In case you’ve never heard of the seven-year itch or it’s 2.0 version, here’s an example:
“When we were dating and first married before we had children, my wife respected me, thought I was smart and thought I was funny. Since we have had children, she treats me like I’m stupid, makes me feel that I do most things wrong. And I’m not funny anymore… I’m silly. I am faithful to her, don’t have a wandering eye, but when I’m away on a business trip with colleagues, associates or clients and a woman thinks I’m smart, funny and treats me the way my wife used to, I confess that my imagination riddles me with temptation and fantasies that I haven’t given into yet.”
Once upon a time before Gen X, Y or Z will even be aware of, there was a play, a movie (featuring Marilyn Monroe and her famous blown-up dress scene) and something that would have been a meme before memes existed called the “seven-year itch.” It referred to the belief that romantic love often leaves a relationship after seven years and often coincides with the arrival of children.
What I often see happen in my line of work is that when a wife, especially now a working wife, becomes a mother, the emotional bond, sense of responsibility and worries and anxieties related to her child can often drown out and — in more than a few occasions — nullify her emotional connection to her husband. A distant second tends to be her job (that used to feel like a career). Hubby may come last. In this case, he exists to be financially supportive and in a time of both parents working, expected to be as focused on his child as his wife is.
It is understandable that many women know what being a woman is when she gives birth to a child much more than when she loves a husband or her career. Anything that gets in the way of her being a mother, she tries to downplay. This can include a young mother who is exhausted and her child is not sleeping, not eating, or launching into crying tirades and she needs to displace and offload the anger she feels towards her child, rather than deal with her guilt and shame when she is at her wit’s end with her child.
To compound this, a working woman may not feel allowed to express her immense joy at being a mother at work, even as her male colleagues who close seven-figure deals or male founders who develop a breakthrough in their IP can high-five everyone. In fact, working mothers often have to fake enthusiasm so as not to be “Debbie downers” to the jubilant men just described, lest they seem lacking in dedication to work.
Having to suppress natural maternal feelings at work can also cause frustration, which some may displace toward their spouse. I covered this recently in a prior article.
Alternatively, from my professional experience, a man becomes a man when he also becomes a father in the sense of needing to support his family. He may feel that anything that gets in the way of his being able to do that attacks his manhood. Unfortunately in a tense, overly exhausting world, some mothers may not always have the emotional capacity to empathize with their husbands. Instead, they might take it for granted and lash out.
One thing to keep in mind that can prevent this from happening and is a great principle to follow in life: Be as proactive as possible and do your best to avoid becoming reactive, which nearly always makes any bad situation worse.
To prevent the seven-year itch 2.0, a couple should schedule—not reactively, but proactively—a dinner at least once a month where each person calmly airs their frustrations, upsets, disappointments and hurts from the prior month. A good catalyst for such a conversation would be for either partner to bring up anything that has caused them to stop liking the other and not look forward to seeing them.
If either partner doesn’t look forward to seeing the other, they have a conflict and a problem that needs to be talked through. This would also be a great opportunity to sincerely apologize vs. becoming defensive and argumentative. Finally, each person should also be certain to express what they have appreciated about the other in the last week.
Marriages don’t end when couples stop loving each other. They end when they stop liking and feeling liked by each other, and over time that can harden into what relationship guru John Gottman refers to as “sulfuric acid for love,” and that is contempt.