In my counselling practice I often see couples who have been struggling to work out problems for a long time and, in desperation, come to counselling as a last ditch effort to save the relationship. Their problems can be varied; some couples will have a single issue that dominates everyday interaction and others have a complex mix of issues slowly driving a wedge between them (or creating a drift toward something or someone else).
G. K. Chesterson: Marriage is an adventure—like going to a war.
I’m not sure if Chesterton was joking or not when he stated this, but marriage can feel like an epic battle sometimes. And yet, marriage is still a life goal for many or most people, despite the high rates of divorce and dissolution and the difficulties that ensue when two people live so intimately in close quarters. I was curious as to the disconnect between what people were dreaming about and what they were often experiencing.
I recently conducted some research recently on why committed and loving people, who work so hard to make things good in one of the most important relationships in their life, just can’t work things out. I chose to reference the work of John Gottman, Sue Johnson, & Judith Wallerstein, among others, who are respected researchers in the field of couples therapy. I also reflected upon my counselling and training experiences and asked about 20 other couples to offer their opinions about what the most common stressors or problems would be. From this admittedly imperfect and somewhat limited study, I compiled a list of problems that were mentioned most often, knowing that they might not necessarily apply to every couple.
So, that’s how the Common Couple Struggles list was created, but my exploration also unpacked some factors as to what every couple could (potentially, at least) do to increase their chances for a loving, healthy, happy relationship—even in today’s cultural moment and even for decades or a lifetime! So, to balance things out a bit, next month’s posting (August 2016) will be a list of potential protective factors and common practices often found in “happy” or “successful” marriages and long-term relationships. Hopefully, these will be helpful to you or someone you know.
In the meantime, if you are in a conflicted couple relationship, consider some of the struggles you might be facing as a couple and keep conversing and brainstorming for possible solutions. It is said that a problem identified is half-solved. Hopefully, this truism is applicable to you and your partner as well.
Peace to you and your household,
Common Couple Struggles
1) Money & Finances (difference in financial goals; access & planning differential in use of money & budgeting; scarcity of money; large debt)
2] Family of Origin (psychological & emotional immaturity; low degree of differentiation from family of origin; differing beliefs about how relationships should work; role formation and role expectations; difference in cultures & core beliefs/values)
3) Past or Current Abuse (trauma—including distressing life events; violence—badgering or battering; lack of agency, respect, and esteem for self &/or the other)
4) Physical or Mental Illness/Addiction (diagnoses; disability; including socially sanctioned addictions, such as work)
5) Intimacy & Sexuality (dramatic changes in life stage or season; affairs; sexual dysfunction; lack of desire or intimacy)
6) Children & Parenting (changes in sleep, roles, money, sex—quality/quantity—, money, or time for each other; divergent parenting styles; infertility; child’s disability/diagnosis; child-dominated family life)
7] Life Dissatisfaction/Unhappiness (losing a job, life dream, or significant person(s); changes in goals, social arena & worldview)
8] Daily Stressors (scarcity of resources, such as energy, communication, social supports, intimacy; over-scheduling; issues related to having power & control; lack of respect or authenticity)
FYI: In the coming year I will be offering a Couples Workshop, which will be held on three Saturdays: one of which will be held in the fall of 2016 (probably in October) and the others in the winter and spring of 2017. Each Saturday will be a stand-alone workshop and each will cover different themes and concerns with an opportunity in advance for couples to choose topics most meaningful to them.