We’ve all heard of the seven-year itch, and as adults we each have our own opinions about its existence. Some committed people live in fear of the clock striking that magical number of years when the relationship will crumble, and I guess that’s why I don’t buy into the seven-year itch urban legend. For one thing, it’s odd that the year is so specific, like the number seven brings with it relationship-destroying robots. For another, relationships are fickle, and they will bloom or wilt for a number of various reasons other than simple boredom with one mate.
Exploring the Seven-Year Theory
There is no definitive author of the seven-year itch theory; maybe because no one wants the stink of the theory on their career, but I digress. However, there is one theory the seven-year itch theory might have morphed from.
Rudolf Steiner was an Austrian philosopher who believed in and created a fusion of science and spirituality, called anthroposophy. His ideas permeated almost every facet of life and culture, like farming theory, literature, art, social science, science, and religion. Steiner’s most well known contribution to society is the Waldorf Education.
In 1919, Steiner was commissioned to create an education system and curriculum for a school for factory worker’s children. Steiner’s Waldorf Education is said to teach the entire child at each developmental stage. Steiner’s main stages of development occur every 7 years: from 0 to 7 years of age, 7 to 14 years of age, and 14 and up (or for schooling purposes, 18 years old).
These cycles of development, occurring every 7 years, have bled into the relationship realm somehow. While I do not argue that human development happens in cycles, I do argue that relationships do not grow in such predictable increments.
The Seven-Or-So-Year Itch
Today, there are many studies dedicated to studying the cycles of a relationship, and what all these studies have found is there appears to be a three-year itch, a four-year itch, a seven-year itch, and a twelve-year itch. All these studies have been separately conducted over the years, and they try to find some witching hour when the relationship turns to dust.
Well how about this bright theory: There is no one-size-fits-all year that makes or breaks a relationship. Sure, there may be trends, but they are not simply based on animal instincts that kick in during a certain year; they are based on relationship milestones, like having children, cohabiting, getting married, and more. So yes, in a way there are trends (or cycles, if you must) in relationships, but they do not happen like clockwork or strike on certain year-markers.
For example, a 2012 study found that couples with young children are four and a half times more likely to file for divorce after three years. But here’s the catch, the three years after having children could happen in the tenth year of marriage, or in the fourth.
And there are still further catches: Trends do not predict the future, they just show what has happened in the past. Statistics are also very craftily compiled and calculated numbers that might include other influencing factors. The bottom line is relationships do not abide by innate biological clocks; humans might (emphasis on might), but not relationships. So can we please stop trying to pin down an expiration date for relationships?