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Is there really a Seven Year Itch?

Updated on February 5, 2013

Heart and Mind SERIES

It was 1974 and I was a young minister visiting in the Lake Charles, Louisiana area. She was a church member and wanted to discuss a previously undisclosed issue. She was intelligent, very attractive and in her late 20's and spoke with a southern gentility reminiscent of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The WInd. "I want to discuss something I am very disturbed about. It's what they call the 7 Year Itch. Have you ever heard of that?" She tilted her head and looked out the picture window at the soft light, beaming through the balmy Louisiana atmosphere. She was both forthright and inhibited.

"I have heard of that phrase. Is your husband..." I posed. She turned her head and declared: "It's my 7 year itch. I am not worried about my husband. I am worried about me. It's our seventh year of marriage, and I have started having temptation issues. In my head, I mean, not actually...yet." Not wanting to trifle, I resisted the temptation to say: "Well, just stay home and wait for your 8th year?" I let myself stay shut up and let her continue. She wanted this counseling because she was in true psychological distress.

That was the first time, I had actually heard someone use it in a real life setting. Having grown up in the theatre, and listening to my parents all the time as a kid, I remembered them talking about the fact that Tom Ewell and Maryln Monroe were in a hit movie of the title - The Seven Year Itch. This is the movie where the wind from the street vent blows up Miss Monroe's dress. That picture is now much more famous than the movie or the title. While this movie brought the phrase into modern popular consciousness, sources say it has been alive in the English language since at least 1660. Attributed to a skin itch that comes and goes, or some other human blight, it basically defines itself as an urge that comes over a mate (chiefly the male) after 7 years. As a bit of folk wisdom, it carries a warning to couples to watch for fidelity and infidelity at certain times of their lives. As such, it can cause concern or paranoia at that time, or actually be a cause or an excuse for having a wandering eye. Since everyone seems to understand what it means, we can deal with it as a functioning part of the English Lexicon.

Reality, Excuse, Explanation, Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

As the visit continued, she went on. She had much to say: "I know some people think it's silly to believe in the 7 year itch, but I swear, the temptation or the curiosity part of me has gone kind of wild inside me. There's Jody and Billy Bob and even my third cousin from Oberlin. I hate to reveal this kind of thing, but it is very disturbing. All this started happening right around our seventh anniversay." I thought I would inquire about her marriage, but she jumped to that topic before I had a chance. "Now don't be postulating that my husband and I are fighting, or he is hitting me, or there is something very wrong with our relationship. Nothing has changed that much. I thought that perhaps, maybe its just dull. But I don't think that is it. I wasn't disturbed by the predictability of our relationship just four months ago. I declare, I am in a state. It's more like I am feeling guilty about what I have not yet done, so I guess am beating myself up for just having these thoughts."

We discussed how that process actually helps keep people from acting out certain behaviors. We also discussed how this kind of fear can cause a self-fulfilling prophecy. We talked about how the theoretical "periodicity of this urge", whether its true causation is determinable or not, does not mean that we can refuse to accept the thoughts themselves. I ended up saying: "Let's not talk about this seven year problem, let's just deal with your concerns".

Folk Wisdom's Funny Ways

"A Watched Pot Never Boils". Have you ever noticed how time seems to slow down in Einsteinian relative terms when you are standing over a pot that refuses to boil? It urges you to go on to something else and do something profitable. The water will boil quickly if you go away from it. "A Stitch In Time Saves Nine" is an old phrase going back to knitting, which refers to paying attention to what is going on in your hands, or you will have to go back and fix old work. "You can draw more flies with honey, than vinegar." This goes to the smartness of using charm and more winning ways, that simple direct harsh requests or bitter commands. There are hundreds of such phrases that point to specific lessons in living. The advisability of caring about infidelity is not a bad message. It is a perpetual human concern. Ascribing the cause to some cycle is a way of saying: "Look, it's real, it's a problem, but you didn't have it before, and it won't last forever. After all, don't our sexual urges come and go anyway?" In that sense, this phrase is loaded with advice.

It's The "What", Not The "Why"

In our age of research and discovery, scientific inquiry, behavioral studies and the complete analysis of the human genome, we are surfeited with causation issues. "I am critical because of my abusive father, my dyspepsia, my ethnic background, my genes, my horoscope or "the fact that I am surrounded by idiots" - whatever you use as a causation issue, it does not take away from the fact that you must be responsible for your acts, and behaviors, and monitor your thoughts and urges. Human Consciousness - a great manifestation in this realm, has to do with seeing beyond WHATEVER the cause of something might be and dealing with awareness about the fact of it. When you consider most causes, they are generally things that make you feel helpless. Genes, time of birth, ethnicity, family behavior are all fateful things. Sure much of your life has been fixed. But the magic in you is your alert and alive mind. We must live beyond things we call fate.

"Yes, Uranus's orbit is 7 years, but..."

A recent client concerned with astrology said, "If Uranus's orbit is seven years, couldn't that be exerting an influence? It is coming back to the natal position of your marriage and causing a change. It is the planet of change and revolution is it not?" "Yes", I said, "That is what some people say, but tendencies are tendencies, where ever they come from. This Irish are supposed to be drinkers, and the Italians promiscuous, and the Germans cold and industrious, and on and on and on. All of these things have an origin in language and culture, but none are worthy of consideration or an excuse or explanation. Plenty of people go through the seven year period with nary an itch. The thing about the human quest is to consciously direct yourself in the way that you know you should go. If Astrology provides an explanation, or ethnicity, or environment it does not change the fact that we are responsible for our conduct, period. Causation does not an explanation make. Because "causation" or "motivation" reside in us as potential explanations and exonerations, remember, Adam's first explantion. "It was the woman that you gave me". And that brings us back to temptation all over again. It's not the "why", its how you deal with the "what"."

That in fact is what our Lady from Lake Charles also concluded. "Mr. French, I am glad I got a chance to talk about this. I know you have not said much. But it was helpful. I think I am afraid of my thoughts. It's like I am giving my temptations wings to fly. Then, once I do that, then they are airborne, and I somehow have to now deal with as stronger realities. I remember that John The Baptist lost his head because Herod lost his mind over that dancing filly and promised her mother anything she wanted. Temptation is real for sure. The Temptation of Christ, was a good example of success. I guess we all have our own battles don't we?"

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    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      A very though provoking hub with lots of imteresting points. I enjoyed reading it. Thank you.