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How you can beat the 10-year itch


Fighting the scratch: Beverley Turner with husband James Cracknell and their children. Below: Marilyn Monroe, in her famous scene from ‘The Seven Year Itch’ (1955)

Fighting the scratch: Beverley Turner with husband James Cracknell and their children. Below: Marilyn Monroe, in her famous scene from ‘The Seven Year Itch’ (1955)

Matt Brooke

Marilyn Monroe in the Seven Year Itch

Marilyn Monroe in the Seven Year Itch


Fighting the scratch: Beverley Turner with husband James Cracknell and their children. Below: Marilyn Monroe, in her famous scene from ‘The Seven Year Itch’ (1955)

"I think I have an illustration of how marriage becomes a bit crap after 10 years," said my husband of 12 years one morning.

"I just heard it may snow and instead of getting excited, I'm now planning an alternative route to visit your parents. How sad is that?"

His observation neatly encapsulated the marital nose-dive from frivolity to practicality; spontaneity to forward-planning; and the slide from taxis at 2am to the misery of midday car journeys with three over-tired children high on too much sugar.

A bleak piece of research out this week proves that we aren't alone. Having studied the feelings of 2,604 women over 35 years, Brigham Young University in the US found that, in most marriages, happiness and communication between partners declines from the start and never gets any better (told you it was bleak).

It also found that Marilyn Monroe was wrong.

Forget The Seven Year Itch. You can look forward to reaching your lowest point after 10 years together.

But stick it out for another five years and the bitter rows will finally drop off.

You will, however, have to wait until you've been together for 35 years before your conflict tails off almost completely.

It's the type of conclusion that makes you wonder if you should walk out now, or get a marriage guidance counsellor on a retainer.

The researchers suggest the main reason for women's dissatisfaction is having to bear the brunt of household chores and childcare. Quelle surprise.

Of course, most couples start their families within the first 10 years of marriage. And there is a growing stack of research showing that happy relationships take a nosedive thanks to sleepless nights, the demands of bringing up baby while holding down a job and - critically - no longer viewing your partner as an individual, but through the prism of 'being a parent' and the expectations that brings.

When taking sessions on 'life with a newborn' at my ante-natal course, I am often met with blank stares when I warn couples that they will suddenly have so many new and exciting ways to "let each other down".

These commonly include: 'Why do you only empty the nappy bin if I ask?'; 'Why can't you get home from work earlier to help with bathtime?'; and 'Why aren't you more appreciative of everything I'm doing to raise our child?'

And, from men: 'Why do you want to stop breastfeeding when it's best for our baby?'; 'Why don't you have any time for me?' And - the classic - 'what exactly have you been doing all day...?'

Against a backdrop of insomnia and financial pressure, any one of these can light the touch-paper and tragically end at the divorce courts. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley found that up to 70pc of new mothers say their marital satisfaction dropped dramatically upon becoming parents.

One study shows that one in eight couples separate or divorce by the time their first babies are 18-months-old. Generation X parents seem to feel the parental pinch even more acutely: a recent review of 90 studies involving 31,000 wives and husbands by San Diego State University researchers found that for young couples today, marital satisfaction plummeted 42pc further after the first baby than it did for their own parents. And with each child added to the family, happiness dipped even lower. The shift from lovers to parents can feel cataclysmic. Suddenly you find yourselves taking on traditional, stereotyped roles that may clash with your thoroughly modern expectations.

A smart and successful new mum and her devoted husband who previously attended my course, returned with their newborn to offer their insight to another group of heavily pregnant parents-to-be.

"Don't worry too much about the practicalities," she said. "It's the emotional adjustment that is hardest. No matter how much you love your baby, you will find yourself asking, 'who the hell am I now?'"

Working mums have swapped the office, wise-cracking colleagues and the gym, for breast-feeding, bottle-washing, and mountains of laundry. Husbands can faithfully attend ante-natal classes, be awesome at the birth and cut the baby's umbilical cord, yet all too often feel shut out or hopeless during the early years of child-rearing.

So they work longer and harder in their career in order to provide for the growing family and become more and more distant. Cue two people, communicating less, doing more and feeling vastly under-appreciated during that all-important first decade of marriage.

Plus, we're having our kids later, when the fatigue factor is higher and job pressures are greater than they were in our 20s. And in our kid-competitive society, there is so much more to stress about. What's the right nursery? Can you afford the ¤700 pram that everyone says you need? Why isn't your child talking / walking / sleeping as well as everyone else's? There is a solution, however. It's a new, highly effective, state-of-the-art parenting technique that's causing a stir on line and will be the topic of a book out in February by father-of-twins, David Vienna who writes the daddycomplex.com blog.

It's aimed at parents' behaviour towards their children, but it can apply beautifully to our relationships too. It's called 'CTFD' and involves these two simple steps:

1. Calm The F*** Down.

2. There is no second step.

This beautifully summarises the years of research conducted by professors, doctors and mega-brain relationship experts across the world. Namely: we should stop being so hard on ourselves (and our partners); give ourselves a break if our lives are not perfect and - while sounding a tad defeatist - aim lower.

My guess is that after 35 years of marriage, the couples in the Brigham survey have not rekindled their sex lives, or fallen in love all over again on a Caribbean cruise.

They've just learnt to accept each other's foibles, forgiven their imperfections and don't freak out when their partner doesn't match up to the person they thought they would become when they walked down the aisle with a to-do list in their heads.

When my husband revealed that he was planning an alternative driving route for our visit to my parents, little did he know that inside I was rejoicing at having one-less-thing-to-think-about.

Surviving the first 10 years is not about fine dining or exotic holidays but - that awful word - teamwork. Now all I have to do is remember everything else that we need to pack and look forward to year 13.

Irish Independent