Long-term relationships are something to be celebrated.
Committing to a connection isn’t always easy, with marriage throwing up obstacles along the way. The 7-year itch puts forth a theory of marital dissatisfaction and dissolution under a very specific timeframe — with restlessness setting in after seven years together.
However, is there any truth to the 7-year itch? Or should couples be afraid of the 5-year fizzle? Our experts weigh in on the great debate, and what you can do to prevent these feelings from emerging at all.
The seven-year itch is a popular phenomenon that refers to the supposed tendency for some people, particularly those in long-term relationships or marriages, to experience a decline in relationship satisfaction around the seven-year mark.
According to research, divorce rates are low during the first months of marriage, it then increases and reaches a maximum around the seventh year of marriage, before declining again. Therefore, this theory suggests that after seven years, couples face a crossroads, where increased dissatisfaction leads to thoughts of infidelity or a desire for change.
This idea was further popularized by the 1955 film ‘The Seven Year Itch’ by George Axelrod, starring Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell. In this movie, the Girl is every man’s dream woman — acting as the perfect temptation.
This particular itch describes the agitation that comes with a long-term relationship, with this restlessness leading to its dissolution — suggesting infidelity or unfaithfulness. While Billy Wilder’s Hollywood film remains within pop culture to this day, the concept itself is not a scientifically proven phenomenon.
However, this theory has come to describe general relationship dissatisfaction and exasperation, rather than simply being about seeking out a new partner.
"If you're feeling the urge to leave your relationship at year 7 and make a break for it, it's likely that the issues began a few years earlier, perhaps around year 5,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and In-House Relationship Expert at Paired.
“This is a fundamental difference to consider. Before you started feeling the itch to leave, what were the warning signs in your relationship that you may have overlooked? Was it someone becoming emotionally distant, a major life change like having children, or perhaps a lack of communication about how we grow and change in relationships? These little blocks to the connection that you kept inside are key in preventing you from reaching that breaking point.”
Relationship dynamics differ greatly from couple to couple, and there is no fixed timetable that you can plan for. For example, you don’t wake up on your seventh anniversary and suddenly feel different!
Some romantic relationships could face turbulence early in their relationship, while others never experience decline at all.
While the 7-year itch may not be gospel, there is a grain of truth buried within this concept. Naturally, after couples have been together for a long period of time, they are more likely to face issues with intimacy, connection, or communication.
Since the honeymoon phase also has no exact timeframe, this breakdown can occur at any point in a couple's relationship timeline. If you can’t pinpoint an exact reason for this change in relationship dynamic, it’s possible you could be experiencing symptoms that are attributed to a 7-year itch.
You’re easily irritated by your partner
You feel emotionally disconnected
You don’t prioritize spending time together
You’re not interested in resolving conflicts
You have little to no emotional connection
You notice you crave attention from other places before your partner
You go elsewhere to get comfort over your partner
You feel blocked sexually and do not desire to work on the block with your partner
You agonize hearing their
You feel misunderstood by them
You lost your motivation to be curious about their lived experience
You stop doing fun new things together
Your partner is not the first person you want to share exciting news with
According to a 1981 study on the subject, the median marriage duration was declining from 7.5 years to 6.5 years. However, in 2021, the US census revealed that divorce rates spike after 8 years together.
Based on this research, while the 7-year itch can cause relationship issues, it doesn’t always come with a risk of divorce.
While the 7-year itch may be well known, a recent survey by the Paired team found that relationships experience the most turbulence and angst during year five.
Based on our research, which polled 1,000 participants, at Paired, we believe that the five-year mark is where couples are more likely to face obstacles to intimacy. This led us to coin a revised term — the five-year fizzle.
Instead of an itch for change, this five-year mark could cause your love to fizzle out. As married couples reach this milestone, couples face a myriad of issues, with the most common pain points revealed as trust issues, loss of spark, and money worries.
If you’re worried about feeling the “itch”, there are a few things that you can do to prevent these feelings from ever emerging.
It’s important to be emotionally self-aware in a relationship, being able to identify feelings of discontent or resentment before they have the chance to develop.
“Focus on understanding what is happening in your relationship when it feels disconnected,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“Begin by being curious about what is happening for you when you feel emotionally distant from your partner, and share that with them.”
Even though these conversations are never easy, by opting for honesty, it’s much easier to foster a healthy relationship. Pretending like everything is perfect will only get you so far.
“Take time to reflect on what feels imbalanced and unsustainable in your relationship,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“Make it a habit to check in on these feelings regularly instead of hoping they will change on their own. Ignoring issues that feel off can lead to deeper resentment that is harder to overcome.”
Without trust, emotional and physical intimacy starts to fizzle out. The more you keep from your partner, the easier it is for you to grow apart — with a lifelong itch developing in the cracks.
“Be aware of what is preventing you from fully trusting your partner and sharing your true self,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“As we all change over time, intimacy comes from letting your partner know your innermost self as you continue to learn about yourself. If you feel hesitant about sharing your constantly evolving self, then you are inherently growing apart even as we speak.”
Whether five years or seven years, these feelings usually develop well into a long-term relationship, whereby the couple has allowed themselves to grow apart. In the end, it comes down to all the things you don’t say to one another, more than the things you do.
“Remember that your partner cannot read your mind. It is important to move past the idea that they should just know what to do if they truly love you,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“Everyone's idea of a normal relationship is different based on their upbringing. Therefore, you must communicate what boundaries you want, ask for what you need, and listen to your partner's requests.”
“Relationships will always require compromise, but if you are not expressing your true desires, you may end up creating a relationship that you no longer recognize. That feeling of wanting to leave and run away will only grow if you look around and no longer see yourself in the relationship.”
To sum up, relationships are never going to be plain sailing. Instead of succumbing to the apparently inevitable itch, commit to working on your connection every day.
It may feel like a lot of work, but the practice of love is the most rewarding job in the world.