There is a widespread belief in the ‘7 year itch’, that couples get itchy feet after 7 years of marriage. The concept was first mooted in the seventies as more liberal laws and attitudes towards divorce were introduced. In today’s society, is it just an outdated myth?

A report from the Marriage Foundation shows that divorce is more likely at the early stages of a marriage; as the honeymoon period fizzles out and the potentially mundane routine of married life sets in. According to Harry Benson, author of the report, ‘half of all divorces take place during the first decade of marriage.’

Longer marriages continue to last longer

The report suggests that the longer a marriage, the less likely a divorce. Statistics show that after ten years of wedlock, there is only a 20% chance of divorce and only one in 100 couples who have been married for 40 years part by anything other than death.

Dr. Gary Thomas agrees with the above findings following his own study, which shows the highest levels of marital satisfaction among those married for 25 years or more. Dr Thomas believes that by this point, couples ‘have more realistic expectations, are less selfish, and are more mature.’

Dr Kurdek, psychology professor in Wright State University, suggests more of a ‘4 year scratch’, whereby couples begin ‘unions with high levels of marital quality’ which then significantly decrease ‘over the first four years’ of their relationship. His study indicates that couples with children experience a faster decline in the quality of their marriage, perhaps because their relationship with their child overshadows their relationship with each other, particularly at the early stages of marriage.

The Marriage Foundation report suggests that premarital cohabitation is a strong reason for early divorce.  This goes against the common assumption that ‘shacking up’ before marriage is good marriage preparation as it allows couples to get to know each other thoroughly before making their vows.

Divorce: ‘Early Exiters’

Researchers Huston, Niehuis and Smith (2000) coined the term ‘Early Exiters’ to describe couples whose marriages last between two and seven years but who court for extensive periods before their big day. The researchers suggest that such couples who cohabit find themselves in long term relationships and feel pressured into getting married as their ‘close friends get married’ or due to their fear ‘they would not (get) married if they let go’ of the long term relationship in which they had heavily invested.

A study from the University of Denver looked at marital satisfaction among married couples. 19% of those who cohabited before getting married had contemplated divorce during their marriage, contrasting with only 12% who cohabited upon engagement and 10% who waited until after their wedding day. Premarital cohabiting couples reported lower levels of marital satisfaction, poorer communication and less problem-solving skills in their relationship. Denver University researcher, Scott Stanley, suggests premarital cohabiting couples marry for the wrong reasons, which leads to an unhappy marriage and ultimately divorce. He suggests that cohabiting couples find themselves ‘sliding’ into marriage because it is ‘easy’. However, couples that cohabit after their engagement have made a deliberate decision to share their future together, rather than falling into marriage just to avoid the hassle of breaking up.

Although the ‘7 year itch’ does appear to be an outdated theory, recent studies do indicate a higher risk of divorce at the earlier stages of marriage. Therefore, reaching a ‘ten year target’ or considering a post-engagement housing arrangement may be better ways to ensure a life-long relationship.

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