Experts say these little things add up.
If you haven’t heard of the 7-year itch, it’s the idea that long-term couples tend to fall into a relationship slump after they’ve been together for seven years. One or both partners may start to feel restless, they might start questioning their feelings, and they may even feel less satisfied in the relationship as a whole. Of course, not every couple will experience this. But if you think the 7-year itch is just another old wives' tale, relationship experts actually say otherwise.
According to Mitchell Smolkin, certified couples therapist, the 7-year itch isn't typically due to any big relationship problems. It’s just a phenomenon that can happen after seven years together when the excitement is gone and there’s more at risk.
“Understandably, a lot of relationships start with a Hollywood-like feeling, being on top of the world and feeling like you've found your soulmate,” Smolkin tells Bustle. “As the stakes get higher with marriage, career, children, and sometimes relocation, negotiating different values and expectations can really put a dent in that new car smell. The hard work of getting to know someone is supremely less sexy than the earlier years, and there is a tendency to panic and freak out, hence the 7-year-itch.”
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 what are other little signs your relationship has cracks? Below, experts share the 11 signs your relationship may not make it past the 7-year itch.
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 — which could hurt your chances of making it longer than seven years together.
"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. But this isn't just limited to couples who have children.
You may be prioritizing work, hobbies, friends, or responsibilities to your family. In order to prevent this from hurting your relationship down the road, be sure to make time for your partner. Set date nights regularly in order to stay connected.
You've Started Living Separate Lives
If you've gotten to the point where you don't know anything about your partner’s stresses and joys, and neither person checks in with the other, she says you might end up feeling like friends instead of partners. When you don't prioritize communication in your relationship, Powell says it can feel like you and your partner live separate lives.
As neuropsychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez, tells Bustle, “It is not a good sign if you imagine life without your significant other or start to focus only on their flaws and not what you fell in love within the first place. While sometimes it’s normal to experience some of these moments, it could signal a more significant issue in terms of your relationship if they become frequent.” Weekly or even biweekly nights out together can help bridge communication gaps between you and your partner throughout the week.
There’s Hardly Any Affection
According to licensed psychotherapist Roxanne Francis, even something as simple as showing affection can determine whether a relationship makes it past the 7-year-itch or not.
“This may sound frivolous, but a quick smile, peck on the cheek, a welcome home from work, and ‘I miss you’ text, or support for a promotion, are all signs that the partner feels supported, loved, valued and is key to the other person’s happiness,” Francis tells Bustle. “If these simple things are missing, individuals may feel unwanted, and will eventually begin to get ‘itchy.’”
You've Started Keeping Things To Yourself
We all have the right to keep certain things to ourselves. While your partner might know a lot about you, they don't have to know everything, especially if you are not comfortable sharing it. In fact, licensed marriage and family therapist and author, Caroline Madden, Ph.D., previously told Bustle, “We are allowed as adults to have private thoughts and behaviors that we do not disclose to our partner." But there is a difference between having privacy and keeping secrets.
If you’ve started keeping things from your partner, it could mean that there’s a lack of trust in your relationship. And when there’s a lack of trust that hasn’t been addressed or resolved, “there will be underlying resentment that colors all the interaction and the union is unlikely to be a happy one,” Francis says.
You Keep Having The Same Fights Over And Over Again
Every couple fights — it's just part of growing as a couple. But if you're not learning anything from your previous arguments, this is a sign your relationship won’t make it past the 7-year itch. “Disagreeing is natural, but constant arguing is a sign that your relationship may be becoming toxic,” Hafeez says.
If constant fighting is an issue in your relationship, chances are, problems aren’t being solved because you and your partner are unwilling to listen to the other. If you’re trying but still having trouble communicating effectively, consider seeking help from a professional.
You Have Different Spending & Saving Habits
If you and your partner don't see eye-to-eye in terms of how you make or spend money, you may not make it in the long run. Having different spending and saving habits could indicate a bigger issue in the relationship in regards to your values, goals for the future, and your compatibility as a couple.
After seven years together, if your partner’s finances are still preventing you from buying a house, having a wedding, or starting a family, there’s a chance that things won’t really change. According to Francis, “You are unlikely to be happy in your relationship and will begin to look for a way out, or an alternative if your partner is unwilling to examine and change their behaviors.” So knowing where your partner's at early on is important in knowing whether a future can be possible.
You Don't Have That 1 Activity You Love Sharing Together
You should have hobbies, interests, and friends outside of your relationship. But when you and your partner don't have at least one activity that you can enjoy together, this could spell trouble for the future of your relationship.
“Studies do show that on average, marital satisfaction and overall quality drop over the first several years people are together, as ‘real life’ — and in particular kids — enter the picture,” Debbie Opoku, licensed psychotherapist who specializes in marriage counseling, tells Bustle. “Your emotional tank is left empty and you have nothing left to give your partner.” Having at least one common interest or hobby ensures that you and your partner are spending quality time together. When this time to connect isn’t prioritized, you may find yourselves drifting further and further apart.
You Process Things Differently
We all process life events and adapt to change differently. If you’re someone who tends to deal with setbacks by staying positive and moving forward, having a partner who gets easily defeated and likes to dwell on the past can feel exhausting.
As licensed therapist, Merissa Goolsarran, LCSW, tells Bustle, being stuck on old wounds can indicate one partner is unable to see past what happened and move forward. At some point, this may be an issue that causes frequent arguments in the relationship. Once fights become repetitive, it's a clear sign that compromises and change are not happening in a way that they should, Goolsarran says.
You’re Starting To Feel Burnt Out
Relationships that didn’t start on a strong foundation are least likely to make it passed the seven-year-itch. Solid foundations include respect, kindness, patience, and trust. But if you started arguing right away, displayed toxic behaviors early on in the relationship, or had outside pressure from family or exes, your relationship may be been fatigued long before the 7-year mark.
According to Smolkin, this can be difficult to overcome. “Working through the fears and reconnecting when the doubt creeps in requires some gas in the tank, and ongoing pressures can be a factor that makes this more difficult,” he says.
You Aren’t Comfortable Being Vulnerable Around Each Other
One of the biggest signs that a relationship won’t make it past seven years is a lack of open and honest dialogue. “Getting through a shock to the relationship such as questioning whether you want to stay is like the Olympics for communication,” Smolkin says. Being able to tolerate and express negative emotions such as guilt, uncertainty, and fear help relationships get through tough times.”
As Smolkin says, shutting down or failing to express your feelings can indicate that you won’t be able to “navigate the rocky waters of the 7-year itch.”
Mitchell Smolkin, certified couples therapist and host of “The Dignity of Suffering Podcast”
Josh Magro, LMHC, licensed psychotherapist and IMAGO Relationship specialist
Alisha Powell, PhD, LCSW, couples therapist
Dr. Sanam Hafeez, neuropsychologist
Roxanne Francis, licensed psychotherapist
Merissa Goolsarran, LCSW, licensed therapist
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