Feature Archive

Seven-Year Itch

Are relationship lulls fact or fiction?

WebMD Feature

March 6, 2000 (Reno, Nev.) -- In the 1955 movie "The Seven Year Itch," Marilyn Monroe tempts her neighbor to stray while his wife and children are away for the summer. Ever since, the seven year itch -- a period of restless angst -- has been used as an excuse for infidelity.

Now, a study suggests that such an itch is often a reality. An evaluation of 93 married couples during their first 10 years of marriage showed two typical periods of decline. (A decline was defined as a decrease in marital quality measured by taking into account passion, satisfaction with the relationship, amount of shared activity, and agreement between the partners.) The marriages started with a bang (with passion usually high), but after the "honeymoon effect" wore off they showed a decrease in overall quality over the first four years. The marriages then tended to stabilize before another decline set in around year eight, says Lawrence A. Kurdek, Ph.D., the study's author and a psychologist at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

The first decline, Kurdek says, is probably a normal adjustment to new roles; the second decline is often related to the birth of children. Couples experiencing the seven year itch disagree with each other more, become less affectionate, share fewer activities, and express overall dissatisfaction with their marriages, says Kurdek, whose study was published in the September 1999 issue of the journal Developmental Psychology.