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For Your Marriage

Alexa T. Dodd is a cradle Catholic learning to deepen her faith through her vocations as a wife, mother, and writer. She’s been married to her husband, Joseph, for six years and stays home with their two young sons while pursuing a career in writing.

How I Overcame My Worries About “the Seven-Year-Itch”

Recently, on a long drive home from New Mexico, we decided to make a detour to Palo Duro Canyon in west Texas. As we approached the entrance to the state park, the landscape was unassuming, with flat cotton and wheat fields extending toward the wide sky, a geography we knew well. Joseph and I looked at each other, wondering if the hike with our two small children was going to be worth it. But as we crossed into the park, the land dropped away, giving way to a startling canyon with striated red rock and high mesas, all of it variegated by the long rays of a bright morning sun. We made our way to a small trailhead, a stretch doable with a four-year-old and a two-year-old. The boys were thrilled by the “big big rocks,” and they bravely scaled sections of the canyon and even ventured into a dark cave. At one point, I turned to Joseph to find his smile matched my own, and he voiced the same thought I’d been cherishing the whole hike, “I love our family.”

I knew exactly what he meant—that the long drive, the less-than-restful sleep in hotel rooms, even all the work that went into supporting this family, it was worth it when we could share moments like this.

It was a good reminder.

With the holidays, winter viruses, and everyday stress, I’d been feeling disconnected from Joseph in the previous weeks. On two separate occasions, we’d stumbled into late-night arguments that were more intense than any we’d had in our previous six and half years of marriage. The topics themselves were mundane: we argued about chores and (ironically) about the best way to argue. But the way in which we spoke to each other both times was different.

“We were just tired and stressed,” Joseph said, later, when I brought up the caliber of these fights.

But I still felt there was something off. I remembered my mom telling me once about “the seven-year itch,” the point at which many marriages face a stumbling block. A quick internet research reveals that the most common year for divorce is between years seven and eight. While we were far from any real crisis, I was still worried that something was changing. I found myself fearing that the proverbial honeymoon phase was finally coming to an end. I was afraid that Joseph’s love for me was going to change, that, because life was more stressful now, he had less patience for my flaws and vice versa.

When I told Joseph about these feelings, he mostly thought it was amusing that I’d imagine he’d stop loving me. And, of course, I knew that my fears were precisely the reason we’d taken our marriage vows—a promise that we wouldn’t simply give up when life became more difficult.

Ultimately, there was no huge revelation that wiped out my worries. There were little things. A date night that reminded me how much Joseph makes me laugh. His attentiveness when an illness left me in bed for two days. A family trip that brought us closer and reminded us how much we enjoyed being a family. But, mostly, there was the slow, daily dawning that even if seven years marks a change in our relationship, with God’s grace it can be a change for the better. The carefree honeymoon days aren’t gone; they’ve simply laid a foundation for a deeper love. And that love takes work.

Here are a few things that, with God’s grace, help us keep deepening our marital love:

Schedule Our Arguments
It may seem counterintuitive, but creating space for serious discussions has been one of the best ways for us to avoid hurtful fights that escalate too quickly. If there’s something that’s been bothering me, letting Joseph know, “Hey, later, when we feel rested and the kids aren’t around, I’d like to talk about X.” It not only helps him feel more prepared for whatever topic I’ve been (admittedly) stewing over, but also reminds me to find kind words. Sometimes, if an argument crops up in the middle of the day, we’ve learned that tabling the conversation until another time can save us both a lot of frustration.

Spend Intentional Time Together At least Once a Week
With two children, our evenings and weekends often fill up with activities that leave little time for intimate connection. Usually, when I start feeling disconnected from Joseph, it’s because we haven’t spent an intentional evening together in a few days. While we try to make time to go out, our date nights often consist of staying home and choosing a fun activity. Even if it’s watching a TV show and cuddling, intentionally voicing that we’re doing it together helps us feel more like a team the rest of the week.

Pray Together & Separately
We strive to pray together every day, whether it’s voicing our petitions to God or simply reciting prayers. We’ve also seen that pursuing our individual relationships with God helps us strengthen our relationship with one another. Joseph has often voiced to me how he sees his acts of service for me and our family as a form of prayer, a perspective that reminds me to “pray without ceasing” in all I do.

Sometimes, it can seem like marriage would be easier if it was like the first section of our drive into that state park—an unchanging landscape that swept across the years without surprises. But it would be so easy to stop paying attention if, occasionally, the bottom didn’t drop out from under us, giving way to rocky terrain. It’s in the rocks, in the canyons, in the changes, that the greatest beauty is often found. And if a landscape is so worthy of exploration, of pausing in wonder, of driving the distance, how much more so is our marriage? Seven years is barely enough time to scratch the surface.