Cover

The Seven-Year Itch

Couples first profiled in 1993 describe what it takes to stay together

Amy Cameron July 31 2000
Cover

The Seven-Year Itch

Couples first profiled in 1993 describe what it takes to stay together

Amy Cameron July 31 2000
He was black, a socialist and the son of South African exiles. She was a sheltered twin, brought up in a traditional Greek home in Toronto.

That Kogan Pillay and Helen Papaconstantinos met, fell in love and married was against all odds. That their marriage would survive a move from the relative safety of Canada to the crime-ridden reality of Johannesburg was also improbable. Of all the couples profiled in a Maclean's June 28, 1993, cover story on weddings, this pair faces some of the biggest challenges that can rock a marriage, especially during the infamous “seven-year itch.” However, Pillay and Papaconstantinos are now living through the itchy period with hardly a problem. How do they manage it? Compromise, laughter and never letting the dogs sleep between them. “Its a surefire way to kill romance,” laughs Papaconstantinos, 37. “Keep your love private and protect it at all costs.”

In the original profiles, eight couples from across Canada explained why they chose to formalize their relationships that year. All talked about the future with a rosy newlywed glow. Seven years later, Maclean's checked in to see how they are handling the realities of wedlock. One couple proved too elusive to find. Two more, no longer together, did not comment. But the happy news is that five of the original eight are still together.

The itch—a hankering to wander after seven years of marriage—was made famous in the 1955 Marilyn Monroe movie and has had many couples eyeing the calendar ever since. While the itch was supposedly more myth than fact, a U.S. study published in 1999 tracked 522 couples over 10 years and found that if they managed to survive a first urge to roam in Year 4, a second itch would occur in Year 7 as couples re-examined their relationships. “If we haven't had the space to be ourselves in the relationship, and we have gotten somehow into fulfilling social roles for each other, the gap begins to grow,” explains Beth Hedva, a Calgary marriage counselor. Major life changes, communication problems and money are among the catalysts for most marriage troubles during this period. But the most common reason for marital difficulties is children—whether to have them and how to raise them. Most of the mates profiled in Maclean's have faced these issues, but have grown together as a result.

For Papaconstantinos, moving far away from home was a way to break free from her established social role and develop a healthier relationship with Pillay. In 1993, she and her twin sister, Liz, were married in a joint ceremony to two best friends. The two couples lived together in a shared Toronto house, eventually moving en famille to South Africa to start an information technology business. “Deciding to go to South Africa was an adventure, but it also represented the severing of a life line of sorts for me,” acknowledges Helen. “In order to become truly responsible and stand up on my own feet, I had to cut that invisible but very thick cord that connected me to my family and learn to connect it to Kogan.”

The South African business was a success, but Liz and her British-born husband, Jon Forshaw, decided to move to England alter two years. It was a huge change for the sisters but a necessary one for Liz and Jon’s marriage. They wanted children and worried Johannesburg was not a good place to raise a family. Settling in York, Jon, 34, went to law school and Liz became pregnant. This August, the couple and their 16-month-old son, Jonty, move yet again to Bath where Jon has found work. “Now that we have Jonty, we have to be a little more stable in what we do and be a bit more long-term,” says Jon, adding that they will likely revisit the idea of another child in a year or two. Liz believes that they have succeeded thus far because they picked the right person in the first place. “The more I talk to people about major break-ups, it has to do with them being embarrassed by the person. I have never, ever been embarrassed of something Jon has done or said. He’s always been dependable that way. That is half of the success right there.”


One pair’s recipe for wedded bliss is ‘laughing at ourselves’


Communication. A keyword in any marriage and something Daina and John Eby, who had each been married once before, were more than prepared for the second time around. The Victoria-based couple, who held their nuptials aboard a fishing trawler seven years ago, describe themselves today as “those disgustingly happily married people.” Daina, 48, jokingly describes herself as a 1950s wife who stays at home painting while John, 50, works in his family medical practice. They have faced challenges outside of their union—stepchildren, family illness and the death of both of their fathers—but they have a simple recipe to make marriage work. “Honesty,” says John. “Frank, almost nerve-exposing openness. Unconditional support and an ability to laugh at ourselves. We’re both very capable of laughing at ourselves.”

Money can tear many marriages apart, but for three of the Macleans couples, sharing the financial burden proved invaluable. Cheri Kujat, 29, worked while her husband was in university. Now, with Dan away for extended periods of time because of his environmental consulting business, Cheri manages their home in Coaldale, Alta., keeps watch over their 20-month-old daughter, Haylee, and is planning for another child due in August. “I’m working mostly in oil fields,” explains Dan, 31. “I expect this to boom for a couple more years so I am going to work as hard as I can and make a killing while I can. That is my goal.” Then, once Haylee is in school, Dan plans on working from home in Coaldale so that their family can be together.

Most of the couples agreed that children proved to be the most challenging issue in their marriage. Seven years ago, Pam Koch and Clare Nobbs didn’t even think about children when they celebrated their union in Toronto’s Metropolitan Community Church. The two women were more worried about whether Clare, a British citizen, would be able to get her landed immigrant status on compassionate grounds. Sharing a strong sense of social justice, the couple was also busy fighting for lesbian and gay rights and working in the not-for-profit sector. “One of the major hurdles in our relationship was deciding to have children,” admits Koch, 39. “I didn’t have that urge to have children and I knew that Clare has always wanted them. It wouldn’t be fair to deny her that.” After a lot of discussion and finding the right donor, Nobbs gave birth to their daughter, Holly Koch-Nobbs, in March, 1998. “Having a child is a whole new challenge because you have to get to know one another again as parents,” says Nobbs, 33, who gained immigrant status and now works as a storyteller in a non-traditional education collective in Toronto. “I tend to be more lenient and Pam is stricter.”

Despite the hurdles of moving, money, family and the idiosyncrasies of each partner, these five couples are progressing through the itchy year with a firm commitment to their marriage. The two couples who are no longer together unfortunately fall within the national divorce statistics. In 1997, the most recent year for which figures are available from Statistics Canada, leaving their spouse outweighed the vows of marriage for 35 per cent of Canadian couples, down from the disheartening 51 per cent in 1987.

So what happened to those who split up? There is a pause on the phone as the woman at the other end ponders the seemingly innocuous question: “Is Fred or Joyce there, please?” Her voice, when she finally answers, is tight. “Joyce? No. Joyce is no longer... I’m the new wife.” Clunk. The line goes dead.

Clearly someone’s itch was scratched.