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Signs you’re in the 7-year itch and how to survive it

Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW, is a clinical therapist, and the author of three books, among them, Love Lessons from Bad Breakups and The Complete Marriage Counsler. She gives love advice on programs including Today and HuffPost Live, conduct...

The 7-year itch is not a relationship death sentence

A study conducted by Brigham Young University discovered that in most marriages communication and happiness start declining almost from the beginning. By the time you’re at year seven, then, the relationship may well be on life support. But, there are steps to take that can bring the ‘patient’ back to life.

“My solution to wanting to leave was recommitting”

Two huge events happened simultaneously in Sara’s (all names changed for privacy reasons) life: She turned 40 and her marriage turned seven. She says, “I love my husband Paul and our life together but all these milestones coming at one time knocked me for a loop.” Many of the qualities that had long seemed endearing about her husband — i.e., his habit of finishing her sentences — suddenly felt claustrophobic. “I just started feeling like I’d never know excitement, newness, again. My life, nice as it was, would just continue being more of the same.”

After she did a secret consultation with a divorce lawyer, Sara thought, “Oh my God, what am I thinking of doing… blowing up my life because I’m antsy?”

More: 5 Reasons your partner isn't communicating with you

She stepped back and began to celebrate what she had versus mourn what was gone. Since the marriage was sound, I suggested recommitting to her husband in her mind if not an actual small ceremony. The thinking here was that once you tell yourself, "It’s a good marriage. I will roll with the ups and downs, knowing I am here for keeps," you know divorce is off the table.

In Sara’s case she and Paul had a small recommitment ceremony in their backyard with their parents and children in attendance. “It felt so lovely and affirming. My marriage is my base, leaving me free to test my wings in other areas. That’s the new way I look at my midlife crisis.”

"We had to set new goals for our lives"

When Dina and Allan first married, they had specific goals: start a family, buy a house, build satisfying careers. Eight years in, those goals, thankfully, were accomplished and Dina, 38, began feeling dissatisfied. “I was still striving at work and to meet the continual challenges of being a working mother. But the marriage was on auto-drive. I was so bored I checked out.”

More: Signs your partner is about to stray no matter what they say

My advice in this situation: Sit down together and map out new goals. Specific goals. Couples that keep updating the ‘vision’ for their lives together versus just ambling along day to day remain energized and fulfilled.

Dina and Allan decided they would take ballroom dancing classes together and save for a vacation. They also decided every six months to have a goals check-in to help them stay in tune with one another. Dina laughed, “We are actually entering a cha cha competition. This is hysterical considering how nervous we were doing our dance in front of people at the wedding.”

"We needed to try new things in bed"

Tina, 32, and married seven-and-a-half years, sighed, “Our sex life has become by the numbers. A few kisses, missionary, occasionally I go on top, and often the TV is on in the background. I want to have good sex again while I’m still young enough to enjoy it!”

A major problem here was Tina assuming her husband Dave was satisfied and/or had no imagination or interest in expanding their passion repertoire. Rather than assuming, communicate. Tell your husband that you love him, are attracted to him, but feel that the two of you have let sex become mundane. Have some suggestions and be open to hearing his.

After their conversation, Tina and Dave put more effort into their sex life. First, the TV is always off! They shared (and enacted) fantasies, used sexual toys and took turns being the aggressor. Tina says, “The great thing is that since we trust each other and can communicate without fear of being hurt or ridiculed, we are now free to express the sexual selves that were long repressed.”

The result: Seven-year itch — delightfully over.

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