Tag Archives: Helen Fisher

The Seven-Year Itch


Photo Source: http://www.people.com

The latest celebrity news is that actress Keri Russell and husband Shane Deary are separated after seven years of marriage. Famous celebrity divorces such as Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony and Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston also ended their union after seven years. Similarly, my ex-husband and I and other once married friends also ended their marriage after seven years. Where many of those friends who did end their seven-year marriage have since re-married. This separation after seven years of matrimony has been termed the Seven-Year Itch. According to the U.S. Census Bureau this is the time when a divorce is more likely to happen. There was a 1955 movie titled the Seven-Year Itch, where the husband left to pursue love interest character played by Marilyn Monroe. The theory according to Psychology Today is that many couples have successfully raised one or two children through the risky infancy years and realize they don’t want to be around each other anymore, or else they haven’t had children at all and decide it’s time to look for another potential mate. For instance in Brad Pitt’s case, didn’t he successfully have a full brood of children with Angelina Jolie, subsequent to his divorce with Jennifer Aniston?

In the late 1980s, anthropologist Helen Fisher gathered divorce data from 58 different human societies around the globe and discovered that when married couples divorce, they tend to do it around the fourth year of their marriage, typically after having had a single child. One interpretation of this discovery is that many couples that end up divorcing remain married at least the minimum amount of time necessary to successfully raise one child together. Fisher took this idea a step further, however, and speculated that humans might have a predisposition to be serial monogamists, which means that people are socially bonded to one partner at a time but don’t stick to the same partner their whole life; they go from one partner to another, in succession. According to Fisher, humans are likely to switch partners every four years, after having a child. In reality, there is no strong evidence that humans are serial monogamists. Many couples are congratulated once they pass the five-year mark of marriage, as the likelihood of divorce is minimized. But there is an uptick in divorces and separations around the seven-year mark. Likely in marriages with more than one child or no children, when the couple is still in the child-bearing stage or both financially independent.

Now add a second child, for instance in Keri Russell’s case, there is the commitment to stay together because now there is a new addition. Or let’s say your children are only two or three years apart, the same commitment is to stay for the third child.  Now as the brood increases, the likelihood of separation diminishes. So while, there are key differences in interests and there is the desire to move on, you tend to stay to raise the child together.  However, for those that have had more than one child within the first five years of marriage and there is considerable differences in your wants, you reflect on the experiences of your child-rearing successes on your first child. You realize that with the second and third, maybe this can be just as successful but yet each other can pursue their own interests if materially different from your mate. The pure intentions on pressing on with your marriage for the benefit of the new addition become masked with your own self desires and unhappiness. The romance is gone or maybe each other were not as in love as they thought they were in the beginning. The two grow apart and possibly realize that staying to raise the children does not make sense anymore. Co-parenting with separate lives is becoming increasingly popular and there is more evidence that the method is successful. Yes, most of us want a significant other to grow old with, but what if you realize that once the children are grown, you may not want to spend your later years with your spouse? So should you wait like many of our parents did, get a divorce when the children are grown. Or raise your success rate in possibly meeting someone anew when your youthful appearances and energy is still thriving.

In my case, I could say my marriage was broken by year four. I knew there were key differences in our desires in life and needs from each other, but for my son’s sake and subsequent pregnancy of my daughter, we did our best to make it work. Maybe it was a key difference in our desires for a larger family and/or certain needs from each other that remained unfulfilled. Whatever it was, we both knew after seven years of marriage, those adjustments were not going to happen. So we both or maybe one of us just had that itch we could not continue as status quo any longer. Despite the sake of our kids, after they were grown we knew our desires in life were heading in two opposite directions. Our steps to achieve a blissful life were contradictory. Do you stay constrained for the benefit of the kids or find a way to achieve our own bliss yet be great parents to our children?

Marriage has its ebbs and flows, but sometimes the qualities you want in a mate change as you mature. Maybe you seek stability versus the rush of volatility you initially loved. Maybe you need attention versus solidarity. Your aggressive personality in controlling how your life flows conflicts with your mate’s passive nature of waiting for life to happen. Your love for family traditions and exposing your children to all of the colorful developmental programs is in opposition of your mate’s style of letting the children discover life on its own without any supplemental initiatives. Or maybe he or she loathes playing and attending children’s events while you thrive and relish in the experiences. Maybe you seek a best friend in your partner that includes you in his life’s pursuits and interests and not someone who segregated his life from you and see you only as the mother and caregiver of the family. Whatever it is, after seven year’s that initial irritation becomes an uncontrollable itch that the only way to remedy the itch is to permanently remove the rash as opposed to keep patching it up with bandages, rubbing alcohol and ointment. As both parties are not willing to amend and cure the cause of irritation. Alas. the Seven-Year Itch equals marriage dissolution.