Has the Three Year Itch Become the New Seven Year Itch?

young couple in conflict

“I am not in love anymore.” “I am bored with him/her.” I don’t think I can do this “monogamy thing.”

Over the past several months,  I have experienced an exponential increase in the number of people who are questioning their ability to stay monogamous in their marriage. Those comments among others, are par for the course. It also comes as no surprise that many of these people are having affairs which supports the research that 50% of women and 60% of men will have an affair in their lifetime. Although an extra marital affair often “muckys” up the water and prevents a person from deciding whether to stay or go, many affairs continue.

Truth be told, in my 11 years of being in private practice, helping couples work through the challenges that infidelity brings isn’t new territory for me. However, what has changed more recently for me and really captured my attention is the number of people who are struggling in their marriage after three years. That’s been a surprise for me. It seems that the proverbial seven year itch has now become the three year itch. Several blogs have alluded to this is including The Three Year Itch and Bye Bye Seven Year Itch. What happened?

As a couple traverses through the stages of love and after a couple of years of being married, the rose colored glasses have been replaced by glasses that are well, no longer rose colored. This is often where disillusionment sets in. We begin to take our partner for granted. We have settled into a routine and this can make us feel bored or unsatisfied. The reality of who our spouse or partner is or is not, takes shape.  Some of the excitement has waned. The sex often decreases. The novelty has worn off. Some question their decision and look to rewrite their narrative. Did they miss something while dating? Is this all there is? They wonder if they made a mistake. Did they settle? Are they really fit to be monogamous and just be with this one person for the rest of their life?

A sign of the times?

It seems that the three year itch is magnified by both the media’s exaggerated portrayal of what a relationship should look like as well as an onslaught of books and blogs about the war against monogamy (that we are not wired for monogamy). We have created a culture that is saturated by instant gratification. “I want what they have.” Now. People have an expectation that life is how it appears on television. It isn’t. They have an expectation that their relationship will always be fun filled, sexually driven, and exciting. It will not. They believe their relationship should be like it was in the first couple of years of a relationship and that “being together will be enough.” It will not. That the minutia of day to day life along with the “business” of a marriage – finances/bills, kids, jobs what have you – are unavoidable. They are not. And that everyone else is having better and more exciting sex. Trust me, they are not. These misguided expectations become a fantasy that no healthy relationship can compete with.

What to do before you walk away? Find a way to not “scratch that itch” and invest some quality time in figuring out the real reasons why your marriage is not working before you make that final decision. Every relationship is different. Personally, I have seen couples struggle in their marriage regardless of the number of years they have been together. The focus should be on having a conversation about the current problems and making that conversation the priority and learning to put the relationship first. Read about ways that healthy couples are making it work.

What do you think about the three year itch?

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Set Yourself Free From Toxic Relationships

young sporty woman runing and jumping on meadow

Most of us can admit to remaining in a toxic relationship well beyond its expiration date. Few of us get out unscathed in life in that department. We often remain in these relationships for many reasons, which are rarely any good. Until we don’t. We eventually find that yes, we can see the trees beyond the forest and yes, we are able to see the relationship for what it is and more importantly for what it isn’t. 

In writing this blog, I was reminded of two previous toxic relationships that overlapped in time, which feel like a lifetime ago for me  - a friendship and a marriage. The friendship started when we bonded over intense doctoral demands and for each of us, an impending divorce. However, the friendship turned toxic when I was able to see the truth in her personality and how she treated others – condescending and often with a self righteous attitude. The opposite of my value system. As I slowly came out of my “divorce fog” as I refer to it, I quickly ended our friendship and moved on from my divorce. I learned a valuable lesson in both of these experiences.

Introspection and distance provides invaluable clarity.

5 Signs You’re in a Toxic Relationship

As I was reading up on this popular topic, I came across a blog, 5 Signs You’re in a Toxic Relationship, by Yvette Bowlin, who eloquently summed up what it means to be in a toxic relationship. “Toxic” doesn’t only entail obvious damage like physical abuse, stealing, or name-calling. It also represents all the internal turmoil that results from an unhealthy relationship.”

Not only could I relate to many of these things, but felt compelled to share some of the things I have learned along the way not only from my own personal experiences but from those people whom I help.

1. It seems like you can’t do anything right.

The other person constantly puts you down as not good enough. They mock your personality, and you feel ashamed most of the time. You only feel pardoned when you take on the traits of the person doing the condemning or judging. Belittling makes you feel less than and takes away your power and inner strength.

When you are in agreement with the other person, the relationship is going well. When you disagree, relationship strife bubbles to the top. The relationship becomes uncomfortable.

Ask yourself, “Do you like this person?” “Are they good for you?” “Do they bring out the good in you?” “Do you find that you become more negative while in their presence?” “What are some of the feelings that you experience when around them?” Is there more criticism than compassion?” The answers to these questions are important and telling!

2. Everything is about them and never about you. 

You have feelings, too, but the other person won’t hear them.You’re unable to have a two-sided conversation where your opinion is heard, considered and respected. Instead of acknowledging your feelings, they battle with you until they get the last word.

The toxic person seldom, if ever, asks about you and the conversation is one sided. If you do share, its momentary and they find a way to quickly return the conversation back to them.

3.  You find yourself unable to enjoy good moments with this person.

Every day brings another challenge. It seems as though they are always raising gripes about you. Their attempt to control your behavior is an attempt to control your happiness.

Further, they focus on the negative to keep you in the same state that they are – unhappy and miserable though they would not admit that.

4. You’re uncomfortable being yourself around that person.

You don’t feel free to speak your mind. You have to put on a different face just to be accepted by that person. You realize you don’t even recognize yourself anymore, and neither do your closest friends and family.

5. You’re not allowed to grow and change.

Whenever you aim to grow and improve yourself, the other person responds with mockery and disbelief. There is no encouragement or support for your efforts. Instead, they keep you stuck in old judgments insisting that you will never be any different than you are now.

Set yourself free...

Being in a healthy relationship means you feel safe and at ease to be yourself. You can live your life with authenticity. Sharing your thoughts and feelings are acknowledged and embraced not ridiculed and left to make you feel uncomfortable. Open and honest communication is at the core. Healthy partners are trusting and supportive. They are less critical, are able to handle their own problems, are less defensive, and do not turn the conversation around and blame you when they are struggling. Its a more balanced and reciprocal relationship.

Growth and change is part of life as it should be yet they feel threatened by your growth and your desire to improve yourself. Because toxic people are negative, they seek to stifle your growth, question why you would want to change, and make you feel bad for wanting to improve. You might question your judgment. Don’t. It’s not about you being unhealthy, its about them being unhealthy.

Recognizing a toxic relationship often includes listening to your intuition, that “inner voice” that we all have, which often steers you in the right direction. You just need to take the time to listen to it. Do you find yourself questioning your decisions? Are you neglecting what’s important to you? Are you forsaking your values for another? This could be indicative of an unhealthy and toxic relationship. Are you in a toxic relationship?

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Compassion Fatigue and the Importance of Self Care

young sporty woman runing and jumping on meadow

My recent return from a mini vacation provided unwavering clarity to the importance of self care. I relaxed, soaked in the sun, and totally decompressed. I was able to reboot and recharge!  Over the years, I have acquired a greater understanding and appreciation for time off and away from work. Because of my chosen vocation (which I love!) listening to people’s problems all day, everyday means that if I am not careful, my energy can quickly dissipate. And truth be told, its not always easy. People have this misguided perception that psychologists just sit in their proverbial chair and say, “how does that make you feel” all day! Ah, no. Many days are emotionally challenging. So are some weeks.

For those like myself in the helping/healing fields -doctors, nurses, psychologists, emergency responders, trauma workers – a lack of self care can lead to compassion fatigue, a gradual lessening of compassion over time. A colloquialism often used for the compassion fatigue that people experience when they give too much and don’t replenish their own tank is “burnt out.” They can find themselves running on empty. Exhausted. Checked out. Desensitized. Not good.

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Compassion fatigue is not relegated to only those in the traditional helping fields. Its stretches to people in other care taking roles – taking care of an elderly parent, those who have a special needs child, single parents, military families while the spouse is deployed, among many others. Symptoms of compassion fatigue include “hopelessness, a decrease in experiences of pleasure, constant stress and anxiety, sleeplessness or nightmares, and a pervasive negative attitude.” People can also experience feelings of incompetency, self doubt, difficulty focusing, and a decrease in productivity.

If you are not vigilant, you may find yourself taking care of others and neglecting the most important person – yourself! Despite what people may think, self care is not a selfish act. Quite the contrary. In my book, its mandatory in order to live a healthier and productive life. And if you want to bring your A Game not your B game to work, self care needs to encompass a significant part of that equation.

Ways to Include Self Care Practices in Your Life

Despite the challenges that many people have with self care, a small start, a small change does go a long way. Intentional practice while creating healthy habits helps make self care practices part of your routine.

Self statement. I am important. Let’s begin with that. Say it. Repeat it. Mean it. Implement it. If you don’t care about yourself, how can you take care of others? If you do not see the importance and utility in taking time out for yourself, who will?

Total decompression. Vacation time. Sometimes a few “mini” vacations throughout the year do more good than one long vacation.

Personal Care. A hot bath (with no interruptions), a glass of wine, a good book, a telephone conversation with someone important, manicure/pedicure, time out with friends without your spouse/partner, a hobby, a walk – solo or with someone.

Boundaries. Learn to set them. If you are saying yes to too many things, you are probably not saying no to things you should be. If your “knee jerk” response is to say yes due to guilt or difficulty saying no, start by not immediately responding to requests. Give yourself some time to stop and think. Ask yourself, “is this what I reallly to do or am I doing it because its expected of me or out of guilt?” “Do I even have the time in my schedule?” Even taking 5 minutes before you respond makes a difference. Although most people are Initially uncomfortable with saying no and setting boundaries, it does become easier and more comfortable. You will be glad you did it!

Maintaining important relationships. Spend time with friends and family and make them a priority when your schedule permits. Even if you have time just for a cup of coffee. It doesn’t have to be anything lengthy. Start with a short period of time and increase or add other people to your schedule as you become more comfortable with taking the time for yourself.

Compartmentalize. Being able to compartmentalize your life is important. This means putting your life in compartments to the best of your ability. For example, leaving work at work and home issues at home. Working towards being more present and not allowing one issue/problem bleed into every other part of your life. Being able to compartmentalize is a skill and can be learned through intentional practice. I have learned over the years and through intentional practice and a certain mind set that when I leave for work, “I lock my door and I lock my brain.” Though not always perfectly because there are times that I have to tend to a patient crisis, but I work hard towards this end.

Move! Exercise and healthy food choices. No brainers, sure, but for many people these are the first things that fall by the wayside when we are under stress and focusing on taking care of others instead of ourselves. Exercise – in whatever form – the gym, walking, running, biking, hiking – is beneficial on several critical levels that extend beyond self care.

Fun. Add a healthy dose of fun in your life. Stop taking everything in life so seriously.

As my friend and colleague Rachel Strella points out, “as time becomes more and more critical, its so important to be aware of how we spend it.” Perfect! Use your time wisely. Take the time needed for self care.

Self care is high on my list of priorities. Is it on yours?

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