The Current

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The Most Difficult Years of Marriage

I’ve been helping couples in the context of marriage counseling about a decade and half. In that time, I’ve noticed something: the prime number years of relationships are often the hardest  (i.e. 1, 3. 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29…)

Often, it seems these years correspond with significant transitions and pressure points in marriage. Learning the tools to handle these transitions and pressure points is essential to being satisfied in a relationship long term.

Below are the questions I find couples asking during their “odd years”:

Year 1: Where did the person I felt so in love with go? Is this what the next 30 years are going to be like? I thought sex was supposed to be more fun?

Year 3: Are we sure our relationship can handle kids? We can’t get pregnant? Your parents are the thorn in my side. Where did our sex life go? Should we get a house?

Year 7: It’s like we don’t know each other anymore, I feel like I don’t have any space to be myself. We fight about money all the time. What sex?

Year 11: I used to be so interesting, now I’m that person I said I would never be. If we aren’t talking about the kids we don’t have anything to talk about. Do you think we can make it? We need to learn how to communicate better.

Year 17: We’re are a good team, but we don’t really have a relationship any more. It’s more like we’re room mates than lovers. So many couples we know are getting divorced. Is that going to happen to me?

Year 19: I’m really working hard on being myself, and I love my spouse, but I’m not sure I am “in love” with them. Our sex life is fine . . . when we have it.

Year 23: Were about to be empty nesters. What will happen when the kids leave the house. Will we have anything in common? Damn I’m getting old.

Year 29: Is it too late to change? Is there hope for us to be different?

Do you identify with any of these pressure points? Are you going through one of these transition years? Do you genuinely want to improve your marriage?

We recommend talking with someone who can help you gain the skills and insights to develop a more connected, supportive, and passionate relationship with your spouse. At Sage Hill Counseling, we have several therapists with advanced training in helping couples create the marriage they want to have. Find the best therapist for you at one of our locations: Nashville, Brentwood, Murfreesboro, Memphis


Stephen James, MA, LPC-MHSP, NCC, is the Executive Director of Sage Hill Counseling in Nashville, TN. He is also a best-selling author of five books, including Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys. He is active in training other mental health professionals as well as to speaking to audiences around the country on the topics of living fully, servant leadership, family relationships, and spiritual authenticity.

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