Five solutions to 5 most common marriage problems
When we get married, we don’t necessarily anticipate any problems in our future. Usually our vision is at least somewhat obscured by gauzy infatuation and rosy belief in fairytale endings. But knowing what to expect will help you deal proactively with issues before they become insurmountable. Here are the five most common marital problems.
According to Lesli M. W. Doares, MS, LMFT, of Balanced Family Therapy and author of, Blueprint for a Lasting Marriage: How to Create Your Happily Ever After with More Intention, Less Work, the most common problems that occur in marriage deal with difficulties in the following areas: finances, intimacy, communication, raising children and managing extended family.
“These problems are common sources of difficulty because it’s here that one’s beliefs and values are challenged. Each involve delicate negotiation around fundamental and deep-seated beliefs and values,” says Ms. Doares. “The impact of how each person was raised and how these issues played out in the couples’ families of origin, set the stage for conflict to occur. Ultimately how well the partners manage the transition from thinking as an individual to thinking as part of a couple determines the success of the relationship. Negotiating each of these areas requires the individuals to test their own levels of comfort and make room for their partner.”
Ms. Doares offers her take on the five most common marital problems
#1. MoneyWho earns what, who handles bill paying and managing accounts, what kind of accounts (joint, separate, or both), how money is spent and who sets the priorities are all potential sources for conflict.
#2. IntimacyWhen, how, frequency, who initiates, the role of affection, and how loved and cared for each partner feels set the stage for disagreements in this important area. The health of the overall relationship frequently plays out in the bedroom. Problems in other areas of the marriage frequently are reflected in the level of intimacy. Biological differences between men and women appear in this area as well.
#3. CommunicationHow a couple disagrees, when and whether consensus is reached, and the ability to manage one’s own emotional reactivity when conflict occurs, all influence how honest partners are and how effectively they communicate. Differences in processing ability and speed, as well as the ability to deal with uncertainty, drive the timing of conversations and their overall productivity. Misunderstandings about intent, purpose, and level of conversations are additional sources of difficulty. Assuming what one partner is thinking or feeling adds another dimension to the ability for a couple to clearly communicate.
#4. ChildrenLack of agreement on rules, consequences, appropriate activities, and time spent with the children are common sources of tension. Marriages take a precipitous dip in satisfaction when children appear on the scene. If couples are not ready for the added stress on their time and attention, the relationship can take a big hit.
#5. In-LawsIt is true that one marries not just the person, but their family as well. Not cleanly moving from one’s family to one’s spouse is a huge source of conflict for some couples. Frequency of communication and visits, celebration of holidays and other special events, and amount of in-law influence all create tensions couples have to intentionally navigate. The ability to separate, or not, from one’s family and align with the new partner is a challenge to a marriage.
And now… THE 5 Solutions:
#1 The solution: Becoming a team
Each one of these problems has a common foundational solution that plays out in myriad ways in the relationship. The primary answer is to focus on the needs of the relationship, not on the desires or comfort-level of the two individual partners, notes Ms. Doares. When a person gets married, he or she is willingly giving up some autonomy to build a life with another person. All differences can be successfully negotiated if couples realize they are on the same team. Moving from the way one always does things, and assuming it’s the “right” way, to being more open about other ways of accomplishing the overall goal creates the interdependence so necessary in a successful relationship.
“Whether it’s having a joint checking account, setting a specific time and place to discuss a difficult issue, or establishing specific holiday rituals, it’s really about being intentional in creating a relationship that honors and respects the needs of the two partners, ” says Ms. Doares. “Not being able to resolve differences in any of these areas is a sign that one partner is stuck in an “I” way of thinking. ”
#2 Develop a plan before you get married: Couples can avoid problems in these areas if they have clear, honest discussions about them before marriage. Developing a plan for how to manage these potential problems before they arise will give a couple a good head start. Keeping their focus on the relationship, and what works for it, can guide a couple through difficulties as they crop up over the course of the marriage.
“It’s impossible to foresee any and all difficulties in these areas, but having a plan and working together as a team certainly loads the dice in the couple’s favor,” says Ms. Doares. “Taking each issue separately, a couple should take the time to identify current challenges and brainstorm on potential future ones. They should then discuss alternative approaches until a solution is reached that each partner can willingly embrace. Neither party should agree to a solution that does not feel right. These collective solutions are not written in stone but will provide a template that will serve to guide the couple as they navigate the future.”
#3 Keep communication lines open: Continuing to analyze one’s thought processes and emotional reactions, and sharing those with one’s partner, is the way through these apparent impasses, says Ms. Doares. A specific solution to handling these common difficulties is to set aside a specific time every week to address problems that have arisen. Each partner gets 30 minutes to talk about one specific issue/criticism that is problematic for them. This agenda is provided the day before so neither partner is caught off guard and has time consolidate their thoughts on the subject. Using “I” statements and taking the time to clarify, reflect back, what their partner is saying slows down the conversation, insures you are talking about the same thing, and provides time to manage any emotional or defensive response. The goal is not necessarily to reach a solution, but to provide a safe, productive way to address issues and disagreements before long-term damage is done. If a couple continues to struggle, getting competent professional help that supports the relationship is imperative.
#4 Don’t be a right fighter
None of these issues alone should be deal breakers for marriage but they certainly can cause unnecessary stress and unhappiness in the relationship. Ms. Doares believes that it isn’t that a couple can’t resolve these issues, but that they won’t. Irreconcilable differences are just another way of saying, “I won’t give up my position.”
“Many times deeper issues play out in these arenas. It may not really be a fight about how money is spent but a reflection of one person feeling the relationship is not balanced. Disagreeing about where to spend Christmas may be a front for one partner not feeling valued and loved,” says Ms. Doares. “If a couple continues to fight about the same thing, the answer isn’t to split up but to go deeper. Being respectful of each other’s thoughts and feelings is tremendously important if a couple is to really resolve problematic issues.”
#5 Bottom line advice to couples facing difficulties in these areas is to examine why each partner is wedded to his or her position. Letting go of your end of the rope and focusing on what’s best for the relationship is key. This doesn’t mean that the opinions and feelings of the individual partners aren’t important. It just means that each one is willing to examine their position for wriggle room. Taking the relationship out of “You vs. Me” and moving it to “Us” is what allows couples the freedom to look at alternatives. It’s not about what either partner thinks is “right” but what works. Keep in mind, it has to work for each of the individuals, but it has to work for both as well.
Marriage is like being in a boat on a river. If you want to get somewhere, both of you need to be rowing together in the same direction. If the boat springs a leak, the goal of both partners becomes keeping that boat afloat. How it’s kept afloat isn’t as important as whether or not a couple is successful.