Seven Year Itch

  • Barbarella

When something itches, my dear sir, the natural tendency is to scratch. — Dr. Brubaker in The Seven Year Itch

Are you getting itchy?” I asked.

“Why, are you?” David countered.

“Hey, that’s not an answer,” I said, slapping my man on the arm to let him know I was serious...sort of. As our seventh anniversary approaches, I’ve been concerned about this whole “seven year itch,” that wandering-eye malady that entered our vernacular by way of a Marilyn Monroe movie made back when my parents were babies. The idea is that after seven years with the same partner, a man’s urge to stray wells up within him, often leading to bad behavior. (Apparently, in the ’50s, no woman would be so crass as to allow her genitals to make relationship decisions.)

Even though I knew the number was arbitrary — that it was based on some fictional character’s fictional statistics — I couldn’t stop thinking about it. When someone warns of a rank odor, the human response, however imprudent, is to take a big ol’ whiff. So it was that I found myself questioning every detail of my bond with David.

I’d never been in a position to experience the consequences of a long-term relationship — before I met David, my longest romantic affair had lasted five months, and I’d never referred to any guy as my “boyfriend.” I’ve never been in love with anyone else, and therefore never have I been in the situation, as David has, of feeling one’s love for another diminish over time.

I’ve seen how people can grow apart — I’ve known adulterers and the miserably married, the latter of which is the suckier position. At least when dealing with adultery, the situation is comprehensible in that there is an identifiable perpetrator upon whom a good amount of the blame may be laid — the one who does the cheating is evil. But how do people deal when the spark fizzles? When there is no good or bad in the equation, just “it’s there” or “it’s not there”?

I asked David what it was like to fall out of love. “It’s the natural progression of maturing,” he explained. “Nobody when they get older acts like they did when they were 18. People who were once fun, wild, and carefree become serious grown-ups. It’s like a fire burning down to embers and then dying out. It doesn’t always happen — some people are able to remain in love despite their changes — but often people wake up one morning to realize, ‘Maybe we’re friends, but not much more than that.’”

“Okay, we agree that we’re still in love, right?” I asked, then giggled to make it seem as if I knew the answer was yes, even though a part of me feared it might not be.

“Of course we are,” said David, narrowing his eyes as if that would help him to get a better look inside my head.

“Right, of course,” I said, with no small amount of relief. “So, what I’m saying is, why don’t we have the itch? Why do other people get it? Why did you get it before but not now?”

David sat forward in his chair and silently pondered my questions. Before he could answer, I said, “Well, I accept not everyone gets the itch...you know, think of the ‘couples.’” Every so often, David and I take a moment, while on a walk or sharing a glass of wine, to name those people we know to be in healthy, happy, and thus inspiring long-term relationships. The list always includes John and Sue (friends of my family), Susan and Diane (my aunts), and most recently Tom and Beth (friends). “So, why do they work out? Because they change together instead of change apart?” I furrowed my brow and sat back, an indication that I was finally ready to shut up and hear David’s thoughts on the matter.

“It could be a lot of things,” David said, again going silent for a moment because, unlike me, he thinks before he speaks. “For example, when people are dating, they’re having fun together — going out for dinner, dancing, wooing each other. After being together for a while, people fall into a routine. I’ve heard people say, ‘Oh sure, everyone’s like that at first — it’s expected. But I could never keep up that level of charm.’”

“People don’t feel like they have to work for what they’ve already got,” I said.

“Exactly,” David said. “People get into a rut. They become bored with each other. Then there are life-changing transitions, like having children. It’s fine if both parties enjoy the transition to parenthood, but instead of embracing parenthood, some people just see their stylish house become a messy, toy-filled playpen and their hot spouse become Mommy or Daddy. When your partner is always distracted, not paying much attention to you, no longer sexy, overly serious, naggy… Then, say, at work or whatever, someone fun, new, and mysterious is giving them attention. I can see how it happens.”

In the silence that followed, I imagined David was also thinking of the few people we know who have acted on such temptation. In each situation, the cheating party, bored or irritated with his or her spouse, had hooked up with a coworker.

“So, why aren’t we bored with each other?” I asked.

“I can think of lots of reasons,” David said, smiling.


“For one, we didn’t go through any life-changing experiences, like suddenly having a family to raise, or major career changes — well, there was yours, but it brought us closer together instead of pulling us apart. When we met, I was a photographer, and I still am. We spend a lot of time together every day, and that’s relatively stress-free time, whether we’re playing a few rounds of Scrabble while taking a break from work, watching movies, cuddling in bed. We can mix it up and be spontaneous. Partly because of your work, we do a lot of weird and different stuff together — we’re constantly experiencing new things, which keeps it fresh.” I smiled, nodding along in appreciation for each of the truths David spoke.

“Plus, I was already old when we met,” David continued. “I wasn’t some immature kid in my 20s. Chances are, a person isn’t going to change that much after a certain age.”

“You forgot the most important reason,” I said. David raised his brows in expectation.

“Communication. So many people are afraid to share their thoughts with their partners for fear of a negative reaction, so they end up suppressing their emotions or not being honest about their feelings. You and me, we talk about everything openly, and I can’t remember either one of us ever throwing out accusations.”

I was beginning to like this exercise of questioning why our relationship worked instead of wondering if it didn’t. “You know what else I’ve been curious about?” I said in a playful tone. “Is exactly what it is about each other we find so attractive. You go first.”

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More from SDReader


This is great! You have pretty much "nailed" all the secrets to a successful relationship.

And from experience (I've been married 36 years), you both have the ingredients required to bake a delicious, long-lasting relationship. Topped with whipped cream.


That should read:

This is great! You have pretty much "nailed" all the secrets to a successful relationship.

And based on my experience (I've been married 36 years), you both have the ingredients required to bake a delicious, long-lasting relationship. Topped with whipped cream.


I was married at one time;in college. We made it about 1/2 way to the seven year itch. Money led to our demise. Well actually, I guess the money issue just hastened the demise that was probably coming anyway. It wasn't lack of money, though. We actually came into a large sum and she decided she would rather take her half and run, I guess. My girlfriend and I have been together 17 yrs next month, so I guess you could say we've passed the "itch" twice now. I was 32 and she was 28. We have had almost the exact same conversation that you had, several times. Only ours has usually been precipitated by the breakup/divorce of someone we know. I don't know if the fact that we had already known each other for about 12 years has helped, but I'm sure it hasn't hurt. I agree with number 1 that you have pretty muched nailed the things that make make a realtionship not just work, but continue to grow. Especially the communication part.

Hmmm.... I am after the "antigeekess", and I can't figure out what I am doing wrong....maybe I can try some of the stuff here.

Well, you should probably start with house-training, and working on that unsightly slobber. Sure you probably look cute when you roll over and wag your tail, but then there is that nasty problem of digging up the flower beds, and always choosing the wrong places to bury your bone...

sorry Puppy, but you trotted right into that one ;)

"...and always choosing the wrong places to bury your bone..."

I'm sure he does. There was that toothless Bichon Frise he went out with, for example. ;)

One thing's for sure: No chance of burying it here.

Wow.....the puppy hate runs strong in this thread......

I definitely think that they have nailed what works in a relationship generally. However, I also think that Barb and David have put themselves in a position (and kudos for them) where they don’t have a lot of the stressors that cause the majority of problems in other relationships, the most obvious being (1) no kids or desire to have kids (probably number one stressor/life style change for most couples); (2) no apparent financial concerns (other than kids, probably number one stressor); (3) freedom provided by having a lot money and not having kids (corollary to items 1 and 2); (4) stable in careers; and (5) older and all around more secure in life. Obviously they are happy and should be commended for having made the choices in life that led to items (1) through (5), but comparing their relationship to others who have those stressors is not realistic. I think that a lot of people have very happy relationships when they are at the point in life where they don’t have to deal with items (1) through (5), but a big part of life is going through those experiences and coming out of them intact. It is when you go through those stressors with another person when the mettle of the relationship is really tested. I wish Barb would write more about that rather than how perfect her life and relationship are as I think then we would truly get to know her and really see the strength of her writing.

"...but comparing their relationship to others who have those stressors is not realistic."

I disagree. My husband and I did not want kids. After seven years of marriage, we had an "oopsie." We didn't have to go through with the pregnancy, but made the choice to completely rearrange our lives and do so. That was 30 years ago.

As pointed out in this piece, having stress is not the only thing that pulls a couple apart. Some folks just get bored and look for something else to spice up their lives. Some are so self-absorbed they forget there is another person in the relationship. And some just simply don't have a clue about life, love and companionship.

As for the strength of Barb's writing and getting to know her better, I suggest you read some of her stories in the archives. She paints a vivid picture of who she is through her colorful and delightfully descriptive narrative.


I also disagree with # 8. We have a daughter, now 23, from a previous relationship my girlfriend had in college. Obviously, I knew about her, and as #9 said, rearranged my priorities because of her. There was never any question about it to me and I simply cannot imagine having done anything else. It has simply never been a "stressor" in our relationship. And I agree with # 9 in regards to stress not being the only thing that pulls couples apart. When your child is a joy to have, you don't have any financial, or career dificulties or any of the other "stressors" to which # 8 refers, that doen't mean all of your"problems" are eliminated. As # 8 put it so well,"Some folks just get bored and look for something else to spice up their lives. Some are so self-absorbed they forget there is another person in the relationship. And some just simply don't have a clue about life, love and companionship." It takes alot more than stress to end a relationship and to alot of people, those things are just not that stressful. And #8, if you want to test your relationship, try spending about 5 years planning, designing and building your dream house together. That is a test of your relations that you cannot possibly understand unless you have actually done it.

And #8, if you want to test your relationship, try spending about 5 years planning, designing and building your dream house together. That is a test of your relations that you cannot possibly understand unless you have actually done it.

By gardenparty


Are you mocking me the surfpuppy?.Obviously you are not in the position of being able to build your dream retirement home and spend that kind of money. Anyone who has gone thru an extensive, major and costly home reno knows what I'm talking about.You mightwant to talk to some of the families who lost their homes in the last couple of fires whether or not rebuiling is/has been stressful. A couple being able to agree on literally hundreds of decisions, under time and sometimes money constraints is not an easy thing to accomplish without some stress here and there and maybe an occasional spirited or discussion or two.

Stress is imagined for the most part. A (quite successful) ruse championed by greedy psychiatrists during the 80's in order to line their pockets and fund their "dream homes". Morphed into "stressor" more recently. You want stress? Check out the plight of most Depression era families and report back. Puppy hits the mark here.

Are you mocking me the surfpuppy?.

No....I thought it was a hilarious comment!

You're right, gardenparty--but your experience is only slightly out of the norm. SurfPuppy may have found your comment ironic because many of us out here are currently having our relationships 'stressed' due to economic hardship, like paying rent on the saltbox you're crammed in together daily, credit cards, and continual hospital and doctor bills strangely uncovered by medical insurance. We would kill to be in your situation right now.

Of course, I can kind of dig it. My partner and I have just about torn each other's heads off over the construction of a piece of Ikea furniture.

SD After giving some tought to my post, I have decided in our case the word tension might have been used to better describe our situation. Stress connotes some consequence of failure and certainly that wasn't the case. Poor choice of words on my part. But we have had to deal with stress. The teenage years of a daughter, serious illnesses and deaths of family members, personal health issues, job issues, the same stuff most people go thru. We are just lucky that, to a large extent, money hasn't been one of them. And as for someone who thinks stress is imagined for the most part and a ruse "championed by greedy psychiatrists", I have a few close friends, people I'v known for many years, who had multiple tours in Iraq. Tell them that the mental, emotional and physical stress they felt was imagined. And for that matter, their spouses also. I guess that means PTSD is "imagined for the most part" too?

You're right, of course, gardenparty. What I meant to convey, and should have made clearer, is that the "s" word has become a sort of catch-all for what used to pass for the travails of everyday life that we all encounter. In no way did I intend to negate the real issues that many of us face, such as the examples you cited. I stand by my comment about the psychs and the overusage of the word "stress", however. My observation is that often the only thing that "shrinks" when one consults with one is one's bank account.

I actually thought Gardenparty was being sarcastic, as in it is stressful for couples to argue and fight over how to spend a million dollars, or how early to get up on a worldwide cruise.

SDaniels is correct when she says stress over meeting a rent payment, or doctor payment or some other "necessity of life" seems far more serious to many people-but I was not mocking GP.

I'm skeptical of the cliche of communication as the key to lasting relationships. Do happy couples really share everything with each other? Or is it that, because they're happy, they don't really have anything juicy to share?

"Honey, I'd really like to sleep with my new friend at work, who I've been fantasizing about the last few times you and I got busy. In fact, sometimes I find myself thinking my life would be more enjoyable if I was single again, because I would be free to pursue a broad range of currently off-limits experiences, such as occasional sex with some of the many other people who I find attractive."

"Thanks for sharing that with me, babe. Hearing about your wanderlust fills me with dread, and I'm equally dismayed to learn that you've contemplated the joys of being single. But it's sure better than if you had kept it all to yourself. I'm so glad we communicate!"

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