The Seven Year Itch – Real or Myth?
In marriage, there comes a time referred to as the seven-year itch. Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell made a romantic comedy about this phase. The term is used to describe the psychological effect of happiness declining and the risk of infidelity increasing beginning around the 7th year of marriage. The phrase was first coined in the 1952 play “The Seven Year Itch” by George Axelrod, but the concept has been around for a long time before that. Monroe’s iconic movie solidified the term’s place in history.
The seven-year itch is the stuff of legends, but is it true? Is there a point, whether it is seven years or another timespan, when marriages begin to go downhill? When happiness decreases and infidelity spikes? Some studies do seem to point in that direction.
Sir David Spiegelhalter, while speaking at the Hay Festival, confirmed that 7 years into a marriage is the peak period for when a divorce will happen. After this critical period has passed, the chance for divorce drops with each passing year. Statistics from the Office for National Statistics in the UK seem to confirm this.
What is unclear, however, is why the seven-year itch occurs. Psychologists have several theories. This is generally the time in a marriage where one or two children have been raised past the trying infant and toddler years. Couples may find that all the time they have spent together has led them to a sense of ennui or, even worse, all those little habits that were tolerated early in the marriage have grown into aggravation.
There may even be a physiological explanation for the phenomenon. Austrian philosopher and teacher Rudolf Steiner created a theory that postulates humans develop in seven-year cycles. While associating them with astrology may seem less based in science than in new age hoodoo, his theory that humans change physically and psychologically every seven years may have some merit.
It might not always be a seven-year itch. It could be a four-year itch. One study supports the theory of both a four-year and a seven-year itch. The study found that while most couples began their marriages with high levels of quality, that marriages often suffered two steep declines: one after four years and one after about seven years.
However, the seven-year itch isn’t without its detractors. One 2010 study showed that the majority of couples who divorce have been together for more than 10 years, leading to the theory of a 12-year itch. The study compiled information from 90 law firms who participated in surveys. The results indicated that many marriages have a chance of failing after twelve years.
Finally, a 2012 study conducted by the parenting website “netmums” seemingly refute all previously reported “facts” regarding the existence of a seven, four, or twelve-year itch. In the survey, which was comprised of 1,500 respondents, 42 percent said that it was having children that drove them apart.
Netmums founder, Siobhan Freegard, attributes the existence of the “itch” to the fact that people are getting married later in life, but earlier in their relationships. Women who have chosen to pursue a career first may be responding to the proverbial biological clock. They may be rushing into marriage instead of taking the time to get to know their spouses and discovering those make-or-break habits before getting into it.
Having children is certainly a stressor on marriages. It would be interesting to divide this data between couples with and without children and see if there is a difference. However, whether or not the four-year, seven-year, or twelve-year itch exists, divorce statistics remain the same. Almost 50% of married couples eventually split.