Marriage is a beautiful thing, a profound and meaningful experience on so many levels. It’s also incredibly difficult to navigate from time to time. In married life, we face a constantly changing interplay of hopes and expectations, personal growth, shifting priorities, disappointments, communication styles, financial issues, conflict, and many responsibilities.
All married couples begin with the desire for a happy marriage, and they do their best to plan for a healthy marriage. But the honeymoon period eventually fades and the weight of “real life” has a way of testing us in ways we didn’t see coming. These seasons of greater conflict, along with increased confusion and struggle, can, either strengthen us, leading eventually to greater relationship satisfaction, or it can wear us down and increase our risk of divorce.
Divorce rates seem to climb during specific seasons of married life, as these years often signal common changes within our relationship. Friction in marriages for American couples and for others across the world often builds over time and ignites more fiercely during certain periods and in specific years. It’s far from an exact science, and we shouldn’t give in to superstition or fear about specific years or simply believe we’ll face the same fate as other individuals. Our hope in looking at these ideas is simply to open a discussion about some of the common struggles faced by those building relationships and fighting for a better life with each other.
It’s important to focus on the positive while keeping reality firmly in sight. Staying committed to developing intimacy and communication, along with accessing the guidance of an experienced family therapist or marriage counselor, can help you and your spouse ease through the seven-year itch, decrease your chances of divorce, and continue to grow as individuals and as a couple. Let’s look now at a few of the most difficult years that commonly affect married couples everywhere.
It may seem strange to mention the first year, since most of us think of this season as a time of bliss and discovery. While this is true, year one can also be a trying time for many couples. It is a year of great change. During the first year, spouses have to acclimatize to one another, get used to each other’s habits and styles, and learn how to adjust to living with someone else full-time.
You may have to negotiate things like cleaning habits and chores, the difference in sleeping times, the way each of you keeps a schedule, and how you organize your daily activities. Common struggles include financial differences, fitting in with a new family, unrealistic expectations, and personal habits you didn’t see while you were still dating.
A successful first year requires not only passion but patience, an open mind, a willingness to adapt and learn, and a desire to build something new together. It’s important to remember that while this new endeavor is an exciting one, there will be challenges even during this first flush.
The fabled 7-year itch may often be a source of humor among friends, but to those walking through it, it’s no joke. It may not be seven. For some couples, it’s year 5 or 6, and for others it’s 8. But around this time, couples, even those in obviously healthy relationships, often experience a kind of personal crisis where they start to question much of what they’d come to expect from their relationship.
Some reasons why number 7 becomes a struggle include:
Diminished Sex Life (Lack of Passion)
Ah, those days of sex anytime, anywhere, at the drop of a hat were splendid, right? So, why don’t they last? Of course, couples can find ways to keep their passion alive year after year. Yet, it is natural to experience a lull in attraction or sexual interest after several years.
You may be bored with the same sexual habits and activities, tired of the routine, too frustrated with each other to feel comfortable enough for sex or for several other reasons.
Sexual companionship and fulfillment are incredibly important and it always breaks our heart when we realize things simply aren’t what they used to be. Fortunately, things don’t have to remain stagnant. You can work with a licensed counselor and sex therapist who can help you both develop new ways to appreciate one another, develop your communication and listening skills, broaden your sexual experiences, and deepen your intimacy.
Of course, exhaustion can wear us down at any stage in our relationship. But five to seven years is a common season for this to really take hold. Careers take a lot of time, energy, and attention. By this time, many couples are raising children. And for those with young ones, you know how much effort and energy that can burn up. Between work and kids, you often have very little fuel remaining in the tank at the end of the day. When this happens, it’s easy to lose yourself in television or magazines, talking on the phone with friends, or killing time online.
There are ways to combat exhaustion through better time management, asking for more help from friends or family, bringing in service-based contractors for things like housekeeping, babysitting, repairs, errands, shopping, and other needs, and choosing to not overdo the time you spend at work. You can also focus on relaxing family activities, weekend vacations for just the two of you, and focusing on your emotional and spiritual well-being with things like prayer, community support, and meditation.
This sounds terrible, but it happens to all of us. Human beings like variety and new experiences. Even in the most exciting and varied marriages, patterns still emerge, habits take over, we go on auto-pilot, and find things that were once engaging, to be repetitious and worn out.
Routine and boredom are an inevitable part of life. As life gets more complex with raising kids, accelerated careers, and other responsibilities, we come to rely on certain habits to maintain a sense of equilibrium and control. By itself, this isn’t a bad thing. But if we rely too much on repetition, we run the risk of dousing the fires of passion and love, and losing our intimacy to the everyday activities of life.
You can make choices to honor both, to establish habits that keep your lives in balance while pursuing new activities, more physical intimacy, deeper conversation, and unique ways to display love for one another. Counselors, books, and mentors with years of successful, happy marriages behind them are all great places to go.
As time goes on, we often increase our financial burden and level of responsibility. By this time, many couples have mortgages and car loans, continued student debt, business loans, family members in need of support, credit card debt, medical costs, and certainly the growing financial commitment to one’s children. Their well-being, increased activities, education, and experiences take a considerable financial promise.
Good financial planning and investment, along with doing your best to avoid unnecessary and excessive debt, are great places to start. Still, all long-term relationships will experience seasons of heightened financial strain. Money is cited as one of the top reasons couples argue or get divorced. Our financial health has a direct impact on every other area of life.
Financial worries will test your loyalty and love, but they don’t have to break you. Building a foundation of transparency with money, accountability with spending, wise investment strategy, thorough planning and saving for the more difficult seasons, and some great counsel from experienced financial planners, can go a long way toward helping you and your spouse decrease the usual stress and tension around matters of money.
Number ten carries many similarities with seven, but if you’ve left these conflicts unresolved, it’s likely they’ve grown since year seven or much earlier, and by year ten, have taken on what seems an insurmountable stature.
By ten, many of the issues you faced in earlier seasons have moved beyond persistent conflict into apathy. This is even more dangerous for a couple. Conflict can be resolved and arguments at least are a kind of communication. Fighting is evidence that you both still care about the relationship. Once a pervasive apathy takes over, crawling your way out of the hole is a much greater climb.
Often, by the time we make it to ten years, we’ve lost our ability to laugh and play with one another, which is so important for the health of a couple and a family. You may wonder if you’ve missed out on certain opportunities and goals. You’re less tolerant of each other, spend little time just being together unless it’s about kids or marriage responsibilities, and you quit celebrating important moments.
Relationship experts know how to guide couples through these struggles, but the real difference comes when both of you decide to do the work, both together and as individuals. No amount of counseling will do if neither of you choose every day to honor and respect each other, to listen attentively and work on building greater understanding, to express your thoughts, needs, and hopes, and to see the potential for happiness and satisfaction that your relationship still holds.
These certainly aren’t the only difficult years. Every marriage is different. Each couple must navigate their own path. But it’s a good idea to understand where common struggles are more likely to occur, not so you can be afraid or overcompensate during these times, but to build a stronger relationship in advance, with each passing day, so you can successfully move through difficult seasons with greater ease and wisdom.
You can partner with trusted family members and marriage counselors, professional conflict mediators, and older couples with years of marriage experience under their belt. Do your best to move away from emotional repression and apathy toward engagement, listening, affirmation, and a focus on keeping things light when they want to get too heavy.
We want everyone to experience happy relationships and a beautiful family life. Yet, if divorce or custody issues arise, be sure to connect with an excellent family law firm to help you navigate this season with confidence and assurance.
Torrone Law helps individuals, and families, find resolution and peace of mind in matters of divorce, custody, and adoption, with experienced, caring legal representation and sound advice. Connect with us today to learn more and find the assurance you deserve.
To learn more about marriage and conflict, see our frequently asked questions below.
Are some years more difficult than others in marriage?
It isn’t a guarantee. Every couple is unique, and some marriages seem to grow and flourish even more with each passing year. Still, there are common years when many couples face greater difficulty, because of unresolved conflict, exhaustion, diminished affection and intimacy, and unmet expectations.
Some of these years include years 1, 5,7, and 10.
What are some of the biggest reasons marriages become difficult?
Common sources of conflict arise from unrealistic and unmet expectations, money problems and debt, sexual disappointment, the stress of work or raising children, family pressures, too much routine and habit and not enough spontaneity, extramarital affairs, changing priorities, and much more.
How can I avoid the pitfalls of these difficult seasons?
While all relationships experience a fair share of struggle, you can dedicate yourselves early on to building deeper intimacy and respect by sharpening your listening and sharing skills, choosing to laugh, play, and celebrate more, increase your accountability and transparency, and partner with counselors and friends to help you make the most of your marriage.