While each and every relationship is unique, it is fairly consistent, that the same handful of issues are the ones that drive a couple into therapy. If these issues could be identified early as likely issues, discussed and addressed, things might not have come to the point of requiring intervention. They may have been able address each issue as it came along, instead of letting it build up to a collective list that ends in resentment and damaged relationships. These issues are so core to the healthy functioning of a relationship that they can make all the difference, if addressed or ignored. So what are they?
Communication seems to be consistent across almost all the couples that come and see me. It is on different levels, and it usually ties into the other issues on this list. They don’t know how to listen, they don’t know how to express their needs in a productive way. They are “mind-reading” and assuming what the other person is thinking, feeling, and how they will respond, so they get angry at them, without ever actually talking to them about an issue. They have decided how they will react, so they are going to get upset about their assumption.
More times than not, they find they were not correct when they ask the question. It is learning that it is ok to walk away when angry, and the conversation has become about each other and not the issue, and cooling off. Simply agree, and follow through on coming back to talk when everyone has cooler heads and can be more productive. Too often people resort to attacking each other and not the issue, and this is where deep hurt and resentment starts. Make sure to stay on the topic at hand, and don’t resort to personal attacks of the person you love.
Another major issue is finances. This is unfortunately much more common than you might think. Having financial issues would put a strain on even the strongest of marriages, but in strong marriages, they talk about their feelings and brainstorm together for solutions. Another important issue revolving around money is one that they should have right away, even before the marriage really. This is each of your thoughts, views, and ways they feel about handling money. We all come from different backgrounds and experiences, which shape the way we feel about and deal with money.
Understanding how your spouse feels and why, helps you come to a compromise that both of you can live with, when it comes to your finances. A good example is two people could both grow up with in a home with little finances. As a way of dealing with this, one member of the couple spends money often, as this is the first time they have had any. The other member of the couple believes in being very careful with their money, so that they are never in that type of position themselves. You could see how those two different views would cause friction and issues. These two need to understand each other, and come up with some middle ground in order to lessen the impact of the impact if this concern.
The third major issue is really two combined, as one often leads to another. Those are intimacy and infidelity. Couples often complain that there is no intimacy in their relationship. That their partner is always tired, not attracted to them, not in the mood. That one person has moved to another room, due to various sleep issues, which is needed sometimes. All of these issues start to cause a distance, an awkwardness, and even resentment towards their partner when it comes to intimacy. They stop being affectionate, they take each other for granted, and greater and greater distance grows in this area of their lives that feels like it cannot be corrected. There are things that can be done to reignite the fire, express appreciation, and start to have those types of feelings again, but they do take effort to rebuild.
Another issue that can often spawn from this situation is infidelity. While many think infidelity is simply a person cheating, it is typically a symptom of something fundamentally wrong in a relationship. While many people have a hard line when it comes to infidelity, and they will leave their partner, others recognize that this happened due to underlying issues, and they love the person, want to be with them, and are willing to try and forgive and work on things. While this rocks the foundation of trust, brings out all these issues they have been suppressing, or dealing with in unhealthy ways, if they are willing to truly forgive and try and rebuild their relationship going forward, reconciliation and a strong relationship are possible again. The only required factors are that both people want this, and they are both willing to work on it. This is not to say there is anything wrong with someone having a firm line when it comes to fidelity and leaving the relationship, this is more in response to how often I am asked if a couple can heal from infidelity, and the answer is “yes” if those factors are present.
These truly are the top issues that bring people in for couples work, and are the issues that the couple can prevent from rising to the issue of intervention and contemplating a split, if they are willing to recognize and work on them in a healthy way. So learn to be a healthy and active listener and communicator in your relationship. Don’t make assumptions about what your partner is going to say or how they think of feel, ask them the question. Discuss finances early. Explain why you handle money like you do, and what would be a compromise that each of you could live with.
Never let the expression of affection and appreciation burn out in your relationship, or if it is starting too, make an effort to reignite it. It is the small and simple things that can keep this strong connection between the two of you. Lastly, realize what your true feelings are on infidelity. Be true to those feelings if you need to leave. However, if you choose to stay, work on the issues that led to this, truly forgive and create a fresh start. It is unhealthy and counterproductive to keep returning to the issue, to never trust the person again, to check their phone messages, e-mail and social media messages. The person has made a significant mistake but if you decide to stay with them, you must truly try and move forward. Move forward with the condition that if this ever happens again, that will be the end, but do move forward. Couples that stay stuck in this incident can’t move forward in a healthy way, not matter how much they want the relationship. Keep these things in mind, and you will be miles ahead of many in terms of the health of their relationship, and the creating a relationship that lasts.