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Work/Life: The Seven-Year Glitch

Perhaps you have heard about the female politician in Germany who provoked outrage in her party by suggesting that marriages should have a time limit of seven years.

Perhaps you have heard about the female politician in Germany who provoked outrage in her party by suggesting that marriages should have a time limit of seven years.

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It’s no surprise that this kind of grandstanding should create a stir, but as with most headlines, the shock value is what grabs us, and the finer points are left out. The truth is, Gabriele Pauli did also suggest that couples should, after each seven-year period, apply to have their marriage extended. And I think there is a hint of real innovation in that idea. Right up there with whoever came up with the squeezable ketchup bottle. If we can applaud the invention of something that makes a long-aggravating condiment easier to get out of the bottle, why can’t we think twice about something that may make it easier to maintain a healthy relationship?

We now treat the phrase “seven-year itch” with highly negative connotations, mostly because it has come to mean the urge to stray and ruin the foundations upon which marriage is built. But if there really was a provision by which couples had to reapply for a marriage license after a certain amount of time, it could actually work to keep them together. It’s like a kindly umbrella organization forcing you into couples’ counseling for a tune-up, and at the price of license renewal fee, that’s a lot cheaper than a bunch of years with a Jungian trying to get you to see that the dream about the cabbage soup is a metaphor for your strained relationship.

All of us need some time to step back. We have six-month reviews at work, why not a seven-year review of a marriage? And most people at an employee review come in wanting to keep their jobs—I think most people would come in wanting to keep their marriages, too. You might even find it makes you more inclined to make things work. It’s not an opportunity to divorce, to cut and run, it’s an opportunity to take stock, address areas for improvement, and increase performance and productivity. (Though if you’ve already produced a few children, you may want to re-think the productivity aspect…without cutting down on performance, of course.)

You can even ask the same questions at a seven-year marriage review that you might ask at workplace review. Are you happy here? Do you enjoy coming in every day? What areas need improvement? Are you satisfied with the salary and benefits? (Okay, maybe not the salary part.)

Anyway, don’t let’s write off new ideas just because they are calculated to grab headlines. With the possible exception of whatever new idea was responsible for Britney’s performance at the VMA’s.

What might come up at your seven-year review?

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