The Seven Year Itch

The Seven Year Itch

Is seven years (give or take) the natural
lifespan of a monogamous relationship? 
If we didn’t have social constraints, would most relationships end
gracefully at about seven years?

It seems reasonable.  Studies have found that animals whose
children need more time and attention to rear are more likely to be
monogamous.  In human children, by the
age of six or seven they’re in school full time, so the intense pressure of
caring for them has eased.

As I was driving home tonight I was thinking
about multiples of seven as they relate to children.  At seven, children are in school full
time.  At fourteen, they can take care of
themselves if their parents want to go out for the night.  I know some kids are capable of this a little
earlier than fourteen, but not by much. 
DSS would be knocking at your door if your eleven year old was home
alone too much.  And then the magical
year, twenty-one.  They are officially
adults, and if they’ve gone to college on the four year plan, this is the year
they graduate.  They can vote, they can
drive, and they can apply for their own credit…free at last!! 

I wish I could find a sociologist who’s
either done a study about this or would be interested in conducting such a
study.  Many of my clients are at one of
these milestones, with most of them around twenty or twenty-one years in their
relationships.  Maybe it’s a coincidence
and it’s more their own age (early 40’s), but either way I think it’s a
fascinating study of social culture.

The closest I’ve come to finding such a
study is unfortunately in German, but I have a synopsis.  Sociologist Gerald Mollenhorst created a
study that investigated how the context in which we meet people influences our
social network.  In other words, if you
met your husband at a bar, would he be as attractive as if your sister
introduced you?  Even though this study
was about the context of our social networks, I think the results can be
extrapolated with interesting results.

Mollenhorst conducted a survey of 1007
people ages 18 to 65 years. Seven years later the respondents were
contacted once again and 604 people were interviewed again. They answered a
number of questions relating to the context of how they knew the people in
their network.

The results: personal network sizes remained
stable, but many members of the network were new. Only 30 percent of the
original friends and discussion partners had the same position in a
subject’s network seven years later, and only 48 percent were still part of the
social network.

Left to our own devices, according to this
study, we would naturally turn over our social network by 71% in 14 years. 
This confirms my suspicion that long term monogamy is a social constraint
rather than the natural order or human beings. 
That doesn’t make it right or wrong, but if you’re hanging on to
something because you think you’re supposed to be in it “’til death do you
part”, think again.

On the other hand, one of the really cool
things about being human is that we get to stretch our boundaries.  If we really want to maintain monogamy, we
can.  Whether we choose to stay or go, we
have ample opportunities to learn the lessons we’ve chosen to learn.  Leaving without the lesson is like having
coffee without the caffeine.  If you like
the taste, it’s great, but if you need the jolt, you’d better stick around for