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The Seven-Year Itch: Fact or Fiction?

01/28/2013 01:40 am ET | Updated Mar 29, 2013

We've all heard of the seven-year itch. Since a popular movie by the same name was released in 1955, the concept of the seven-year itch has been a widely accepted phenomenon. It is based on the belief that many couples start to get antsy and lose interest in their significant others around the seven-year mark.

There's no consensus among experts as to why the seven-year itch may occur. Perhaps it's a matter of timing: after seven years, some couples will have successfully raised one or two children through the trying infant years, only to realize that they don't really want to be together any longer. Or by the seven year mark, some couples may have spent enough time together that the relationship is no longer exciting and all of those pesky habits and traits that were tolerable through the first few years of the relationship are now like nails on a chalkboard (a.k.a. intolerable).

Other theories suggest that our bodies and minds develop and change every seven years. Austrian philosopher and teacher Rudolf Steiner created a theory of human development based on seven-year cycles that were associated with astrology. According to his theories, humans experience changes physically and mentally every seven years. It makes some sense that if we experience large changes in personal growth, experience, knowledge and goals every seven years, that these changes will make a marriage less stable and increase the probability of divorce.

But the seven-year itch is certainly not a proven phenomenon. Most experts have simply have agreed to disagree.

Four- & Seven-Year Itch?
A 1999 study undertaken by Dr. Larry A. Kurdek, a psychology professor from Wright State University demonstrated the validity of both a four- and seven-year itch. The study showed that "couples often began their unions with high levels of marital quality, but that it appeared to decrease twice: once rather steeply over the first four years and again after about seven". His study also showed that couples with children experienced a more rapid decline in the quality of their marriage.

Twelve-Year Itch?
In 2010, a study showed that "the majority of couples who divorce have now spent more than a decade together before going their separate ways". The study, which was conducted by the Grant Thornton accountancy group, utilized information from a survey of 90 law firms and concluded that marriages are most likely to fail after about twelve years.

Three-Year Itch?
Finally, a 2012 study done by parenting website Netmums seemingly refuted all of the previously established "facts." The study showed that couples with young children are "four and a half times more likely to split after three years than the traditional seven years". Of the 1,500 respondents, 42 percent said that having a child had driven them apart. Siobhan Freegard, founder of Netmums, also attributes this "itch" shift to the fact that more couples are getting married later in life, but earlier in their relationships. Women may be reacting to their ticking biological clocks and rushing into marriages and children, rather than spending more time dating and getting to know their spouses to be.

What does this mean for couples? Does the the divorce "itch" come at three, four, seven or twelve years?

In my opinion, the ever-changing conclusions indicate that there is no magic number. The studies do seem to agree that couples need to put in the extra effort every day in order to sustain happy marriages. If a couple doesn't prioritize their relationship, their marriage will fall by the wayside -- no matter how long they've been together.