The 3-Year Itch: Are You Already Sick of Your Spouse?

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We’ve heard of movie-promoting stunts before, but commissioning scientific research? That’s what the studio did in time for the U.K. release of Hall Pass, a comedy about a couple of middle-aged guys who score a one-week bachelor’s holiday from the monogamy of marriage. The findings of the new survey, which focuses on marital ennui, are convenient for the premise of the movie — but they also seem to smack of truth.

The survey of 2,000 British adults who were married or in steady relationships (commissioned by Warner Bros., which, like TIME, is part of Time Warner) found that the “seven-year itch” appears to take root a lot earlier, at about the three-year mark: 67% of people surveyed said it was at around 36 months that their partner’s little quirks and annoying habits — which once seemed endearing — really started to become intolerable. (More on Do Tight Times Make Close Marriages?)

Three years in, people also stopped going out of their way to compliment their partners: new couples gave each other an average of three compliments a week; by three years, that number had dwindled to one. Worse, 30% of those who had been together for five years or longer reported receiving no compliments from their partner at all. (Of course it’s hard to know what people’s individual definitions of “compliment” are.)

The three-year flump hit the bedroom too. While 52% of couples who had been together for fewer than three years reported having sex at least three times a week, only 16% of couples who had made it longer than 36 months reported the same.

So what were annoyed people the most? Reuters reported:

The top 10 everyday niggles and passion-killers:
1. Weight gain/lack of exercise, 13%
2. Money and spendthriftiness, 11%
3. Antisocial working hours, 10%
4. Hygiene issues (personal cleanliness), 9%
5. In-Laws/extended family (too much/too little), 9%
6. Lack of romance (sex, treats, etc.), 8%
7. Alcohol (drinking too much), 7%
8. Snoring and antisocial bedtime habits, 6%
9. Lapsed fashion (same old underwear/clothes), 4%
10. Bathroom habits (stray nail cuttings, etc.), 4%

The survey authors suggest that these everyday annoyances build up to the point that couples increasingly need time apart in order to stay together. “Longer working hours combined with money worries are clearly taking their toll on modern relationships and we are seeing an increasing trend for solo holidays and weekends away from marriages and relationships in order to revive the romantic spark,” researcher Judi James told Reuters. (More on How to Make Marriage Work: Treat It Like a Business)

The findings shore up the premise of the movie it promotes — that men want a weeklong “hall pass” from marriage to sleep with someone else. In the survey, 34% of respondents who had been in relationships for longer than three years said they had an arrangement with their spouse that reserved at least two nights of each month for pursuing individual interests. And 58% said they regularly went on vacation without their spouses.

Of course individual interests don’t exactly mean sex outside marriage — there are lots of activities or interests that couples can, and perhaps should, do separately. Having “me” time often makes people happy, which in turn makes a relationship happy. Indeed, 76% of survey respondents said that they thought individual space was important. In the end, having the security and the freedom to pursue individual interests and passions may be a better indicator of relationship health than being able to tolerate stray toenail clippings on the bathroom floor.

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