When it comes to long-term relationships, you've probably heard about
the seven-year itch. It's basically the idea that long-term couples will fall into a sort of relationship slump around the seven-year mark. One or both partners may start to feel restless, they might start questioning their feelings, and there's a tendency to feel less satisfied in the relationship as a whole. If you think the seven-year itch is just another old wives' tale, relationship experts actually say otherwise.
"The seven-year-itch is real," author and
life coach Jaya Jaya Myra tells Bustle. "Just ask any of your married (or divorced) friends." Interestingly enough, the seven-year itch isn't typically due to any big relationship problems. "The tendency to separate at or around the seven-year mark has much more to do with little things not being right than one major big problem," she says. "Maybe seven years is the threshold for our psyche to deal with lots of those little irritations before we finally get fed up."
It does make sense. If you're going to make it to seven years, there probably hasn't been any
major red flags. But the little things do add up. As licensed psychotherapist and IMAGO Relationship specialist, Josh Magro, LMHC tells Bustle, things like blame, criticism, contempt, a lack of boundaries, stonewalling, or attempting to change your partner are some of the worst pitfalls he sees. "While any one or two of these would not immediately spell 'death' for a relationship, they erode the foundation of the relationship and can worsen over time," he says.
So here are some signs that your relationship might not make it past seven years, according to experts, and what to do about it.
You Take Each Other For Granted
It's always great to be in a relationship where you're completely at ease and comfortable with your partner. But if you're two or three years in and you find that you're both so familiar to the point that you've taken each other for granted, couples therapist,
Alisha Powell, PhD, LCSW, tells Bustle, that's not a good sign. "It can mean one or both partners have stopped caring," she says.
In order to help turn it around, Powell suggests to keep doing thoughtful things for each other. A 2015
study published in the journal Personal Relationships found that showing gratitude is the secret to a happy marriage. So be thoughtful and show gratitude to your partner as much as you can. That way, nobody feels like they're being taken for granted.
You Don't Prioritize "Couple Time"
In the beginning of a relationship, dates nights and spending a lot of time together is seemingly effortless. But when you're in an established relationship, couple time can become less of a priority. "If you have kids, for instance, they become your entire world," Powell says. "When you give so much emotionally to your children and don’t have anything left for your partner," it may not be a good sign. This isn't just limited to couples who have children. You may start prioritizing work, hobbies, friends or responsibilities to your family. In order to prevent this from hurting your relationship, be sure to make time for your partner. Set
date nights regularly in order to stay connected.
You've Started Living Separate Lives
Weekly or even biweekly nights out together can help bridge any communication gaps between you and your partner throughout the week. When you don't prioritize communication in your relationship, Powell says it can feel like you and your partner live separate lives. If you've come to the point where you don't know anything about their stresses and joys, and neither person checks in with the other, she says you might end up feeling like friends instead of partners.
If this is the case, Caleb Backe, Health and Wellness Expert for
Maple Holistics, tells Bustle, you need to work on building intimacy. "Make time for each other, speak with each other, and express your needs as they present themselves," Backe says. "Don’t count on anything to suddenly bring you closer together. Make it happen for you, and initiate change when you can." It's all about actively participating in your relationship and making changes as you go, not when it becomes a huge problem.
You're Dissatisfied By One Or Multiple Aspects Of Your Relationship
Dissatisfaction in your relationship goes way beyond the physical and sexual aspect, Backe says. "It's harboring a deep, gnawing, and preoccupying dissatisfaction with yourself and/or your partner, and with the way things are going." One way to overcome dissatisfaction in your relationship is to find new things to do together. It's all about novelty. "We all seek it. We all want it," Backe says. So try to
change up the routine in any way you can, and explore some new activities.
You've Started Keeping Things To Yourself
Just to be clear, we all have the right to
keep certain things to ourselves. While your partner might know a majority of things, they don't have to know everything, especially if you are not comfortable sharing it. "But if you are being dishonest about things you used to be honest about, that is not a good sign," Backe says. It may mean that you don’t trust your partner like you used to. Honesty in a relationship is important, so try your best to be open with them. "It is a veritable life-line, especially in times when things are rough, and it keeps things on the table," Backe says. "Honesty begets honesty."
You Keep Having The Same Fights Over And Over Again
Every couple fights and should fight. It's just
part of growing as a couple. But if you're not learning anything from your previous arguments, Backe says that's not a good sign. "This doesn’t mean you need to feel things getting better on a day-to-day basis right after a fight," he says. "It means you need to be able to identify certain patterns and take steps to fix them, even if it takes time." Awareness is key. Seeking help from a professional can be beneficial if that's something you're seriously interested in.
You Have Different Spending And Saving Habits
If you and your partner don't see eye to eye in terms of how you make and spend money, you may be headed in a bad direction. "Money is one of the most difficult things to deal with effectively in any relationship, because money is closely tied to our sense of survival and security," Myra says. "When someone threatens how we perceive or relate to money, it could spell the end for that relationship if you are not extra mindful to watch how you choose to react to those differences." While she says there's no right or wrong answer here, it's important to be on the same page when it comes to finances. "Every person has strongly held personal beliefs about money that are hard to change," she says. Knowing where your partner's at early on is important in knowing whether a future can be possible.
You Don't Have That One Activity You Love Sharing Together
All healthy relationships have partners who have their own hobbies and interests. After all, you should have a life outside of your relationship. But when you and your partner don't have at least one activity that you both deem to be a focal point of your lives, Myra says, this could spell trouble for your relationship. "It's our common shared interests that make us feel close to someone," she says. "Without that connection, a relationship may start to feel more like a friendship than anything else." It's all about something you both really enjoy together. That could be as simple as watching a favorite show together or something bigger like rock climbing.
You Process Time Differently
"Time is a fascinating concept, as we all process time differently," Myra says. "Some people are able to grow and change quickly while other people are not." At the same time, some people deal with issues faster than others. Some people are able to move on after loss, or handle a new job or move gracefully, while others take a longer time to come around and adapt to change. "If you and your partner don't process time or life experience at the same pace, you might find it difficult to stay happy together in the long run," she says. "The only consistent thing in life is change; and how you deal with it can shape how close you feel in your relationships." Although how long it takes for your partner to deal with issues isn't something you find out right away, it will show eventually. It's really up to you to decide whether or not you can handle their pacing in life.
According to Magro, the seven-year itch is common in the sense that seven years is "the average amount of time a relationship needs to allow the honeymoon phase to completely end and the real emotional wounds of each partner to emerge." Active appreciation, healthy confrontations, and creating novelty in the relationship are just of few of the essentials in order to make it over any slump. "Without these, partners are likely to experience a romantic burnout and assess the relationship as failed because they 'lost the spark,'" he says.
If you've just started dating or just reached the one-year mark, it might be strange to think that somewhere down the road you're going to lose interest in your partner. But it's important to know that the little things count. If you're mindful to show your partner that you love, care, and appreciate them each day, who says your relationship can't last?