Sometimes we are lead to believe that if we have a healthy relationship we will not fight, we will be able to avoid contention at all times, we will always be there for each other, and our marriage will always feel strong and secure. As we learn about and strive for values of love, respect and unity in marriage, (valuable attributes indeed) we can at times feel like if we don’t have those all of the time then we are guilty of something terrible. We may feel we aren’t good people, we aren’t Christlike, or perhaps we put the blame on our spouse. Are there really couples out there that go through a lifetime of marriage and don’t feel strain at some point or another? I would like to meet them. We all encounter struggles and at some point in the life of a marriage the vast majority of us will feel that our ship is sinking, or has already gone down.
Many talk about how difficult the first year of marriage was. Others struggle through the seven year itch, having children, or becoming empty nesters. Perhaps one of these coincides with the death of a family member, job loss, a move, a struggling economy, or serious health issues. These circumstances put strain on individuals and their relationships. They can tear a couple apart. They can also be an opportunity to bond. Sure, everyone would like to bond through these experiences, but it isn’t always easy or clear how to do that. One partner may be impacted differently than the other and throw things off balance. Maybe one isn’t impacted in the same way by the event and doesn’t understand, even getting frustrated when the other doesn’t hold it together or have more faith, hope or patience. Over time one or both partners might feel hurt and isolated, leaving both feeling sad, lonely, and helpless.
Most who are married are there learning about this relationship for the first time. Perhaps it is a second time and the first one failed, which adds to the challenge. Whatever the circumstance, creating a secure bond with our partner is something that most of us need to learn over time.
What you can do to get back on track:
If you are experiencing a rough patch in your relationship be proactive and work on it. Below are a few steps we can take to turn challenging circumstances into those that make us stronger:
1. Make time to talk about your relationship. At this time avoid talking about the issues, but rather whether or not you feel supported by one another.
2. Tell your partner he/she matters to you and you want to be happier together.
3. Let them know how you feel when you are disconnected.
4. Avoid criticism, blame, defensiveness or shutting down. Rather share with your partner the ways in which you are struggling inside.
5. Ask your partner what they think will help your relationship and share with them your own thoughts.
The most important thing to remember is that your desire to be close to your partner is what will hold you together. Let them know about it.
How and when therapy can help:
John Gottman’s research indicates that couples will wait on average 7 years after they begin to struggle before they get help. By then the problems are typically worse and the repair takes longer. Ask yourself the following questions about your relationship. Do you repeatedly argue about the same issue over and over without resolution? Do you feel lonely together? Do you feel like you can’t get your partner’s attention? Is your sex life slipping away? Do you feel like you will never be able to get over the pain of a particular event?
Marriage counseling or workshops can help you uncover the loving feelings that get overshadowed by conflict. It can help you learn to understand what your partner is trying to say and how to respond to them in a comforting way. You can learn to understand what it is that you really need and how to ask for it clearly.
There is no need to be afraid or ashamed of getting help. It demonstrates strength, devotion, and humility. It’s not about weakness, it is about teaming up together to fight the forces that are trying to tear you apart. Together you can win.