate after about seven years together. At that point, the propensity for infidelity and or divorce is thought to rise.

How long does the 7 year itch last? ›

The seven-year itch is said to be the amount of time, on average, that relationships or marriages last but in actual fact, science suggests it may be more like 12 years. It's easy for relationships to become a little stagnant if we don't put the work in and make an effort to keep them fresh over the longer term.

What is the hardest year in a relationship? ›

For some couples, it's year 5 or 6, and for others it's 8. But around this time, couples, even those in obviously healthy relationships, often experience a kind of personal crisis where they start to question much of what they'd come to expect from their relationship.

Why do couples divorce after 7 years? ›

On average, a couple makes it around seven years before they decide to divorce. Many times the impetus for filing for divorce is an extramarital affair. This is where the term seven-year itch comes from — one party becomes restless in the marriage and looks elsewhere for fulfillment.

When you live together for 7 years? ›

California is not a state that recognizes common-law marriages. This means that, no matter how many years you spend living with a partner, you will not have the rights and privileges of a married couple unless you go through the process of becoming legally married in California.

How long does it take to get over a 7 year relationship? ›

“I try and go by the 6-month rule, which says that for most of us to fully heal, it usually takes around 6 months for every year we are with someone,” Peaco*ck says.

How to break up after 7 years? ›

"Keep the conversation civil, and don't get into a heated argument or make an emotional outburst." Don't rehash the past: Focus on moving forward. "A breakup is meant to help give you a break from the person and an opportunity to move on and forward," says Overstreet.

How many marriages end in divorce? ›

6. Almost 50 percent of all marriages in the United States will end in divorce or separation.

Why is scabies called the 7 year itch? ›

A scabies infestation causes intense itching (pruritus) which leads to scratching and damage of the skin (excoriation). If left untreated, the infestation may last for years, and has been called the seven year itch.

How to fix the 7 year itch? ›

Replace your regular date night with a planned surprise night and take turns surprising each other every week. Keep things exciting. The 7-year itch is often a cry for novelty. Plan to participate in a new adventure together once a month.

How long does it take to get an over 7 year relationship? ›

“I try and go by the 6-month rule, which says that for most of us to fully heal, it usually takes around 6 months for every year we are with someone,” Peaco*ck says.


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