Marriage Problems: Catching them Early Can Really Matter
You feel a difference when marriage problems begin: You might be arguing more (often about small things), you feel less emotional connection to each other, intimacy may have declined and you find you avoid talking about your relationship.
The fear you may feel about bringing up and trying to discuss your feelings makes you feel even further apart. When you've tried to talk, it felt awkward -- and you can't seem to reach a resolution.
The early stages of disconnection for couples can indeed feel scary. You're both concerned, yet don't know how to reconnect. In this post, I'll help you understand the changes in your relationship, assure you that relationship problems are not uncommon and give you some ideas on how to get back on track.
The "Seeds" of Marriage Problems
Most typically, couples encounter rough times in their relationship as the result of two phenomena: A gradual disconnection over time or a hurtful event that has not been able to be healed and resolved.
Couples today often feel torn in many directions as they struggle to find time for kids, careers and extended family. The challenge is to make the marriage or relationship a priority.
Over time, resentments can build because one or both partners feel deprived or less important to each other. The emotional connection becomes strained, and, unintentionally, the couple struggles for connection.
However, the fear of the increase in disconnection results in expressions of anger, withdrawal, irritability with each other. This, in turn, creates greater distance.
When couples become more distant, they often aren't aware of an underlying fear. Yet, this fear comes out in ways that actually push you further apart!
Hurtful Events Contribute to Disconnection
The second major contributor to marriage problems is an event in which one partner felt very hurt. One type of hurtful event is when you didn't feel your partner was there for you or supportive during a difficult time.
This can include the death of a family member, a time when you were ill, or when you were facing a challenging struggle and your partner did not seem to offer comfort and reassurance.
The other type of hurtful event can involve an infidelity of any kind. Texting or sexting with someone outside the relationship can be as damaging as a physical or emotional relationship with another person.
With these relationship "injuries," healing can help both of you move forward. Yet, because there are such strong emotions on the part of the hurt partner, these issues become very difficult to even discuss, much less truly heal and resolve.
Symptoms vs. Root Causes of Marriage Problems
You know things aren't as they used to be. What couples often first experience is a feeling of awkwardness and uncertainty with their partner. You may feel you're "walking on eggshells" with each other. You may fear even discussing these feelings with your partner.
Couples can be afraid that talking about the disconnection might trigger an argument or uncomfortable discussion that could make things worse.
In therapy, we distinguish "secondary emotions" from "primary emotions." The secondary emotions are ones our partner can see: Anger, irritability, quiet and removed.
What matters are the primary emotions: these are the deeper feelings that lie underneath the secondary feelings -- and are the most important to reveal and understand. Primary emotions include hurt, sadness, fear of disconnection, feeling unimportant to your partner.
The primary emotions are key to understanding relationship problems: Getting to those deeper emotions helps you both understand your partner's true feelings and concerns.
In Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, the most successful method of couples therapy, we help both partners access their primary emotions, which can begin the discovery of the causes of disconnection and distance.
We look beneath the symptoms to understand each partner's hurt feelings, fears and concerns in the relationship and the marriage problems that have developed.
At times, couples can resolve the causes of feeling reduced connection and marriage problems. Consider the following:
1. Learn to stop the arguments. These "negative cycles" of arguing typically lead nowhere. You are both upset, perhaps saying hurtful things to each other and issues don't get resolved. Learn to stop the cycle, take time to regain calmness and then see if you can discuss the issue. If arguing occurs again, repeat the stop-action by taking another break.
Develop a daily "ritual" of setting aside time for the two of you. Even 15 minutes of uninterrupted time to talk about your day can begin to make a difference. Plan times and events for just you two, whether it's a date night or, when possible, a short trip for both of you.
3. Make time for intimacy. Sex keeps us close and connected. Our busy schedules often take a front seat, and one or both partners can feel too tired, stressed or distracted to engage in meaningful intimacy.
However, hurtful feelings can result when one partner feels rejected when initiating sexual time together and when their partner does not also initiate. Intimacy, just like time spent together, is an important part of maintaining closeness and connection.
4. Clarify your needs with your partner. Failure to express what we want and need leads to resentments and ongoing marriage problems. Expecting our partner to know what we need often leads to disappointment, hurt and anger.
Learn to speak up to your partner about your wants in the relationship. For some, this can feel daunting. We can fear that if we express our needs, our partner will get upset, will not respond or will minimize our concerns. However, keeping these important issues from discussion will not create meaningful change.
5. Understand and apologize for past hurts. If there was a time when one or both of you felt hurt, this may surface again and again, particularly in arguments. A true apology means that you understand the hurt you caused, you recognize and validate your partner's feelings and you express true regret and remorse.
6. Close the gap on areas of disagreement. Having open, frank discussions on issues about which you don't totally agree helps increase an understanding of each other.
Often, areas of disagreement don't fully become discussed because arguments develop and the conversation ends. This leads to an array of marriage problems. However, hurt feelings can emerge as a result because one or both of you does not feel heard or understood.
Help! We're Stuck!
Some of the suggestions above may prove too challenging for your marriage problems. Couples counseling may be the best solution when unresolved issues come between you and continue to cause arguing and/or distancing.
Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy is a brief form of counseling that is the most effective because it helps couples reach a new understanding about themselves and their partner. You'll learn to deepen your understanding of your partner's concerns, as well as understand your own position on important issues.
This gentle, yet thorough process helps couples learn to resolve past issues as well as to more comfortably talk about tough concerns when they occur. To learn more, visit the other pages on this site.
Linda Schwartz is a Licensed Professional Counselor who works exclusively with couples and individuals on relationship issues. She uses Emotionally Focused Couple therapy, the most effective approach to helping couples recapture their close connection. You can learn to resolve issues through deepening your understanding of each other's needs. We also work to heal infidelity and any past hurts in the relationship. Linda offers a free, 15-minute phone consultation to answer your questions about the counseling process. She can be reached at (602) 882-0533 or .