Is The 7-Year Itch A Real Thing? (2024)

It’s no secret that many people today are entirely disenchanted with the idea of marriage. Fewer men are interested in tying the knot. More and more women are expressing disdain at the thought of becoming a wife. Marriage is often treated like nothing more than a piece of paper or even an unrealistic sham that leaves both spouses miserable. Couples that marry young are condescended to and assured that it won’t work out. So it’s safe to say that right now, marriage isn’t all that popular.

Along with culture’s newer disillusionment toward marriage, newly married couples are often faced with an attitude of, “Well, you might like each other right now, but just give it a few years, and you’ll be at each other’s throats.” Married couples are made to believe that the happiness, love, and affection they feel for each other is finite, and that their faithfulness will eventually wane. Enter: theories about the frightening “seven-year itch” – three words that can make any married person start to worry.

The seven-year itch is the belief that marriages tend to lose steam after a couple has been together for around seven years. It perpetuates the notion that two people will inevitably get bored and fall out of love, no matter how crazy they used to be for one another, and that love that persists and grows over the years is nothing more than a childish fantasy. It’s marketed as an involuntary thing that just happens to us – as if our romantic interest runs on a timer. Often enough, infidelity is thrown in as a natural outcropping of the seven-year itch.

But where does this belief even come from? How did it gain the popularity that it has today?

Where Did the Seven-Year Itch Come From?

The modern usage of the phrase “seven-year itch” can be traced to a 1952 play of the same name written by George Axelrod. What really put this phrase in the spotlight and solidified its place in the cultural zeitgeist, though, was the 1955 film (also of the same name) starring Marilyn Monroe.

The film tells the story of Richard Sherman, a married man whose wife and son are out of town for the summer. When a young woman (Monroe) moves in upstairs, he is immediately enticed by her beauty. Richard fantasizes about having an affair with her, vacillating between excitement and guilt, even inviting her over for a drink. While he doesn’t end up going through with it, he believes that his wife will know about his near-brush with infidelity. In the movie, he’s depicted as reading a manuscript in which a psychiatrist claims that almost every man is driven to have an extramarital affair in his seventh year of marriage.

Is The 7-Year Itch A Real Thing? (1)

So…Is It Real?

So, is the seven-year itch nothing more than a plot device for an old movie, or a bogeyman used against married people, or a sad excuse for having an affair? Was Richard Sherman influenced and emboldened by what the manuscript declared, or were his actions due to a biological urge? Or is there actually any truth to the idea that seven years of marriage might bring about some restlessness, boredom, and even thoughts of infidelity?

Not exactly. There aren’t any studies that strongly support the idea that married couples face greater relational challenges at seven years specifically, but there are certainly studies that show commonalities in the emotional/relational timeline of many married couples. In a study authored by Lawrence A. Kurdek, Ph.D., a psychologist at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, an assessment of 93 couples found that there were two normal periods of decline (defined as “a decrease in marital quality measured by taking into account passion, satisfaction with the relationship, amount of shared activity, and agreement between the partners”).

The study concluded that while the vast majority of marriages begin on a high note, thanks to the honeymoon effect, a period of about two to three years during which a couple is wrapped up in joy, passion, and excitement due to the newness of their union, this naturally begins to decline as a couple settles into their life together. This doesn’t suggest that they are no longer happy, but instead that their hormones are regulating as their union becomes “normal” to them. This led to the first period of decline – after around four years of marriage.

If a couple survives both of these periods of decline, their risk of divorcing only dwindles with every year of marriage after that.

After that, the friction in the marriages seemed to pitter out, only to be followed by another period of decline around year eight. And if a couple survives both of those declines, their risk of divorcing only dwindles with every year of marriage after that.

These two periods of “decline” found in the study seem to match up with what studies on divorce find. There are a few periods during which divorce poses an especially high threat to a marriage: in the first two years of marriage, and then again between the fifth and eighth years of marriage.

So, while the seventh year of marriage specifically isn’t the cursed, most challenging year that we thought it to be, it’s in and around that period when many marriages will face issues.

What Might Cause the “Seven-Year” Itch?

So what exactly causes these declines in marriage? Are these bouts of dissatisfaction due to boredom or a biological drive for something new? Why is it that many married couples seem to struggle around the same periods of time?

Kurdek’s study suggests that the first decline, around the fourth year of marriage, could be attributed to a couple’s adjustment to their roles within the marriage and the natural conflict that can arise from attempting to meld their lives together. Anyone who’s ever been married can attest to the fact that it can take time to get used to living with and sharing a space with another person (who insists on leaving his socks on the floor!).

According to the study findings, the second decline, around the eighth year of marriage, normally has something to do with the birth of children. Most couples have their first child within the first six years of marriage, meaning that by year eight, there’s a good chance they have at least one, if not two (or more) children running around – which creates the perfect (yet fleeting) storm of tiredness and having to readjust as their family takes form.

What To Do If You’re Feeling That Itch

If you’ve made it this far, it might be because you’re currently in one of those periods of “decline” in your marriage. You love your husband, but you can’t ignore the restlessness, dissatisfaction, and friction you feel. You hate to admit it, but you’ve found yourself wondering if you’d be happier without him. You feel unsettled at the thought of ending your marriage, but you can no longer ignore your unhappiness, the itch you feel. So what do you do?

First, recognize that what you’re feeling is normal – yet still not something to be ignored or swept under the rug or turn a blind eye to. While dismissing your feelings might make you feel better for a spell, this will often just maximize the power these feelings have over you. When we don’t confront the “monster” under the bed, it becomes more and more terrifying – to the point where we might stop sleeping in our bed. Confronting the monster can lead us to either realize that there was no monster all along or to prevail in the battle against it.

Remind yourself that this season can and will pass if you approach it with intentionality.

Second, seeking help from a professional, like a marriage counselor, could prove to be helpful. With a therapist, you’ll be able to explore the issues that have cropped up in your marriage and hopefully address them thoughtfully. (A quick note of caution: It’s important to find a counselor who validates both your and your husband’s experiences and is able to remain neutral. Too often, counselors will immediately side with one spouse, which will only exacerbate the issue.)

Third, when you’re feeling greater friction, it’s imperative that you prioritize your marriage and your husband’s needs rather than allowing those feelings to take over. Implement frequent date nights. Express verbal appreciation to your husband. Show him physical affection. Reflect on why you fell in love with him in the first place, and remember the unique ways that being with him blesses you.

And lastly, remind yourself that this season can and will pass, if you approach it with intentionality. The decline you feel is very real, and it can be attributed to very real problems. But if you don’t let it, it will not last forever. In the grand scheme of things, this season will be nothing more than a blip in your marriage.

Closing Thoughts

While it’s not the seventh year of marriage that triggers an “itch” but other circ*mstances, both interior and exterior, it’s normal to go through tougher times in marriage – especially if you’re between the fourth and ninth years. But this doesn’t have to be a death sentence for your marriage. With intentionality, it’s entirely possible to make it out of the woods. And the good news is that studies suggest it will only be uphill from there.

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Is The 7-Year Itch A Real Thing? (2024)


Is The 7-Year Itch A Real Thing? ›

The short answer to this question is no. Both men and women feel most close to their partner at the beginning of their relationship. This feeling of closeness then declines steadily, especially for women.

Is the 7-year itch real or not? ›

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.

Is there truth to the seven year itch? ›

The seven-year mark is coincidental, says Kurdek. But it's not uncommon for problems to come to a head in a marriage after seven years, says Lonnie Barbach, Ph. D., a couples' therapist in Mill Valley, Calif.

What is the psychology behind the Seven Year Itch? ›

The seven-year itch doesn't necessarily refer to a desire to divorce—it can refer to major relationship issues such as conflict, cheating, or irreparable differences. Issues like these may become illuminated during the seven-year itch.

What is the 7-year itch work? ›

In both personal relationships and professional endeavors, there comes a point where familiarity can breed discontent. This phenomenon, often referred to as the "7-year itch," can manifest in various ways at work, leading to boredom, stagnation, and a lack of motivation.

How many years is the itch? ›

The seven-year itch is a popular belief, sometimes quoted as having psychological backing, that happiness in a marriage or long-term romantic relationship declines after around seven years.

How does the seven year itch end? ›

The move is hardly subversive – it ends with Richard fleeing The Girl to reunite with his wife and son – but at least it recognizes that even for the most resolutely determined among us, that thumb is occasionally going to twitch.

Why do relationships struggle at 7 years? ›

The seven-year itch is the idea that after seven years in a relationship, whether that's as a married couple or cohabitees, we start to become restless. Bored perhaps. Everything begins to feel a little bit mundane or routine. Anecdotally, it's said we're more likely to go our separate ways around this time.

Why do so many couples divorce after 8 years? ›

It is common for couples to find themselves wanting different things in life eight years into a marriage. This can be even more so the case when they married early in adulthood. The radical changes that a person goes through from ages 20 to 30 can leave them feeling confused and disconnected from their partner.

What causes an itch psychology? ›

Particular to the experience of itch is the prominent role of social emotions, in particular, guilt, shame, and embarrassment. Social emotions are the class of emotions that we feel in the context of relationships, so are sometimes called relational or self-conscious.

What is the psychological meaning of itching? ›

Anxiety disorders may also cause itchiness. Additionally, chronic itching can be a source of irritation, stress, and anxiety for many people, potentially leading to a cycle of symptoms that can greatly reduce a person's quality of life. Last medically reviewed on January 27, 2023. Dermatology. Mental Health.


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