How to beat a relationship's notorious "seven year itch"

I'd known my partner for five years as a friend and colleague before our relationship took a turn for the sexual.

Well, it was more an ignition and an explosion than a turn, to be honest. (If you're reading this, it has been approved for publication by my partner, so don't worry that the poor woman is being exploited by me for salacious content).

In those heady times, people couldn't stand too near, lest they be singed by the rays of desire and lust that sizzled almost visibly between us. I remember a friend drawing an imaginary love heart over our heads because she could "almost see it" there.

Not living together, we'd part with embarrassing teenage longing, like Romeo and Juliet, doomed to never love again. We'd text down the hours until we saw each other again, and our joy at reunion more than often lead to the bedroom. Or kitchen. Or couch. Or shower.

The limerence effect

To be honest, as one has to be to make these things authentic, it was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. We couldn't believe we'd found such a "perfect fit", as we'd call it, curled in each others' arms late at night.

To this day, I swear I can detect a pheremonal attraction when I smell her hair – at some prehistoric-brain level, a big lever labelled "Woman!" is pulled every time.

It is undeniable we experienced "limerence" that mad, chemical-driven state, driven by irresistible, obsessive thoughts - the whole can't eat/can't sleep/giddy butterflies/dreamy lust business.

But even the most dedicated lovers can't sustain jumping on each other in a frenzy of desire every time we meet after a hard working day. That would just be unsustainable and, frankly, annoying.

Septennial cycles

The Seven Year Itch (7YI), which refers to both the 1955 Marilyn Monroe movie, and the idea that relationships that start out smoking hot can sizzle out in seven years, is an annoying little term. It's real.


Divorce rates show relationships go into a decline at about year four, then hit a "divorce or adapt" crisis at seven years.

My relationship, I can report, is now in its seventh year.

Both people we all know, and the world of celebrity, shows the 7YI at work, with Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan-Tatum's making it to an admirable nine years before being the latest to fall victim.

Having been around long enough to experience the arc of long-term love, I was determined that this time we'd keep the passion alive, along with the intimacy and respect that has grown between us.

Work work work work

About three years in, I sent my poor partner links to videos by my favourite sex expert, Esther Perel, on keeping desire alive in long-term relationships.

I'm like our own relationship counsellor, harassing her on how she's feeling about us, is she getting bored, is she satisfied? Does she still think I'm hot? (I'm, very sexily, quite needy as well). I'm surprised she hasn't left me. I'm a real life Dr Phil.

Thing is, it works, working on your relationship does.

Know the enemy

Perel argues intimacy is the natural enemy of desire. Our warm comfort at home has almost nothing to do with the passionate need for the "other", for adventure, for the unknown, which drove all of us together in the first place.

My partner and I have come through a hysterectomy and a number of surgeries for endometriosis over the years, so setting the bed on fire was hardly a priority, many a time over the years.

(March was endometriosis awareness month and women around the world marched for awareness of this horrible disease.).

If you want to avoid becoming a dreaded 7YI statistic, there's a few simple things you can do.

  1. Be aware it happens, then you can see it coming. Complacency will see you in the divorce courts.
  2. Don't let life crush your relationship. Push back, giving yourselves time among the chaos to remember why you love each other.
  3. Be honest and communicate openly. If your needs aren't being met and you keep your mouth shut, that's your fault.
  4. Be brave enough to put your loved one in the "other" zone – desire her. Flirt with each other. The important thing is to bring your partner along on your sexy fun time and she'll take you on hers.

Over time, the moment might not overtake you spontaneously as often as it did, but you can make the moment happen together, and it'll be just as good.

Natural evolution

Without drifting into areas that may be censored, our relationship has become something very different from those early x–rated days. Our respect, friendship and companionship is now the most important thing. It's glued together by an attraction that may not play out as often as before, but is still wonderfully carnal when we're able to find each other.

I don't feel a need to stray, even after seven years, because I know any itch I have can be well and truly scratched at home.

The nasty "7YI" can only be avoided by covering your skin with dollops of each other, on a regular basis.

With more than 25 years in Australian media, Phil Barker has edited NW and Woman's Day magazines, and published such titles as Vogue, GQ, Delicious, InsideOut and Donna Hay. He is a consultant creative director and communications specialist, currently writing a book on "man stuff" for publisher Allen & Unwin. He is a regular commentator on the lives and style of Australian men.

Follow Phil Barker on Twitter

Did you find your own solution to the "7YI"? Share your experiences in the comments section below.