Most failing marriages come down to a few common marriage problems: money, sex, quality time, and selfishness. If you looked at the rolls of divorce cases, most marriage issues debated in court tend to come down to one of the first two problems listed: money and sexual issues. If the truth were told, the last two (emotional distance, ego) are at the heart of most bad marriages. Most marriages break because people either grow apart over time, or because one or both of the marriage partners are too self-involved to be in a healthy partnership.
You’ll find micro-issues tend to irritate and exacerbate already-existing troubles between spouses, though. These issues might be small at any given instant–they usually are–but small problems are usually a sign of much larger issues in a marriage. Whether you have a great marriage or you’re on the verge of separating, people living together tend to get annoy with one another. Heck, when my dogs spend most of the winter huddling together for warmth, they tend to start barking and growling at each other because little things each one does annoys the other, so familiarity really does breed contempt.
When you have relationship problems, you’ll eventually have to resolve the big issues (money, sex, time, ego). But fixing the little issues creates a sense of trust and togetherness, and sets the table for the big issues to be tackled. At the very least, you no longer have those tiny irritants setting you off. Here are some common issues marriages have and how to resolve them.
Playing the Victim and Begging for Sympathy
In most marriages, each spouse has a friend or family member they vent to when things aren’t going well. The problem is, this person only hears one side of the story, and you know they only hear the one side of things. You’re more likely to play the victim in retelling the bad moments in your domestic life, begging for sympathy from your mom, favorite sister, or best friend.
Not only are you giving your amateur psychologist friend a distorted view of the marriage, but you’re wallowing in self-pity and dwelling on the negative. Don’t get me wrong. We all need to vent at times. We need a shoulder to cry on. But avoid venting too much in this way, because it creates a quagmire of negative energy that starts to permeate the relationship. If anything, go out of your way to praise your partner and point out their good qualities. It’s impossible to do this all the time, but do your best to dwell on the positive and downplay the negative. Attitude means a lot.
Share Your Feelings – Don’t Bottle Them Up
Any psychologist will tell you it isn’t healthy to bottle up negative thoughts and feelings. You’ll eventually have a whole mountain of resentment that’s likely to burst forth at the worst possible times. It’s unhealthy to suffer in silence. So who do you talk to if you can’t talk to your most trusted friends and family about these issues?
Your spouse, of course.
Discuss your feelings with your spouse and get the negative feelings off your chest. Let them know how you feel about what they do and how you feel. Don’t do this in an accusatory fashion, but try to be gentle and address real issues when you talk with them. You’re getting things off your chest, but you’re doing so in a (hopefully) positive way. Perhaps the two of you get things resolved.
If your husband or wife shuts you don’t, tries to tune you out, or gets defensive about what you’re complaining about, don’t press the matter. This isn’t about you being right and them being wrong. It’s about you getting these feelings out in the open. Back off and let them think about what you said. If you need to vent to a friend, now’s the time to get that negative energy out. Give your spouse time to ruminate and bring up the subject at some later time. If the behavior continues and they don’t look like they’re going to try to resolve things, you’ll need to bring it up again at a later time.
Avoid His and Her Possessions Disputes
People tend to fight over things when fighting over deeper issues is too dangerous. Maybe he spends too much time on his cars, or he thinks you spend too much time on your garden. Maybe your stack of romance novels and chick flick blu-rays get on his nerves, while his coffee bean grinder and stack of fantasy sports magazines gets in your way. Little household items can turn into big arguments, often serving as proxies for larger issues you have with each other.
Don’t fight over possessions. These items sometimes are genuinely important to the other person. Maybe the wife doesn’t get enough romance in the marriage and the romance novels are a much healthier outlet than an affair. Maybe working on his hot rod is the only time he can get away from the pressures of the office and the family and just unwind with something he loves. Whatever the case, it’s more important to the possessor than it is to the other spouse. Let them have their foibles and your spouse will let you have yours.
Find common ground instead. Maybe the two of you agree that there’s too much clutter in the house. If so, have a garage sell where he can sell his excess clothes, that laptop he never used, or maybe his old video game console, while she can get rid of the clothes she never wore and all the things she keeps packing in the attic. Find things each of you can part with, have a sell together, and use it to buy something both of you can use (a new entertainment system, a weekend away at a nearby resort).
Arrange Quality Time
Most people can’t get enough quality time in their lives. Between work and kids activities and visits with the family, there’s not a whole lot of time for just the two of you. But if you don’t make time to reconnect, people begin to grow apart.
This is when people start to take each other for granted and just assume things don’t need to be worked on, but it’s a dangerous time. The two of you got into this marriage because you needed and wanted companionship. If you grow distant, there’s something essential missing in the relationship. It’s only a matter of time before one or both of you start looking outside of the marriage for that something.
It’s pivotal for the two of you to make time for one another. Turn off the tv and do something together, even if it’s for just a half-hour a night. Maintain little rituals in your life, such as kissing one another the last thing before you part in the morning, and going to the first place you had a date on the anniversary of your first date every year. Have in-jokes that are only between the two of you–anything to reestablish that bond of love and mutual rapport. The two of you are a couple–you have a mutual bond unlike any other you’ll have in your whole life–so do things to put the focus back on your relationship.
Putting a little romance back into the relationship helps, too. Whether it comes naturally or you have to schedule a time (or two) in the week for it, maintain a sex life. Do what it takes to make this work, because study after study shows that intimacy makes the marriage better. Many little issues fade away.
Do little things, if you don’t have time for big things. Remind your spouse why they married you in the first place, and try to remember why you married them.
Maintain Separate Lives
While we’re on the subject, moderation is a good thing in most aspects of life. When I tell you to arrange quality time with each other, this doesn’t mean you should take away time with friends and away from each other. Both partners in a marriage need time apart and need separate identities. This strengthens the marriage, too, because it keeps things fresh. Have lives away from the marriage and you’ll have plenty to talk about.
Do Things for Your Spouse
At least once a week, make a special effort to do something on behalf of your spouse. Put their interests, concerns, feelings, and needs ahead of your own. A marriage requires you to set aside your selfish needs for something greater sometimes, so put this in practice often. Make an effort and your spouse will appreciate it. This might be something small like cooking her breakfast in bed, or it might be something painful, like driving her mother in from the airport, or it might be something you detest, like buying new mulch for that garden you hate so much.