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The Three Year Twitch: How to keep your marriage from ending before it’s even begun (pt. 1)

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by Jen DuBos,  MA LPC

Most married folk over the age of 30 are familiar with the phrase “The Seven Year Itch”, which is the notion that seven years into marriage, spouses often get a little, well itchy. Life together gets a bit dull, a little too predictable, and your spouse is no longer the radiant and mysterious creature he or she once was. A popular comedian recounts this very phenomenon with the tale of a newly enchanted couple. The male half of the duo tells his beloved how cute it is when she scrunches up her nose when she laughs. 7 years later, they sit at the table in the morning and when she laughs, her husband spits out “why do you always make that rat face?!” In my experience, marriages nowadays struggle intensely between years three and four, and several common features contribute to this reality.

The ever-quickening pace of society and the rapidly decreasing attention span of our culture should certainly be called out as the first causes of The Seven Year Itch being drastically reduced to a three year “twitch”. We are a culture who champions newness, novelty, excitement, adventure, and upward movement.  Sadly, the idea of a life- long commitment to the same person is easily considered the opposite, even though anything more than a very surface analysis quickly proves otherwise. We are easily bored and it can be argued that Americans have lost much of the value for hard work and perseverance in the “I want it now” or “I deserve it” mentality sweeping the nation.

Secondly I find that after three or four years, people stop behaving “nicely” and finally begin act as if they were family. On one hand this is a marker of health and depth in the marriage; each partner is feeling secure enough to be more raw. On the other hand, this raw exposure of the true self, true feelings, and true flaws, can be shocking to your other half and lead to the “I don’t even know you!” reaction. When we reveal our true selves, dents and all, to our partners, it can be disappointing to them. We can feel “tricked” into the relationship, deceived, or foolish to think the person we loved could really have been “the one”.

The truth is, we all put on a show in one way or another to attract a spouse. No one shows up for the job interview of their dreams with no make- up on wearing dirty sweats. We are all peacocks in the early stages- and this does not end just because we get married. In addition, a significant contributing factor to the phenomenon of infatuation is we believe we’ve found the person who embodies all the characteristics of our fantasy lover. Unfortunately, the fantasy person who lives in your mind does not exist- and cannot exist- in reality. Our ideal partner is a conglomeration of all the greatest features from people we’ve loved in the past, plus all the ways we wish those we love would have loved us but let us down, plus all the things we really love about ourselves. It is a fantasy built on fantasy and narcissism. No doubt the initial attraction between you was real, because it was fueled by the fact that your now husband or wife embodied even a handful of the traits of your ideal spouse. If you begin to see features that do not match your ideal spouse, it is not necessarily because your partner has deceived you; you may have actually deceived yourself. Your spouse is a real person- so get to know them, flaws and all, and be willing to identify where you have projected features of your fantasy on to your spouse that were never really part of their persona.

The third cause of the “twitch” is that the majority of couples are waiting longer than 2 years to begin having children. Spouses want to believe they will stay together for life, but most reserve the option to end the relationship before there are children involved. We can all recognize the trauma that is invariably inflicted on children by the dissolution of their family. When spouses begin to consider seriously having children together, it drives them to scrutinize the stability of their relationship and genuineness of their love for each other. This can often lead to a more critical eye and a focus on the negative attributes of the other half.

We’ve talked about some causes so you can spot the warning signs – now let’s talk about real solutions. In my follow-up to this post, I’ll share some strategies you and your spouse can do to limit insecurities and keep The Three Year Twitch to a minimum.