"I am not in love anymore." "I am bored with him/her." I don't think I can do this "monogamy thing."
Over the past several months, I have experienced an exponential increase in the number of people who are questioning their ability to stay monogamous in their marriage. Those comments among others, are par for the course. It also comes as no surprise that many of these people are having affairs, which supports the research that 50% of women and 60% of men will have an affair in their lifetime. Although an extra marital affair often "muckys" up the water and prevents a person from deciding whether to stay or go, many affairs continue.
Truth be told, in my 11 years of being in private practice, helping couples work through the challenges that infidelity brings isn't new territory for me. However, what has changed more recently for me and really captured my attention is the number of people who are struggling in their marriage after three years. That's been a surprise for me. It seems that the proverbial seven year itch has now become the three year itch. Several blogs have alluded to this including The Three Year Itch and Bye Bye Seven Year Itch. What happened?
As a couple traverses through the stages of love and after a couple of years of being married, the rose colored glasses have been replaced by glasses that are well, no longer rose colored. This is often where disillusionment sets in. We begin to take our partner for granted. We have settled into a routine and this can make us feel bored or unsatisfied. The reality of who our spouse or partner is or is not, takes shape. Some of the excitement has waned. The sex often decreases. The novelty has worn off. Some question their decision and look to rewrite their narrative. Did they miss something while dating? Is this all there is? They wonder if they made a mistake. Did they settle? Are they really fit to be monogamous and just be with this one person for the rest of their life?
A sign of the times?
It seems that the three-year itch is magnified by both the media's exaggerated portrayal of what a relationship should look like as well as an onslaught of books and blogs about the war against monogamy (that we are not wired for monogamy). We have created a culture that is saturated by instant gratification. "I want what they have. Now." People have an expectation that life is how it appears on television. It isn't. They have an expectation that their relationship will always be fun filled, sexually driven, and exciting. It will not. They believe their relationship should be like it was in the first couple of years of a relationship and that "being together will be enough." It will not. They believe that the minutia of day to day life— along with the "business" of a marriage: finances/bills, kids, jobs what have you— are unavoidable. They are not. They also believe that everyone else is having better and more exciting sex. Trust me, they are not. These misguided expectations become a fantasy that no healthy relationship can compete with.
What to do before you walk away? Find a way to not "scratch that itch" and invest some quality time in figuring out the real reasons why your marriage is not working before you make that final decision. Every relationship is different. Personally, I have seen couples struggle in their marriage regardless of the number of years they have been together. The focus should be on having a conversation about the current problems and making that conversation the priority and learning to put the relationship first. Read about ways that healthy couples are making it work.
What do you think about the three year itch? Have you experienced it and if so, how did you cope?
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