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    Seven-Year Itch

    Are relationship lulls fact or fiction?

    Singles and the Seven Year Itch

    It's difficult to say if the seven year itch applies to unmarried people in long-term relationships, because the research has not been done. Sometimes, however, avoiding the "I do" helps keep the courtship alive in a long-term relationship, says Barbach.

    But don't count on it. "I certainly wouldn't recommend two unmarried people live together to keep the romance alive," says Howard Markman, Ph.D., a marital counselor at the University of Denver, Colorado. "People thrive on a commitment in relationships."

    Focusing attention on the relationship is the obvious but often-overlooked key to marriage longevity, says Barbach. Couples with children may have to make special efforts, since Kurdek's study found that they showed steeper declines in marital satisfaction than childless couples. He speculates that unhappy couples either avoid divorce for the children's sake or expend more energy raising their kids than nurturing their marriage. But he also points out that some couples may find that having children makes them happier overall.

    The Exceptions

    Some married couples don't get itchy. "Our relationship has only gotten better over the years," says Jeanne Gribbin of Reno, Nev., married 17 years. She and her spouse follow Barbach's golden rule: Give the marriage regular attention.

    "People say marriage takes work, but I prefer to use the word attention," Barbach says. "Consult your partner before making plans or decisions, and if you both do that, you'll find you both get to do more of your own things. Set aside time to talk on a daily basis, even if it's just 20 minutes. Take time to get dressed up and go out on dates. If a marriage succumbs to the seven year itch, it's most likely because the couple turned a blind eye to their problems instead of solving them."

    Elaine Marshall is a freelance writer living in Reno, Nev. She also reports for Time magazine and teaches at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno.

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