The seven-year itch is real.
It doesn’t always land at exactly seven years, and men don’t always have flings with Marilyn Monroe, but the principle is true.
The theory is that after about 7 or 8 or 9 or 10 years, people in relationships realize two things:
- That thing my sweetheart does that I used to think was cute is actually really annoying, and
- That thing I thought I could give up for the sake of my sweetheart, I actually don’t want to.
In other words, the maximum amount of time it takes for people blinded by love to regain their vision is a decade.
This tendency impressed me. Not so much that there’s a relative universality to it, but rather that people can fake it for that long. And moreover, that we can live together for all that time and never realize how much of our happiness is pretense.
I learned about the seven-year itch a couple months into therapy, which was also a couple months into my break-up with N. Having gotten together in 1996 and split up in 2006, we were pretty much on schedule. This wasn’t exactly good news, except that the person telling me about the Itch was a couples’ therapist who was — and please allow me to take a moment to find an accurate adjective without exaggerating … OK, I’m going to go with — brilliant.
But she wasn’t brilliant because N and I got back together (which we did), or because our relationship is absolutely perfect in every way (which it isn’t), or because of her fashion sense (four different shades of burgundy, really?).
What makes our therapist brilliant is her capacity to see through the pretenses that make us itch in the first place: the loss of self where boundaries should be, the defensiveness that replaces compassion, and the sadness underneath the armor. Our therapist makes us see the weak, vulnerable, broken mess that’s buried inside ourselves. She makes us wade through the depths of our emotions. She makes us admit the secrets we keep from ourselves. And she makes us love ourselves all the same.
All this gives us something more to offer each other as partners — something true.
So, here we are, 15 years into a relationship that I humbly call mostly wonderful. Does that mean we’ve skirted the second round of seven-year-itchiness? I hope so. But if not, then I at least like to think that I’ve bitch-slapped it a bit.