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Why Do So Many Couples Divorce After 8 Years?

The infamous seven-year itch is real. How to avoid becoming a statistic.


KEY POINTS
Statistics show that the average length of first marriages when couples divorce is eight years.
The underlying dynamic is that our needs have changed over time, and the structure we've built no longer fits us. Couples divorce or distract.
The key is paying attention to feelings of restlessness and using them as information to update the relationship contract.
ccording to the census bureau, the average length of first marriages for divorcing couples is 8.2 years, the infamous seven-year-itch. But why seven instead of, say, 11 or 15? Good question. Here’s the thinking.

Adult development moves in roughly seven-year blocks.
It’s a given that we not only change as we move through our adult lives, but as researchers such as Levinson, Vaillant, and Sheehy have found, there’s something about that six–10-year zone: roughly seven years of stability and then two to three years of restlessness and transition before settling into the next stage. Sometimes the focus is on work and career—needing to take that job in Chicago—sometimes about aging and long-term plans, sometimes about working through your childhood and your relationship with parents—but sometimes about your intimate relationship.

In the Beginning
When you first fell in love, you psychologically needed something in your life—to get away from your parents, have stability or a baby, to feel important or cared for. While often never directly talked about, the other person provided this. You unconsciously made a deal: I’ll give you your #1 thing, and you give me mine.

Building a Life
In the first couple of years, you build a life with rules and routines together, so you have stability and do not have to invent your life anew every day: Who takes out the trash, how often does my mother come over for dinner, who initiates sex? Some couples never get through this stage—they argue about lifestyle and expectations and get divorced—but most of us make it.

The Crisis
But five, six, seven, or eight years in, one (or usually both) partner gets restless. The life they've built with its rules and routines is no longer working or fits. Why? Because your partner did a great job filling that Year-one need—you left home, have stability or a baby, felt needed—and now your needs have changed. But you’re stuck in this box of a life you’ve created, and what you often most liked about the other person is now driving you crazy: The solid, steady, grounding one now seems rigid and controlling; the spontaneous, fun-loving one is a bit too dramatic.
Break Out or Distract
This is the seven-year itch. Couples start arguing or pulling away. Someone has an affair. The underlying message is: “This is not working; I’m outta here. starting over,” and they divorce. And two or three years later, they remarry and start the process all over again.

Or instead of arguing, they don’t. They do their best to sidestep all these emotions and distract, focusing on kids—10 soccer games a week, ballet lessons—downshifting from being a couple to only being mom and dad. Or they focus on jobs and careers, working 80 hours a week to get that promotion, or they distract with something else—starting a dog kennel or buying a boat and waterskiing every weekend. If you go the distraction route, like those who divorce, you’re good for maybe another eight years—till the kids turn teenagers and your parenting is winding down, till you get that promotion and are bored or burnt out from your job and heading into your big midlife crisis. The restlessness and feeling trapped in the box of your life rears its head again.

The Challenge
Sounds depressing, but not inevitable. Instead of divorce or distraction, the challenge is to pay attention to that restlessness and those emotions and use them as information, helping you to take stock and see what you need now. Yes, you’ve grown out of the box of a life you’ve created, but you don’t need to start over from scratch or endure. Instead, you want to upgrade the relationship contract from year one. Decide what you each need to change—less heavy lifting and more teamwork, less feeling dismissed and more being heard, less frantic a lifestyle and more a settled one, more intimacy and sex.

And if you need help sorting out what you need, or can’t have these conversations easily on your own, get support from a therapist, a minister, or someone. These are important crossroads in your psychological life. Don’t go down the wrong path.

References

U.S. Census Bureau (2021). Number, timing, and duration of marriages and divorces 2016. Washington, D.C.

Levinson, D. (1986). The seasons of a man's life. New York: Ballantine.

Vaillant, G. (2015). Triumphs of experience. Cambridge, MA: Belknap.

Link:
https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/fixing-families/202304/why-do-so-many-couples-divorce-after-8-years
11 replies
  1. Fateme Kamandi
    Fateme Kamandi says:

    Running away from a problem never solves it and only postpones it, especially in a shared life, the more we ignore each other and keep ourselves busy with everyday life, the more and more problems and annoyances. They also persist and become deeper, so instead of these, we should try to improve our life and keep it stable by talking and creating intimacy and seeking help from a psychologist.

    Reply
  2. Fatemeh noorzadeh
    Fatemeh noorzadeh says:

    Hello Sir ,
    Well this fact is a bit sad but as you mentioned, after years ( specifically after 8 years) people’s beliefs,needs , the way people cope with problems, their priorities and many other things will absolutely change and if we like or dislike it’s a truth. And I think like you that people can handle it and solve the problems instead of giving up and if they can’t do it themselves, therapists are there to help them save their relationships.

    Reply
  3. Mobina Mokhtari
    Mobina Mokhtari says:

    Hello dear master,
    well I completely agree with you , and I think when you love each other I mean the true love , you will try many ways to save your life and relationship so you will come up with many solutions to solve the problems between you and your partner. and as you mentioned , don’t go down the wrong path.

    Reply
  4. sara.samani
    sara.samani says:

    In the beginning, couples are eager to meet each other and do not consider many facts or problems, but after a few years of life and the loss of the initial enthusiasm, in their view, life becomes a boring routine and their eyes see problems. In my opinion, the best The work to prevent divorce is to get to know each other completely before marriage and to go to a counselor to pay attention to their characteristics from another point of view.

    Reply
  5. Maryam .farajkhah
    Maryam .farajkhah says:

    Hi the main reason for the divorce after 8 years is getting to know each other more over the years unfortunately the problems have not been solved by talking and one of the parties is definitely overtired

    Reply
  6. Setare rezaei
    Setare rezaei says:

    It was an interesting article. It is an important issue that human needs have changed over time and many of its behaviors after eight years.

    Reply
  7. Niloofar Khoshdel
    Niloofar Khoshdel says:

    Good time, my dear professor, I am Niloofar Khoshdel from Iranian University Maybe this view of mine is wrong because the natural routine of life has always been repeated throughout history and it seems to be the most appropriate way. But in my view, marriage should be renewed every 7 years, like the period of governments, or canceled in case of crisis. Of course, there is a lot of discussion about this, which unfortunately cannot be written in this space

    Reply
  8. M.nouruzi
    M.nouruzi says:

    Hello Dear professor
    Thanks for sharing this article
    In my opinion couples should speak more and find ways to grow with each other

    Your sincerely

    Reply
  9. kimia aghabeygi
    kimia aghabeygi says:

    Hello Professor, I am Kimia and I read this article
    In my opinion, the main reason couples divorce after 8 years is that they don’t talk to each other. It’s absolutely true that my needs change throughout the year, but i can explain to my husband what I need now.
    The second reason for divorce is not caring about each other and being busy with children and life problems.

    Reply

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