It’s the rare couple that doesn’t, sooner or later, run into a few bumps in the road. If you recognize ahead of time what those relationship problems can be, you’ll have a much better chance of weathering the storm.
Ideally, a couple should discuss certain basic issues — such as money, sex, and kids — before they decide to start their life together. Of course, even when you do discuss these issues beforehand, marriage (or a long-term, live-in relationship) is nothing like you think it’s going to be.
In spite of the fact that every marriage experiences relationship problems, couples who are successful have learned how to manage them and keep their love life going. They gain success in marriage by hanging in there, tackling problems, and learning how to maneuver through the complex issues of everyday married life. Many do this by reading self-help books, attending seminars, browsing articles on the Web, going to counseling, observing other successful couples, or simply by trial and error.
Relationship Problem: Communication
All relationship problems stem from poor communication skills. “You can’t communicate while you’re checking your BlackBerry, watching TV, or flipping through the sports section. Problem-solving strategies: Make time … yes, an actual appointment with each other. If you live together, put the cell phones on vibrate, put the kids to bed, and let the answering machine pick up your calls. If you can’t “communicate” without raising your voices, go to a public spot like the library, park, or restaurant, where you’d be embarrassed if anyone saw you screaming. Set up some rules … like not interrupting until the other is through, banning phrases such as “You always …” or “You never …”
Remember that a large part of communication is listening, so be sure your body language reflects that. That means, don’t doodle, look at your watch, pick at your nails, etc. Nod so the other person knows you’re getting the message and rephrase if necessary, such as, “What I hear you saying is that you feel as though you have more chores at home, even though we’re both working.” If you’re right, the other can confirm, and if what the other person really meant was, hey, you’re a slob and you create more work for me by having to pick up after you, perhaps they’ll say so but in a nicer way.
Relationship Problem: Sex
Even partners who love each other can be incompatible sexually. Compounding these problems is the fact that men and women alike are sorely lacking in sex education and sexual self-awareness. Yet, having sex is one of the last things we should be giving up, Sex brings us closer together, releases hormones that help our bodies both physically and mentally, and keeps the chemistry of a healthy couple healthy. Problem-solving strategies: Plan, plan, plan. Make an appointment — not necessarily at night when everyone is tired. Maybe during the baby’s Saturday afternoon nap. Or perhaps a before-work quickie. When sex is on the calendar, it increases your anticipation, and that mixing things up a bit can increase your sexual enjoyment as well. Why not sex in the kitchen? Sex by the fire? Sex standing up in the hallway? Also learning what truly turns your partner on by asking him or her to come up with a personal “Sexy List.” And, of course, you do the same. What do each of you truly find sexy? “The answers may surprise you.” Swap the lists and use them to create more scenarios that turn you both on.
Relationship Problem: Trust
Although relationships have their ups and downs, there are things you can both do that may well minimize marriage problems, if not help avoid them altogether. Be realistic. Thinking your mate will meet all your needs — and will be able to figure them out without your asking — is a Hollywood fantasy. Ask for what you need directly. Use humor — learn to let things go and enjoy one another more. And be willing to work on your relationship and to truly look at what needs to be done. Don’t think that it will be better with someone else; the same problems you have in this relationship because of lack of skills will still exist.
Written by Carol Sorgen, WebMD, Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD