If you can pardon the somewhat vulgar insinuation, I promise I have a point to my choice for the title of this blog. I just brewed up some Wild Mountain Blueberry coffee and am curled up by the fireplace with a warm blanket and my sweet kitty Bart, (ahhh!) and I’m eager to chat with you about the time period in a marriage when the syrup-y sweet love of the honeymoon phase wears off, and the power struggle phase ensues.
You may or may not have heard of “the seven year itch” in marriage, but almost all marriages experience it in some way. So often, I see couples in my office when they are around the 7-10 year mark in being together (plus or minus, but the vast majority fall into this time frame.) Why then? Why not sooner, or later? The answer is because this time frame is about the time when your feel-good “lizard brain” chemicals, the ones that blind you to who your partner really is and what they are truly capable of, start to wear off. Intrigued? Read on. (Click here to understand more about what your “lizard brain” is/does…)
We ultimately get into relationships because we want something from the other person. I’m not just talking about love, companionship, sex, or to save money on our taxes. If we have that warm fuzzy feeling about another person, often referred to as “chemistry”, our lizard brain is attracted to the other person for reasons beyond our immediate or conscious understanding. We are actually attracted to another person far less because of their physical appearance or sparkling personality and more for their capability of hurting us in just the right ways…actually, in the same ways that we were hurt the most as kids. Not really all that great of news, is it? Nevertheless, that is a huge part of how attraction works.
So what do we actually want from the other person, then, if not the aforementioned perks? We want someone who is capable of hurting us in the same way as we were hurt as kids, to not hurt us. We need them to give us all the data we need, and daily for the rest of our lives, that refutes the most painful (and badly skewed) messages we believed about ourselves as a kid. This happens easily and effortlessly during the beginning phase of a marriage. We like each other, love each other, respect each other, and give each other all kinds of data that we think our spouse is awesome! What’s wrong with that?
The problem is that it wears off. We get tired of constantly feeding them, and so does our partner. Have you ever had the feeling that you could never tell your spouse enough times that something was true about how you feel about them? You say “I love you”…they say “I don’t believe you.” They say “You’re amazing”…you say “No, I’m not.” Over and over again. It’s a bottomless pit that seems to never be filled, a thirst that cannot be quenched. They stop being compliant with our demands, and we theirs, to give this data we need so much so that we feel OK.
That’s when the seven year itch turns us into the seven year *itch. We get grouchy, and tired of trying to fill our partner’s tank. At the same time, we feel like our needs aren’t getting met either. Why am I trying, and my partner isn’t? We fight all the time. Our marital satisfaction drops, sometimes rapidly and sometimes almost imperceptibly, until it’s so bad that we end up either completely miserable, or at the counselor’s office. Is this sounding familiar?
The cure for this situation is not focusing on enrolling our stubborn, lunkheaded partners into mandatory spousal training to get them back into line. Sorry to break that news. That’s what everyone wants, but it is not the cure. It never works. The cure for the seven year *itch is an extremely large dose of humility, taken internally directly to the heart, and as frequently as possible. It involves focusing on the only person you can control…you. Enroll yourself in stubborn, lunkheaded partner training, because you are one, too. Do it whether your spouse comes with you or not. It’s great if you can do it together, but if your spouse refuses, do it without them. You won’t regret it.
Healing Hearts provides counseling services to the surrounding communities of Indianapolis, Fishers, Carmel, Zionsville, Westfield, Noblesville, and Geist. E-Counseling is available for residents of Indiana. Call or text today to set up your appointment. 317-218-3038
© 2016 Nancy Eisenman, MSW, LSW