The Seven-Year Itch

A Cultural Phenomenon

Most of us have heard that little phrase but most likely do not know its origin. Without giving the details, let me say that it originated in an article about marriage and divorce and connoted the point at which there was a trend towards dissatisfaction in marriage and a movement toward divorce. A recent British study of couples in marriage or a committed relationship experiencing dissatisfaction and possible disillusionment of the relationship reported that the timeline is now three years. It was termed the “Three-year glitch,” and so connected it with the previous study/article.

Why? Recent research suggests?

So, what happens? If you pursue literature, you will discover some rather frivolous reasons for the dissatisfaction. Longer working hours and money worries are to blame, suggests some thinkers. Others suggest that solo holidays and frequent breaks from the marriage to ignite further interest in the relationship is a workable solution.

However, that blameshifting does not work. My father and our grandparents worked longer (10-hour days, at least 5.5 days a week) with maybe a week’s vacation. They also had just as many worries. So, there is something more going on. Growing up with the Great Depression generation, folks of my generation had parents who worked forty hours a week and then worked second jobs just to put food on the table and a roof overhead. Vacations were maybe a week a year, and breaks from their marriage were seldom occasions. They had all the same worries that people have today.

Why? When, you ask couples?

Feelings of romantic love fade under the heat of disappointments. One partner questions the hygiene habits of the other. That “nasty habit” may become completely intolerable, and the frustration makes it difficult not to generate sarcasm or avoid contact. The relationship becomes more like doing business than the enjoyment of love. Compliments become few and far between.

Things might be OK — but they’re not wonderful. Recently, I had a 3.5-year “marriage partner report, “Being married to him is not sweet anymore.”

The Process of the Cycle

It’s incredibly common for couples to experience a decline in the quality of their relationship or reach a critical sink-or-swim. The question then is “Where do we go from here?” While John Gottman was not necessarily talking about the three-year breaking point, his observation of the “four horsemen” (criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling) can be observed in the deteriorating relationship.

In another case earlier this year, a husband responded to my reference to Gottman’s four horsemen, “Yes, that is us!”

Preventative Maintenance

  • Choose your marriage partner wisely, and if you did not, choose to be the right partner.  Choose the right partner since it is a life-long climb to glory. If you did not choose the right one, determine to be the right partner for the person you choose. Engage inpremarital counseling and marriage mentoring.
  • Take personality to clear your life of past pain, and don’t bring it with you. 
  • Practice biblical communication. As stated in Ephesians 4:15, it is important to speak honestly with love (compassion). Additionally, it is wise to listen attentively and refrain from anger, as advised in James 1:19 and Proverbs 15:1. It is crucial to be truthful rather than deceptive, as mentioned in 4:25. It is acceptable to feel anger. Still, it should be controlled to avoid outbursts, according to 4:26. Rather than criticizing your partner, it is better to uplift them as suggested by 4:29. Finally, it is essential to forgive and avoid holding grudges, as outlined in 4:31-32.
  • Be a celebrator, not a complainer. Your partner will never be flawless; let’s face it, neither will you. Hence, sometimes you must accept traits and habits and celebrate the good things. Remember what attracted you and tell them you love them for it. Honor your mate by preferring them and showing appreciation. Think about the thirty-six “one another” New Testament passages and how to practice them toward your spouse. Make it a habit to review these frequently—especially if you find yourself irritated with your spouse.
  • Engage in personal excitement by cleaving, carving out quality time, initiating dates, and regularly walking down memory lane together and then visioning new memories.
  • Build a shared web of friends. Hanging out with single friends is replaced by hanging out with mutual couple friends. Maintain old friendships for an occasional activity—hunting trip or shopping expedition. Turn individual friends into mutual friends. Determine together to live, in a manner among non-Christian friends, as a Christ-representative. 
    Remember, when a couple marries, they become one; however, like being born again,you become a child of God who has been pronounced objectively sanctified and who is now becoming subjectively sanctified.  So, as a couple, we were pronounced ONE when we married (objective) and are now becoming ONE (subjectively). 
    Becoming one in marriage does not mean losing who you are but adding to who you are. You will still think for yourself, care for yourself, and engage with others yourself, but you will do so within a mutuality of marital relationship.
    Hence, possessiveness consumes your spouse, demeans your spouse, and generates the occasion for your spouse to develop a descent into the “four horsemen” syndrome.
  • Finally, develop a spiritual union. While enumerated last, it needs to be foundational and continuous and, thereby, unifying. At a minimum, this entails the following.
    A personal walk with Jesus. After the resurrection of Jesus, two disciples were walking on the Emmaus Road with Jesus. They has just suffered the biggest disappointment of their lives. He, whom they believed to be the Messiah, had been crucified. They were heading home, commiserating on the way. Jesus falls in beside them and “plays dumb,” so they share their struggle. Then we read that He began to walk them through the Scriptures – engaging them in a walk with him physically and biblically. The result was that the” truth set them free” to recognize Him as He ate with them and prayed. 
    This demonstrates the value of walking with Jesus through the Scriptures. Through His Word, He teaches one how to deal with life’s disappointments.
    As a couple must walk together with Jesus. Sharing the Word. Sharing theological discussions. Learning from one another as the Lord teaches both.
    Serving Jesus together has a uniting effect on a couple. It is struggling together with others’ struggles and learning about their own in the process.
    Worship of God in the community of believers, in church, in all it forms:  in small groups, and in Sunday School classes. 
    The couple who engages in a spiritual union will not drift apart in three years or sixty years.

Conclusion and Implementation

The “fixes” cited above are not only effective. for interdicting the three-year-glitch, they provide biblical resources for fixing and maintaining marriage at any time in life. Hence, if you identified with the weaknesses in these three-year marriages, you would find it pleasing to God and healing for your marriage to repent and engage in these correctives. You will glorify God and turn your marriage into a joyful journey. 

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