You have probably heard of the “seven year itch” in marriage relationships. It refers to that time when couples start itching for more and wanting their marriage relationships to be spiced up a bit. But the seven year itch is actually a myth. It should probably be called the “four year itch” which refers to our biological clock. Dr. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at the Center for Human Evolutionary Studies, states that our biological programming is the cause of people getting antsy but it is after four years into relationships that this restlessness begins. According to Dr. Fisher, people around the world divorce after four years because it is part of our biological makeup to reproduce within four years.
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 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.
Unfortunately, if you just look at the divorce rate of Americans, it is under four years, at just two or three years. Dr. Fisher does say that if you make it past the four year mark, then the divorce rate declines with each year that goes by.
So what should you do if you are experiencing the “marriage restlessness” in your relationship? John Gottman, author of The Relationship Cure has tips for couples to strengthen their marriage.
If you are having difficulties, seek help early. Gottman reports that the average couple waits six years before seeking help (and that half of all marriages end in the first seven years).
Keep your critical thoughts to yourself; editing yourself maintains a happier relationship.
Prevent arguments from escalating by monitoring yourself from making confrontational or critical comments. Bringing up problems gently and without blame is the best way to work things out.
Allow yourself to be influenced by the other. Gottman specifically talks about the male allowing himself to be influenced by his wife as generally speaking, the woman allows herself to be influenced by her husband. So for a balanced partnership, both have to allow the other to influence their actions.
Set high standards in your expectations from each other. Research shows that those couples who, from the beginning of their relationship had high expectations of respect from each other and low tolerances for bad behaviors in the relationship, had more success in their relationships.
Gottman writes about couples learning to repair, minimize, and exit arguments. Successful couples know how to repair an argument early on before the argument completely gets out of control. Successful repairing attempts include tactics such as changing the subject, using humor, giving your partner a caring remark, making it clear that you are in it together, backing down, and basically offering words of appreciation for your partner or his/her feelings along the way.
And if an argument gets too heated, exit, take a break and come back together when you are both calm.
And one final tip, in happy marriages, couples make five times more positive comments to and about each other as they do negative comments.
The Gottman Institute.
Helen Fisher, Psychology Today. The Biology of Attraction
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner
- Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.
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