A good marriage with someone we truly love is generally the fairytale that is sold to us by society, sometimes parents and definitely religion. We are all expected to go on to develop along a certain tried and trusted path which includes marriage to “the one”. Many people are totally unprepared (especially if they marry young) for the immense amount of hard work that goes into keeping a relationship going, almost the same amount of effort that is needed to keep a business afloat and running viably. The shock that comes when two suddenly become one means that life will never be the same again.
As official divorce rates suggest, over 50% of these unions fail to make it. Many marriages are broken through financial pressure or infidelity or one or both partners wanting something new. Many never experience this but get to the stage where they stay together even though little seems to keep them tied to each other. These marriages seem to be the ultimate in convenience, two people afraid of making the changes that need to be made and resigned to living in a loveless union “for the sake of the kids” or some other excuse. These are usually the type of couples with whom I work and I make it extremely clear early on that my job is not to keep them together under any circumstances but to help them get to a point where they can make a decision to either improve the marriage or potentially end it.
Many of the same problems exist in the marriages of most of the couples I see and many of them are unaware that such negative habits have crept into their marriage. Some have spoken openly with each other for the first time in a long time when they come for the first session leading to a huge amount of surprise from both partners about some of the statements made. While we can all think of potential problems that can wreck a marriage… the common spectrum is not so wide, in my experience. The big issues will always cause a possible breakdown of the marriage but it is often the small things that seep into the daily lives of the couple that can be seen as more likely to cause the relationship to break down.
Here is a general list but by no means exhaustive:
Taking a partner for granted: This is probably the number one reason why marriages fall flat. The marriage becomes routine, stale and lacks any kind of excitement. Thinking that your partner will always be there leads to a notion that nothing has to be done to make that happen… complacency on one side, resentment on the other. This is usually never spoken about for fear of “rocking the boat”. It is clear that sometimes the parallel lines that hold partners together get blurred when such events as children arriving happen, when some couples have difficulty finding each other again.
The Emotional Bank Account: A marriage needs to be worked on similar to the effort needed to run a business. The idea of the emotional bank account was one that I was introduced to while reading works from Stephen Covey. He suggested that if you continually withdraw from the bank account without depositing, then bankruptcy will follow. The concept is great… put as much into the marriage as you expect to take out. Something that is often out of balance. To do this effectively, the couple must know and discuss each other’s emotional needs. Something that is often lacking.
Assumptions, Assumptions!: We, as humans, have never mastered the art of mind-reading but the practice is alive and well in a lot of marriages. Assuming what a partner is thinking or how they are likely to react without evidence is a very common problem. The subsequent behavior that follows is nearly always based on a false impression. As I said earlier, many couples are surprised when they find out that these impressions and assumptions that they have been taking for granted as true, are actually wrong.
Competition… win-lose, lose-win: There are those couples around who tend to be in competition with each other continually for the honor of being right. That clearly means that someone in their eyes has to be wrong. They keep going until this happens… pushing and probing until effective communication is impossible in the race to see who gets to the finish line first. On the other hand, there are couples where one is dominant and the other is the proverbial “doormat” giving in to keep the peace. The idea of win-win is a concept that is alien for these couples and it usually means lose-lose for the relationship.
Selfishness: There needs to be fairness in the distribution of work and responsibility within the relationship. This willingness to extend oneself also pertains to meeting emotional needs. Placing one’s desires consistently ahead of a partner’s emotional needs and responding only when it is a matter of convenience, demand or negotiation can leave a spouse feeling unloved and resentful.
Leading separate lives: Relationships also suffer when couples do not mesh their lives through shared activities, recreational companionship or spending enough time together. Living too independently from each other takes away connection and joy from the relationship. Couples need to function as a team when it comes to parenting, managing a household, sharing finances, and relating to relatives. They need to consult with each other about important decisions and coordinate their schedules. Time needs to be set aside to enjoy conversation, adventure, common interests, vacations and fun. Time spent together should be anticipated with pleasure. Without this component, couples drift apart and have little in common.
Dishonesty, laziness and other character defects: Basic trust and respect underlie love and form the basis of relationships. Lies, deceit, disloyalty, secret habits, or emotional dishonesty about thoughts or feelings destroy trust and respect. Spouses who willingly do not take or follow through with their personal responsibilities unfairly shift those burdens to their partner. Marriage is a partnership between equals, not a parent/child relationship.
It is a known fact that most couples who have “good” marriages just know how to deal with marital problems effectively, and they make an effort to keep their relationship alive. All of the problems mentioned can be solved leading even the most skeptical and “difficult” of cases to a revival of what brought them together in the first place. It is often as simple as that… more time, more understanding, more communication, more focus. Two willing partners will manage this and more.