Here’s How to Make Sure Your Relationship Survives the 7-Year-Itch

7 year itch

We’ve all heard of the seven-year itch — when a long-term relationship starts to break down. Couples become dissatisfied and disconnected, and the doubt sets in: are we still in love? But for couples in the honeymoon period, it seems to be a story straight out of Hollywood. However, there does seem to be some truth behind the itch. 

Research by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that the median duration of marriages that have ended in separation was 8.5 years in 2013 — an increase from 7.6 years in 1993. The research also shows that, surprisingly, the median length of a relationship ending in a legal divorce was 12.1 years in 2013, again higher than the 10.7 years in 1993.

There’s more. A psychological study from Wright State University found that, while most marriages start off with high levels of “marital quality”, that quality decreases twice: once at about the four-year mark, and again at the seven-year mark. Interestingly, this study found that couples with children experienced the fastest declines in marital quality, with another study finding that couples with young children were 4.5 times more likely to get the itch — at the three-year mark. 

So the legend of the itch does seem to have some scientific backing, even if it appears to be more of an “at any time” itch, and showing that couples with children experience the steepest decline. While it appears that Australian couples are staying together longer than they were in the 90s, there’s still the question of why couples are feeling the itch in the first place.

What changes?

When you first fall in love with someone, and after relationship milestones such as marriage and the ‘honeymoon period’, everything is exciting and new.

But as life goes on, you settle into a routine and lose the excitement of new love — you stop going on dates, you stop learning new things about each other, you stop exploring and you start to get bored. Little quirks or habits that once never bothered you become the base of grudges and arguments, and your relationship starts to crumble. As individuals you are also changing — making new friends, setting and achieving new goals and moving forward in life. You may find that your relationship isn’t adapting to your new experiences, and this may be a point of tension, especially if you feel like you’re being held back.

No matter how it happens, the itch can be a make-or-break point in your relationship — regardless of how long you’ve been together. While it can be difficult to overcome, there are things you can do to help scratch the itch.

7 steps to scratch the seven-year itch

1. Get real

Take an honest look at your emotions and thoughts towards your partner and your relationship. Write down everything you can think of — the good and the bad — and think about what you need from the relationship.

2. Sort your priorities

Consider the priorities in your life, and order them from most to least important to you. If your relationship is higher on that list than it is in reality, it’s time to act to make sure your life reflects your priorities.

3. Communicate and compromise

Possibly the most important step to scratching the itch is communication between you and your partner. Organise a time to get together and talk about your relationship and where you feel that it’s heading. Brainstorm things that each of you can do to make each other happier, whether it’s compromising on who does the dishes, or organising a holiday together. This is the time to air your feelings in an open and non-judgemental environment with your partner, while being receptive to their thoughts and feelings as well.

4. Look at the little things

You’d be amazed at how big a difference a small change can make. If you have a habit that drives your partner up the wall, it might be time to make some adjustments. Small things like cleaning up, cooking dinner or making the time to be together can make a world of difference when there are tensions in the air, and your partner will appreciate the efforts that you make.

5. Rekindle the romance

Do you remember the feeling of falling in love? Find it again by doing things that you did when you and your partner first got together. It doesn’t have to be a room full of rose petals and thousand-dollar wine — go on romantic dates and outings, surprise your partner with gifts of flowers or breakfast in bed and revisit places that have sentimental value to you both.

6. Try something new

Exploration can lead to great discoveries, in both yourself and your relationship. Do something new as a couple — whether it’s trying out a sport together, going to that new restaurant that you’ve always wanted to try or experimenting in the bedroom.

7. Talk to an expert

If you find you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to seek the advice of a professional. Relationship counselling can reveal more about you and your partner than you ever thought possible, and it can be incredibly useful to have a non-biased opinion. Counselling isn’t a process be ashamed of, it means that you’re both actively trying to get your relationship back on track and should be seen as a step in the right direction.

This story originally appeared in Fitness First magazine.