The Relationship Problem You Likely Have, Based On The Number Of Years You've Been Married

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Couple having a disagreement

How long have you been married? Determining the age of your marriage, based on which wedding anniversary you're celebrating, can help predict what kind of relationship problems you're currently experiencing with your spouse — and teach you how to save your marriage from them, too. Just as there is a list of traditional anniversary gifts by year, there is some commonality to the types of conflict marriages face when they reach certain milestones. Perhaps it has to do with the different work you do in your lives at different ages. Perhaps it has to do with the model your parents showed you of what a marriage was like. Or perhaps it is just what happens to a relationship as it ages.

Seeing this list may make you feel pessimistic about your chances of making it through the gauntlet of fights that come along with married life. However, knowing what is “normal” or “usual” can give you a tremendous amount of control and a feeling of empowerment.

Once you're aware of these major milestone fights, you and your spouse can prepare your marriage to survive them. You might even find a way to ward them off entirely, thanks to this marriage advice! Here are the 5 most common relationship problems spouses are most likely to run into, based on milestone wedding anniversaries by year.

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The relationship problem you're most likely having, based on the number of years you've been married:

1. The 2nd-anniversary fight

Doubt is your biggest issue. If you and your spouse are around your second anniversary, you may be doubting your choice of a partner. You've just gone through the very difficult adjustment of becoming a “wife” or a “husband,” and you're looking at your partner with a new perspective.

What you need has become clearer over the past few years, and you're able to verbalize these needs in clearer ways. The work for you now is to talk through these needs and look for creative ways of getting them met.

2. The 7th-anniversary fight

A wandering eye may trouble your marriage. Many couples indeed experience a “seven-year itch” around their seventh wedding anniversary, which is also known as the "affair anniversary." There are many theories as to why seven is the magic number for a wandering eye — one idea is that this would be when your child (perhaps 6-7 years old) is becoming independent and doesn't need the caveman protection of a warrior in the house anymore.

Your seventh anniversary is a time to watch for the appearance of your seeds of disinterest and work on reconnecting both emotionally and intimately with your partner.



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3. The 10th-anniversary fight

You don't feel like you're being appreciated. This is usually a blow-up over feeling unappreciated and invisible. You've had ten years of hard work around building careers, houses, families, and communities together. A tenth wedding anniversary is a natural time to pause, look around, and feel a rush of resentment if there hasn't been a pattern of gratitude, appreciation, or acknowledgment of sacrifice. In a marriage, it is not usually both partners that feel this build-up or blow-up — it tends to just be one person. This can be confusing.

The work with your tenth anniversary is to add gratitude or acknowledgments for daily gifts, chores, jobs, or even how well someone is taking care of themselves. Start your sentences with “I notice …” and end with “Thank you.”

4. The 15th-anniversary fight

Apathy is undermining everything you've worked to build. The fifteenth-anniversary fight is not a fight at all. After 14-17 years of marriage, many couples report that the main emotion in their relationship is apathy. You still love one another, but find you can’t remember what connected you early in the marriage. You feel disconnected and not particularly interested in reconnecting.

These are tough years in a marriage, and the work is to find small ways to connect. For some couples, you'll need to recall and reenact inside jokes, and for others, you'll need to find new ways to connect. For many, the work is just to survive this time of marriage knowing that a deeper intimacy is coming.



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5. The 20th-anniversary fight

You're probably wondering what to do. The twentieth or twenty-fifth-anniversary fight is all about free time. There is usually a retirement on the horizon, or a slowing down in one partner’s life. The struggles are around how to reconnect as life is once again changing. There is time for travel and more intimacy, but not everyone wants more intimacy right now. If you're in this stage, you might also be struggling with grief as your parents become ill or pass.

The challenge here is to continue the work you've already put into your relationship: Continue to talk, connect, reconnect, and share your needs. Of course, not all couples go through these specific fights. In sharing this insight, however, perhaps it will inspire conversations and open doors toward greater intimacy within your relationship.

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Ashley Seeger, LCSW, is an experienced couples counselor who specializes in working with couples as they move through life transitions.