Marilyn Monroe's film "The Seven-Year Itch" perpetuated
the idea that many married people get restless seven years
into their marriage. Is it true that just around that seven-year
mark men and women across the country start longing for infidelity,
or at least a little something to spice up their marriage?
It may not happen this fast, but a leading expert says
that American marriages hit a hurdle after the "infatuation
phase" ends (that's after just two to three years!).
As it turns out, the "itch" is certainly there,
but it happens a lot sooner for most of us -- after just four
years of matrimony.
Part of Our Biology?
According to Dr. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at the Center
for Human Evolutionary Studies in the Department of Anthropology
at Rutgers University, and author of "Why
We Love," it's because of "biological programming"
that people get antsy after four years.
She has studied over 60 groups of people, from various cultures
around the world (including Australian Aborigines, the Gainj
of New Guinea and the Netsilik Eskimos), only to find some
striking similarities ...
"People around the world tend to divorce during and
around the fourth year of marriage," Fisher says.
The reason, she explains, has not to do with our hidden passions
and desires, but rather is simply an expression of our biological
desire to reproduce. Fisher says:
"As it turns out, the standard period of human birth
spacing was originally four years. We were built to have
our children four years apart and I think that this drive
to pair up and stay together at least four years evolved
millions of years ago so that a man and a woman would be
drawn together and stay together, tolerate each other, at
least long enough to rear a single child through infancy."
The tabloids, too, seem to bear this out. Just ask Paul McCartney
and Heather Mills, Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt, Lance Armstrong
and his wife, Kristin, or Madonna and Sean Penn. All of these
couples divorced after four years of marriage.
A key part of keeping your marriage strong is saying
nice things. Happy couples say at least five times as
many positive things about their relationship than negative
things -- even while they're arguing.
However, there is a slight, somewhat disheartening, caveat.
If you break the statistics down further to include just Americans,
the peak years for divorce are even under the four-year mark,
at years two and three.
"Perhaps it is no coincidence that the American divorce
peak corresponds perfectly with the normal duration of infatuation
-- two to three years," Fisher says.
If you do make it past the four-year mark (or at least the
two- and three-year marks), you're in luck. Divorce rates
decline gradually with each year of marriage that goes by,
according to Fisher.
What to Do if You're Feeling an "Itch" in Your
In order for any marriage to succeed, both partners must
be willing to put in the effort needed to keep things fresh,
fair and fulfilling. If you hit a snag along the way, and
most people do, the following tips from respected marriage
researcher Dr. John Gottman, author of The
Relationship Cure, can help to keep your marriage strong.
If you're having problems, seek help right away. The
average couple waits six years before seeking marital
counseling, according to Gottman, which means they're
living unhappily for far too long.
Keep critical things to yourself. "Editing yourself"
sometimes is a key secret of happy couples.
Talk about your problems, but do so gently and without
blame. Starting a discussion with a criticism or accusation
is a surefire way to escalate the conflict.
Men, accept influence from your wife. According to Gottman,
a marriage can only be successful if a man can listen
to and be influenced by his wife. Why? Studies show that
most women easily accept influence from men, so a "true
partnership" can only be formed if the man can also
Don't accept hurtful behavior. Having high standards
of how you expect to be treated helps couples stay happy
in the long run.
Don't let arguments get out of control. The happiest
couples are those who can repair an argument (by changing
the topic, saying something caring or looking at the humorous
side) and then let it go (by backing down, showing understanding
or letting your partner know that you're in it together).
Say positive things. Couples in happy marriages make
at least five times as many positive statements about
their relationship than negative ones -- even while talking
about a problem, according to Gottman.
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