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Forget The 7-Year Itch. The 20-Something One Is Far Worse

After two decades of sharing a bathroom, having in-laws, raising teenagers and paying bills, the honeymoon is long over.

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An image of two wedding rings.
Trunk Archive
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The myth about long-term intimate partnerships is that the itch to stray or leave comes at the seven-year mark. Those seven years seem like a honeymoon when it comes to making it to 20 years and more.

After two decades of sharing a bathroom, having in-laws, raising teenagers and paying bills, the honeymoon is long over and many couples may start thinking of bolting. Inching toward 50 and beyond, they imagine a new relationship will give them that last shot at youthful romance, particularly when The One Who Got Away arrives at the college reunion, single and hot.

Throughout a 30-year marriage, I have teetered on that fine line and have, thankfully, stayed on the side of the fence. Resisting the inevitable itches that arise comes down to two essential things: embracing the ordinary and adjusting expectations as they unfold with age.

Here’s how science can help adjust your expectations: Sex and romance that feels like a roaring bonfire is biologically unsustainable in humans. After two years there is a shift in body chemicals, and infatuation turns into the attachment stage.

This is when trouble can hit: Attachment seems way less sexy than heavy-breathing infatuation. But I’ll take attachment any day. I’ll take predictability over roller-coaster love.

There is real power in the predictable, in a routine, in an enduring connection to our families and spouses. These are the people and the rituals that remain soothingly constant — despite the volatile news cycle.

The extraordinary is fleeting; the ordinary is the steady rudder of our lives.

When the trust is irrevocably broken because of abuse, infidelity and/or constant lies, marriages do need to end.

But when readers tell me they are leaving a stable relationship that is “boring” because of an “exciting” new suitor, I tell them what I know from hundreds of interviews for my relationship books:

Don’t assume the grass is greener on the other side. The new and different that is pulling you away will also, inevitably, get old — even boring.

I’ve learned a lot of lessons like these from couples who push through the grind of the ordinary and go the distance. One important tip is that they make time for conversation and intimacy. They know that if you’re not talking, you’re probably not touching. And if you’re not touching, you’re in trouble.

One couple I interviewed, both 49 and busy attorneys, told me that they schedule sex for every Wednesday. I commented that this did not sound very spontaneous. The wife giggled and said, “Oh, yes, it is. We never know what time on Wednesday we’re going to do it.”

Today I cherish that I am still married to the man who has given me lots of loving and the gift of being my history-holder. We buried both sets of parents together. We raised four sons together. I recognize the extraordinary in our ordinary lives.

Watercooler flirtations with Mr. Hubba Hubba at the office may throw you into an infatuated stage. Resist if you’ve got ordinary goodness and predictability back home. Mr. Hubba Hubba won’t seem so extraordinary once the years pile on and you are sharing a bathroom and a mortgage – and alimony.