So, you’ve heard of the 7-Year Itch, right? It’s a belief that marital happiness declines after 7 years.
Science supports it – the median length of marriages ending in divorce has hovered around the 7-year mark for decades. My husband and I are about to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary.
Wait – let me back up. This post should, in no way, insinuate that I want to divorce my husband.
About 11 years ago, my husband and I met in the Costco parking lot. I thought he was very handsome, but I was dating someone else at the time, so reluctantly steered clear of any romance with him. About 6 months later, when we were both single, I asked him on a date. We married 9 months later.
Now, some numbers: The average age of American brides is 26 years old. The average length of an American courtship is 2 years. Women experience extreme hormonal upheaval in their mid-30s.
If you were to put these numbers into some kind of complicated mathematical equation (I was 25 when we married, we courted for less than a year, and I’m now in my mid-30s), I think you would find that, thanks to a growing number of circumstances aligning, my husband and I have really just hit the 7-year-itch mark.
During our short courtship and the beginning of our marriage, my husband and I built our house.
We moved in just after our oldest son’s birth – in December 2006. It’s been almost 9 years. And shit is falling apart.
The curtain rods in our bathroom fell right out of the windows, throwing our curtains in the bathtub. Speaking of the bathtub, its jets don’t work any more. The toilet paper roll holders in several of the bathrooms have fallen off, been repaired, and fallen off again.
Same goes for the towel racks. In the entryway outside, the ceiling is peeling off. I have no idea what this results from. Probably a roof leak. The light fixture in our son’s closet is dead. We thought it was the bulb. We replaced the bulb and found that it’s actually the light fixture. We have a couple of ceiling leaks – shitty roofers (we did the roofing). The dishwasher broke. The washing machine broke. The oven broke. The screen door broke. The couch is breaking down. The fabric is peeling off the bar stools. We’ve been through about 16 coffeemakers. The reverse osmosis faucet wouldn’t go back together right and Tarzan broke it and repaired it with duct tape. You suddenly notice the dirt on the door to the garage. The dust built up on that high, high ceiling fan that you can’t reach without dragging a ladder in from outside and probably putting a hole in the drywall.
It’s not that you don’t fix these things when they break or clean them when they first get dirty. You do. It’s just that as soon as you fix one thing, something else bites the dust. And shit gets dirty again and again. It’s a cycle.
Meanwhile, my hormones. Ladies, admit it. When it’s that time of the month you can be a bit …. just a wee bit … sensitive? Look, you’re not the only one who wants to bite your husband’s head off because he taps his fingers on the couch in time to the music on the TV commercial. Or who mutters in a louder-than-under-your-breath non-whisper, “Is it REALLY that hard to put the dishes in the dishwasher?” Or who screeches “ARE YOU WATCHING THE ROAD?” every 5 seconds on the way to your kids’ soccer games. No wonder your my husband is a little bit gun-shy.
You are getting acne in your 30s. You are experiencing the mid-30s spread. Your hair is maybe even turning gray. Just a few, but still. You feel ugly. (You’re totally not. It’s just the hormones talking.) So when a guy at the furniture store tells your sons that you look like their babysitter rather than their mom, you dig the compliment.
You and your husband argue over form versus function. Seriously. Your husband makes a “shelf” out of 2×6 boards to put the internet router on (he swears it’s temporary). Really you’d both just like to buy a new router and a new piece of furniture to put everything on. Someone finally admits that the other person has been doing something, for the past 7 years, that drives them crazy. “You always take the trash out of the bathroom garbage and don’t put a new bag in!” Or “You always leave your clothes on the bathroom floor!” Or “Why do you leave your fingernails on the kitchen counter after you cut them?”
The 7-Year Itch apparently applies to jobs, too. And it only follows that it applies to parenting.
So while you’re trying to muck through hormones, broken stuff, and kids who are old enough to tell you you shouldn’t be wearing short shorts and your hair looks weird and your dinner looks gross but tastes okay, and your youngest kid keeps pooping in her underpants, you’re also doing some major soul-searching.
Are you making the impact you wanted to make in the world?
Does ANY of what you’re doing matter? Does your job matter? Are you raising spoiled, entitled kids? Do YOU matter?
And these things are what the 7-Year Itch is all about.
Life is stressful. Shit breaks. Bills mount. Kids talk back and use crappy manners despite your best efforts. You step on Legos. The Mondays roll around and you have to go back to work. Again and again.
IT IS NOT THAT YOU WANT A NEW HUSBAND!!!! YOU JUST WANT A WASHING MACHINE THAT WORKS!!!!!!!!
(I know, first world problems.)
But it doesn’t have to be this way. You CAN survive the 7-Year-Itch!
Here are 7 tips for doing so:
1. Make Lists, and Prioritize Them. I swear by lists. When the number of broken or dirty things in your home grows, it can feel very overwhelming! So write them down. When you can see everything, all in one place, listed out by priority, you know where to start, what to do first, second, third and so on. And check it off. Don’t underestimate the power of the check-off as it relates to your mood!
2. Make a Date. Not a date night, but a date for fixing things and cleaning things – for checking items off that list! Set aside one weekend day per month to do stuff around the house. Split it up. One of my husband’s friends and his wife split jobs into “blue” (man) and “pink” (woman) jobs. There are certain jobs I hate, like hand washing dishes, and certain jobs my husband hates, like cleaning the stovetop. So he does hand dishes and I clean the stovetop. Make this date a priority. And make it fun! Grab a 6-pack of your favorite beer to drink as a reward, throw some steaks on the grill, put on some rockin’ disco music. Do your chores in your underpants. Or whatever. I’m not judging.
3. Get Over the Over-Sensitivity. I’m not just talking about the ladies, here! If there are things that genuinely bother you (like your husband not putting a fresh bag in the garbage can), then chances are there are things you do that bug him, too. And [cringing] they might be valid. Might. Be. So if he says something about how it annoys him that you always leave the stickers from produce stuck to the side of the sink, start throwing them away.
4. Talk to Your Spouse. Not rocket science, right? But so many of us hurry blindly through our days, in a mad rush to get everything done, get dinner cooked, dishes washed, and kids to bed before we flop down on the couch at the end of the day. The past couple of weeks, my husband and I sneak into our bedroom when he gets home from work (this isn’t as dirty as it sounds, I promise). We lay on our bed and talk for 5 minutes or so until the kids realize we’re missing and do recon. Those few minutes are a quick way to reconnect talk about our days (even if it’s just giving each other a teaser – like “Remind me to tell you about the client’s response to what I wrote today.”). When you ask “How was your day?” mean it! When he asks you, tell him how it really was. Skip “It was good,” and give him a real answer, with meat on its bones.
5. Everybody Get a Hobby. You all know by now that I forced my husband to get a hobby because I felt like he was losing himself in work and being a dad. So he bought a ’68 Mustang, and has been working on restoring it. It’s coming along nicely. I have running and writing. Not only do hobbies give us something FUN and pressure-free to focus on and goals to work towards, but they also give us something to talk about besides work and the kids. Your hobby could be playing poker or Bunco, or doing macrame, or whatever.
6. Choose Kindness. I know. Not to get all woo-woo on you here, but you don’t know what your husband is going through or thinking about every moment of the day. So if he seems a bit grumpy when he gets home, wait him out for a few minutes and then demand to know what the hell is wrong. Just kidding. Ask him if something’s bugging him. Chances are, something IS bugging him – something that happened at work, or a phone call he got earlier in the day. Maybe he didn’t think it was worth mentioning but it’s still making him grumpy. If he’s just being an asshole, though, call him on it. Of course.
7. Choose Your Marriage. Commit to making each other happy. Commit to BEING happy. Yes, marriage is something like raising kids – you have to choose your battles.
By working to get past the 7 Year Itch (or its ugly twin sisters Marriage Boredom and Life Happens), you ARE doing something worthwhile with your life. You are showing love and compassion and kindness, and when your marriage works, you do more good in every part of your life!
What are your best tips for a happy marriage?