Marriage can be a blessing, but it's definitely not just 'happily ever after.' Life alone can be challenging, but when two people are building a life together, more problems arise. The secret to a happy marriage is not to have no conflicts, but rather not letting these conflicts drive you apart.
If you are reading this because certain things cloud your family's happiness, that's already a good sign. It means you are on the right path, and open to learning new things. Some problems might take more effort, conversations, and novel thinking than others.
But as long as both of you are willing to try, you are well equipped to solve all your problems. This list can be a good start.
Some state that money is one of the most common marital problems. Others conclude that it isn't the one couples bring up the most, but unquestionably is one of the most recurrent, stressful, and threatening.
Financial conflicts, more often than not, mask other problems, such as differences in values, self-esteem, or the need for control. Maybe you don't see why so much money has to be spent on kitchen knives? Or perhaps your partner manages all the finances, and you don't seem to understand where this money is going?
But money issues can also work vice versa: when a couple is struggling financially, they tend to be more stressed and impatient, and as a result, argue more.
What’s the solution?
First of all, you should not expect to solve this with ease, no matter how well you might be equipped with internet knowledge. According to studies, financial conflicts tend to cause more anger and depressive reactions compared to other topics people argue about. Here are some tips that can make your next conversation different:
- agree on a time to talk about it: you should both be prepared to openly discuss it
- make sure to check on your emotions during the conversation to avoid losing your temper and blaming
- look at the numbers: both parties should know the current situation, and maybe making a financial plan would be enough
- take personality into account: some people are savers while others are spenders; agree on boundaries that are comfortable for both of you
- look for the meaning behind: don't push it too hard, but exploring your differences in attitude, "who owns the money," or feelings associated with them can bring new meaning to your financial arguments
Problems with children
While children can bring colors to your marriage and sometimes be the meaning of your union, children are the most common source of conflict for many couples. From the birth of your first child, your roles have changed, new responsibilities emerged, and with them, stress followed. You now also have much less couple and alone time and, as a result, might experience communication, emotional, and intimacy struggles.
What can be done?
Arguments about children can occur for various reasons, but there are some core practices to try:
- talk about the hard aspects of parenting: this will help you and your partner be on the same page
- plan self-care time: parenting is stressful. When we are stressed, we lose our temper easily. Some people give it all to their loved ones. But what if others prefer to see you happy rather than overworked and irritated while serving a 3 meal dinner or buying expensive gifts?
- book some couple time to cement a base for your relationship’s stability. While it may sound contradictory for some, children should not be the center of your relationship with your partner.
Generally speaking, stress is not the reason for arguments but rather a cause. When we are stressed, we don't have enough mental energy to react right. We tend to jump to conclusions and get irritated about small things. We are often less empathic, compassionate, and attentive to our loved ones.
Stress intensifies the existing conflicts in your relationships and can be a grand challenge even for the most positive couples.
What can be done?
Daily stress is something partners often have to figure out either on their own or with their spouse. Maybe one of you has a job that’s too demanding and struggles to cope with it. Perhaps one has too many responsibilities at home. Maybe one of you is going through stressful life changes and needs time to focus on their mental health.
Dr. John Gottman, a well-known couple therapist, can predict whether newlyweds will divorce in the future simply by listening to how they communicate with each other. Communication is a vital part of all healthy relationships, an armor with which to effectively face all the challenges. But what if communication itself is a problem?
Here are some things you might struggle with but want to change.
1. Bringing up the blame card
Blaming or criticizing each other happens without noticing when we are hurt. But negative communication just increases the conflict.
Instead of succumbing to the temptation to accuse, try to be specific about your needs and feelings. For example, rather than saying: "you didn't call, you are so inconsiderate." Say: "I was so worried when you were late. Calling me would have made me feel much better."
A simple exercise that will make this easier is changing sentences in your brain beginning with "YOU" to "I." Just like in the example above.
2. Fighting against the criticism
Our automatic reaction to blaming often has just two ways. One is defending ourselves by eye-rolling, name-calling, etc. Another is fighting back with reminders of their flaws. Just like in a lovely match of fencing, isn't it?
Yet, when we fight back, we lose the opportunity to hear the other person out and acknowledge their needs. They might be exaggerated, but nonetheless, they bring an important message.
But wait, should you be polite to the other person when you're hurt and pleasant when they insult you? Doesn't sound like a deal at first, but if the couple tries to master quitting the blame, there should be much less harsh criticism later on.
3. Not being able to say sorry
Admitting your flaws or mistakes may seem like hurting your self-image and self-esteem after someone just tried to do it by criticizing you. But contrary to our belief, true self-esteem lies in accepting reality and choosing to better ourselves.
Be compassionate to yourself or your spouse if one of you is struggling to say sorry. Sometimes, the word itself can be scary, and other ways to apologize, such as cleaning the house or buying a gift, also count as long as they are not used to avoid responsibility.
4. Not listening enough
Listening seems like such a simple thing to do. But some of the time, we don't actually pay attention to what the other says. We think our thoughts or plan a witty response. If you decide to learn to better express your needs, active, conscious listening should be an equal part of your health communication diet.
The best time to listen to each other is also the hardest, such as when we are in the middle of the fight and believe that what the other is saying is, of course, not true. It’s a direct shortcut out of the argument, for those who can manage it.
5. Losing sight of the problem
We start the conversation because we want to accomplish something. But how many times did we end up fighting about completely different things? Staying focused on your goal during the argument can help be less critical and defensive, and avoid drifting to other topics. It will also help you ask deeper questions to understand what your partner really wants from that conversation.
6. Letting the conflicts fester
Unresolved conflicts like to remind us about themselves. Marriage research shows that 69% of arguments tend to be about unresolved things. If you don't know how to address deep, recurring conflicts, or talk about them leads to a dead-end but you still want to save your relationship, consider marriage therapy.
Intimacy is not just about sex, but also a deeper understanding of each other and fulfilling emotional needs. It's everything that makes you feel close to that person. A dry spell can happen to any couple, as it's a natural side effect of an evolving relationship.
What can be done about it?
Here are some things you might want to try:
- Showing physical affection, such as holding hands or hugging, releases oxytocin, also called the love hormone. The brain also releases oxytocin during orgasms to strengthen bonding.
- Taking time to talk about intimacy and being open, unjudging, and emphatic. Try to be specific about your needs. Maybe you want to spend more time with them? Perhaps you would like your partner to notice your achievements more? Be willing to find ways that satisfy you both.
- Give it some time: these topics are hard to talk about sometimes, especially when they circle around sexual problems. You should take into account your partner's unwillingness to discuss it, at least at first.
- Considering marriage therapy at this point is also an option. Intimacy problems often involve the deepest needs we might be unwilling to share with our partner. One partner attending therapy can also be an option. Just make sure you are not the only one who wants to save the marriage.
Bad habits or addictions
All couples have something they don't like about their spouse. Maybe it's their things all over the bedroom, hair in the sink, or their smoking. Bad habits also include negative communication, such as nagging about smoking.
What to do?
While it may be impossible to force someone to change, you can foster change by discussing your needs and concerns with attention and empathy. If you want to help, recognize when your spouse struggles to adapt to new behavior and encourage them, or even do it together to support them.
In case of addictions, all you can do is help a person take back control by supporting them, being patient, and educating yourself about addiction. You can learn more by visiting the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline site, or calling them. Remember that people fighting addictions should receive side help, such as family help, support groups, medications, or in-person or online therapy.
Trust is an essential part of every relationship. Yet it's fairly easy to break it, sometimes beyond repair. Even if a couple decides to work on their trust issues, it's a long and challenging task. Read this article about how to bring trust back to the relationship.
If you feel this challenge is too much to handle on your own, marriage therapy helps couples to navigate through this painful experience. If you aren't sure you can find time in your busy lives, online counseling is made just for people who want therapy on the go.
Remember that if jealousy, especially frequent, doesn't have any substantial reason, it's a sign of unhealthy couple dynamics or even emotional abuse.
There is always a solution
With enough patience, motivation, and effort, relationship challenges can make your marriage stronger than ever. As long as you both are willing to try and communicate, you have all you need to sort things out.
But sometimes, the problems may be too ingrained or painful to address on your own. In such a case, you don't have to feel like a failure. Marriage aids, such as marriage and family counseling, are always there if you need them.