For some couples, the 7 year itch is real. And its HARD. But there is hope! Here are a handful of helpful and actionable ways to start improving your marriage right now.
Since we recently celebrated our 8th anniversary, I am totally qualified to write this. I, of course, assumed that the 7 year itch wasn’t really real, and if it was, I was sure it would just happen to “other people.”
Well, I suppose am an “other person” to someone else, because years 6-7 were definitely our hardest. Like, “cry every day for weeks straight” hard. To say it was a stressful time in our lives is an understatement.
But somewhere in year 7, after hitting rock bottom, a switch flipped and I had sudden clarity. I wrote an email to my husband (that I never sent), shared it with my therapist and started climbing back out of the hole we’d dug for ourselves.
Here is what I learned the hard way.
How to survive the 7 year itch
1. Realize you can’t change anyone but yourself.
This is a major life lesson for me. One that I would have never learned, if it weren’t for my husband. And it took almost 8 years of him constantly trying to teach it to me before it finally sunk in.
Think of all the things that bug you about your husband/relationship. Now, realize that you can’t force him to change any of those things.
And really, they aren’t his problem. If you have a problem with it, its YOUR problem. So your only choice is to figure out how to live with it.
This isn’t to say that people can’t change. They totally can. On their own. You can’t MAKE
anyone change. Kids included. The sooner you understand that, the better.
You can, however motivate people to change. With your example, positive encouragement, offering insight, etc. But even then, if you’re focused too hard on trying to “motivate” your spouse to change, you’re still going to be focused on the thing that you want to change, and you’ll still be driving yourself crazy. Let him know (nicely) and then let it go.
2. Get out of the victim mentality.
You will drown if you are focusing on yourself. Remember that your husband has just as many things he could be upset about that you do. There’s two sides to every story. You’re not trying harder than he is, you’re not suffering more than he is. You don’t have it worse than anyone else. So stop thinking that way!
3. Get equally yoked.
This is related to #2, but if you’re working like a slave from dawn to dusk, and your husband watches ESPN for four hours when he gets home from work while you’re feeling like the martyr, you’re going to be miserable. And since you can’t change him (see #1), you are going to have to figure out another way to address this problem. Either cut back on what you’re doing, or have an adult conversation about divvying up your responsibilities.
For us, we really became equally yoked when I went back to work 2 days a week. I work 12 hour shifts, so on my work days, my husband gets a heavy dose of solo parenting. Whenever I am feeling like the victim (#2), and dwelling on how I’m so sick of whiny kids, I can remind myself that I have X number of hours til I get to escape to work and my husband will get the whiners. We both work, and we both parent. It has been really good for us.
I would guess in most relationships, your spouse is doing enough. Sometimes you just have to look a little harder to see it. This is where it helps to be focused on things you’re grateful for (see #7).
4. Get some therapy and then get out.
I fully believe in therapy. Especially when you’re falling down into that pit. Its great to have someone listen to you, and help you talk through things. A neutral party to vent to. The insights and encouragement are wonderful.
But, I also think that therapy should be temporary. After you’ve gotten everything off your chest, make a plan and get to it. I think that extended therapy can make you continue to dwell on the problems and analyze them and theorize and on and on and on. At some point, you need to just make a plan and move on.
5. Have regular date nights.
This one is simple, but important. And easier said than done. Because life is busy! Its good to get away from the kids and try to talk about non-kid-related things. Its good for me to get dressed up, just for my husband. And lets be honest, it just good to get out of the house.
For us, we decided to do date night every other weekend. And mix it up a bit, try new restaurants, do new things. Adventures promote bonding.
6. Choose to laugh.
My husband is a bit of a tease. He likes to answer my questions in …unexpected ways. If he tries his antics while I’m stressed or fragile, I am likely to get annoyed, offended or take it personal. But if I can stop myself in that split second between stimulus and response, and choose to laugh instead of crying/yelling, we are much better off. Laughing immediately diffuses any situation.
On a related note, keep your mood up. Find things to laugh about throughout the day. Watch some funny Youtube clips, watch some Jimmy Fallon, scroll through some memes. It feels so good to laugh!
7. Focus on your spouse’s good qualities.
This one is hard to do when you’re annoyed with your spouse, but it is powerful. When I was at rock-bottom, I knew I needed to do something to help me focus on my husband’s good qualities, because he really is great, but I just forget it sometimes. I decided to email or text my husband a little something everyday.
Sometimes it was telling him something I loved about him, sometimes it was thanking him for something he does for us, sometimes it was reminiscing on some of our good times. This made a huge difference! I doubt that it did much for him (he’s not the warm-fuzzy type that appreciates this type of stuff), but it did a LOT for me. I would think about it during the day and try to come up with something new.
I consciously focused on the good, which naturally pushed out the bad.
8. Comparison is the thief of happiness.
Stop comparing your marriage to other people’s marriages. Stop comparing your husband to your friend’s husband. Stop comparing your husband to “Instagram husbands”. Stop comparing your husband to characters in books and movies. Just stop.
Your “whole picture” is never going to measure up to their “highlight reel.” You are only giving yourself ammo to justify your frustrations. You married your husband for a reason, and you’ll never know the full story of the other guys. The grass will always be greener on the other side, so stop looking at it. Water your own grass.
9. Make a plan for improvement.
Pick a handful of things to work on. Things that you think will have the biggest impact. Make some goals, set aside some time. Make a plan.
Decide right now to improve your marriage and increase your happiness.
Marriage can be hard, but we all know our families are worth it. You can be as in love with your husband as you were on the day you married him. Just takes a little more effort now. 🙂
05/2018 update: I freshened up this 7 year itch post and fixed some formatting issues. It was fun to re-read this post and see how at almost 13 years of marriage, these tips still apply and are still helpful. I would add one more tip: clean up your thoughts. I started listening to Jody Moore’s podcast, Better than Happy (formerly Bold New Mom). I’ve learned how to take control of my thoughts, which leads to more positive feelings and a healthier perspective. My marriage, friendships, parenting and everyday life has improved so much since I started listening and understanding her concepts.