Almost all marriages are imperfect, go through their own crests and troughs and face challenges. But the key to a lasting, healthy relationship is your ability to meet these challenges successfully. If you turn your back on your relationship in the face of marital problems, it falls into despair quickly. On the contrary, taking them head on helps your relationship become healthier and more resilient.
I, being a life coach, routinely handle several marriage counselling cases. My conclusion is that we need to work on every relationship, including marriage, to make them tick. Another thing I have discovered is that most couples wait too much before seeking professional help. By then, the damage has already been done and in fact, some have already decided to part ways and they are just seeking a stamp of approval.
Getting married is stressful in its own right but maintaining a marriage can be more difficult. Raising children, struggling with finances, working long hours, personal struggles and navigating the ups and down can exact a toll on any relationship. No wonder, in many developed nations like America, more than 70% marriages (including re-marriages) end in divorce. While some marriages just weren’t meant to be, some couples just grow apart or realize their mutual incompatibility.
Myriad problems related to communication, infidelity, incompatibility, sex, health, money and anger management can create major marital issues. To manage these conflicts and stresses, couples sometimes turn to marriage counseling to help heal their relationship.
Just imagine- your spouse returns from work, takes hold of a wine bottle and gulps down silently. You haven’t had a real conversation for weeks except a few arguments over money or domestic stuff, sure, but no heart-to-heart talk. Intimacy? What’s that? Your spousal relationship is on the rocks, but you aren’t sure about fixing it.
Well, it may be time you went in for marriage counseling to rebuild your relationship or decide that you’ll be better off without it. Either way, marriage counseling can help you understand your relationship better and make well-considered, informed decisions.
What is marriage counseling?
Marriage counseling, a.k.a. couple therapy, helps couples resolve marital conflicts to improve their relationship. Counselling for husband and wife can give couples the tools to communicate better, negotiate differences, solve problems and argue in a healthier manner.
It’s important to remember that thinking about marriage counselling isn’t a sign that your relationship is doomed. Instead, it indicates a willingness to improve your marriage, strengthen communication, and grow closer to your partner.
Marriage counselling may continue for months with many sittings spread over weeks, particularly if your relationship has greatly deteriorated.
Marriage counselling carries an old stigma that only couples who are about to divorce seek marriage counseling. But the fact is – all marriages face struggles and most couples can benefit from it. Marriage counselling is for all couples, those having less traditional relationships (long distance, open marriages). You can go to marriage counseling whether you have just begun or have been married for 40 years.
Like other relationships, most marriages aren’t perfect. In a marriage, each person brings their unique ideas, values, opinions and personal history, which don’t always match their partners’. These differences don’t always imply your relationship is doomed. Differences are, by definition, there in a democracy, a relationship of equals. It’s only in a superior-subordinate relationship that you don’t have them. Contrarily, differences can be complementary and help people understand, respect and accept opposing views and cultures.
But relationships can be put to so many tests on so many occasions and stages in life. The differences/habits that you once found endearing may weigh on your nerves after some time spent together. Sometimes extramarital affairs or loss of sexual spark may trigger problems in a marital relations. At others, the gradual disintegration of communication and caring may undo a marital bond.
Regardless of the triggers, a distressed relationship can create undue stress, tension, sadness and other problems. You may hope for your relationship troubles to vanish automatically. But unfortunately, if left to fester, a bad relationship only worsens and cause physical/psychological problems like depression. A bad relationship can also create job-related issues and affect family members/ friends.
Some typical issues which bring couples to a marriage counsellor are:
Lack of compatibility
Trust issues/ Infidelity
Physical / mental conditions
Physical/ emotional abuse
Differences over parenting
Changing roles, like retirement
Is it for me?
Of course, counselling for husband and wife isn’t only for troubled relationships. Marriage counselling can equally well help couples wanting to improve their relationship and better understand each other. Another dimension of marriage counseling, which is gaining ground is pre marriage counselling. Pre marriage counselling is becoming quite popular in big Indian cities and the world over as would-be couples realize its importance and seek counselling to know their would-be spouses better. Pre marriage counseling can help them understand each other better before a union is sealed. It can help them know the spousal personality much better and the potential issues that can crop up later and evolve suitable remedial mechanisms.
Communication is the key to solving most marriage problems and marriage counselling is the way to improve communication skills, achieve mutual understanding and move forward as a couple or end a marriage amicably.
Counselling for husband and wife typically requires couples to come together for joint therapy. The counsellor helps a couple understand the sources of marital conflict and resolve them. Both the partners analyze the good and bad parts of their relationship.
Those running marriage counselling services believe that marriage counselling can help the partners learn adjustment skills to solidify their relationship – communicating openly, problem-solving together and discussing differences together rationally. In some cases like mental illness or substance abuse, the marriage counsellor may have to work with other health professionals to design the treatment.
However, talking about your problems with a marriage counselor may not be easy as some sessions may just pass in silence with the partners seething over the perceived wrongs done to them. Partners may bring fights with them, yell and argue. It’s OK. The counselllor can act as a mediator to help the couple cope with the emotions.
You may find your marital relationship improving after a few sessions or you may find that your differences truly are irreconcilable and that it’s best to end your relationship.
What if a partner declines to attend marriage counselling? Well, in that case, you can go all by yourself. It may be more challenging to patch up a relationship with only one partner willing to go to therapy. But you can still benefit somewhat by learning more about your reactions and behavior.
Signs to Look out for
- Do you and your partner conflict over religious faith?
- Do you often criticize each another?
- Do you find a lot of defensiveness in your marriage?
- Do you tend to withdraw from each another quite often?
- Do you have feelings of contempt, anger, or resentment for each other?
F, Do you feel indifference towards your partner?
- Do you feel both of you have nothing in common?
- Do you feel you are growing apart from your partner?
- Is there infidelity, addiction, or abuse?
If your answer to many of these questions is yes, you may be at a higher risk of dissatisfaction and divorce. You need to work much harder to keep your relationship healthy and happy.
Major Marital Issues
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
The biggest predictor of marriage problems is poor communication that belies the damaging dynamics in a marriage. Remember, regular, effective communication is the secret to a lasting marriage. Many marriages fail because the partners drift apart as the stress of their daily lives exacts a toll on their marriage, their communication stops and instead of resolving their issues, the partners end their marriage. The fact is: communication in a marriage is more important than love and those who know it know how to preserve it.
The providers of marriage counselling services recognize well that some couples keep the communication channels open in a perverted way i.e. yelling, howling, mud-slinging, blaming, which is extremely damaging. In fact, it is a reliable precursor to an ultimate divorce. It is possible to predict with certainty which newlywed couples would later divorce, based on a study of their communication. So for a happy marriage, keep the lines of positive, healthy communication open. Have an open chat about your issues to resolve them together. If you sweep it under the carpet, it will only worsen.
- Experts suggest some rules. Try not to interrupt until a partner is through with speaking and ban phrases like “You always …” or “You never ….”
- Use body language to show you’re listening. Also, do not communicate while doodling, picking at your nails, checking your mobile, or flipping through the newspaper.
- Nod frequently to show you’re getting the message and rephrase your message, if needed. For instance, say, “What I get is that you feel as if you have more chores at home, though we’re both working.” If you’re right, the other one can confirm it.
Trust deficit has killed many relationships as trust is a key part of a relationship. Do you see certain things in your partner that make you not trust them? Do you have unresolved issues that keep you from trusting others? If yes, it may be time you resolved them. You can foster trust with the following these tips:
- Be consistent in your dealings.
- Be on time for everything.
- Do what you say you’ll do.
- Don’t tell a lie — not even little white lies to your partner/others.
- Be fair, even while arguing.
The stress of fighting over money a common marital problem. But in general, the couples’ money disputes symbolize something else i.e. a struggle for power and control, different values and needs or other issues.
However, during tough times, financial stress can create more stress and conflict over monetary issues and arguments. For example, an extremely money-stressed partner may be less patient and may pick fights about unrelated things.
Money problems can begin even before a marriage. They may stem from courtship expenses or high wedding costs. Couples facing money woes need to have a serious conversation about finances.
- Follow Savings first, Expenses next.
- Be honest about your current finances. If the situation has worsened beyond a point, keeping up the same lifestyle is unrealistic.
- Don’t talk about it in the heat of a verbal battle. Set aside a convenient time for it.
- Often, one spouse is a spendthrift while the other one is a saver – an explosive combo. Accept that there are benefits to both styles, and agree to learn from each other.
- Don’t hide income/debt. Keep financial documents, including recent credit report, pay slip, bank statements, insurance policies, debts, and investments open to both the parties.
- Don’t indulge in a blame game.
- Make a joint budget that incorporates savings.
- Decide on who will pay monthly bills.
- Allow each one some money for discretionary spending.
- Agree on financial goals. Besides individual goals, you should have family goals, too.
- Talk about caring for your parents and planning for their needs.
While busy schedules don’t automatically create marital problems, they do present a challenge. Busy couples are often stressed out, especially if they don’t have quality sleep and nutrition. Such couples feel less connected as they have less time together and more separateness in their lives. They may not work together and may fight over who will shoulder which responsibilities.
- Talk about it and accept the real problem requiring a solution.
- Accommodate each other with their unique circumstances and needs.
- Plan special events together: movies, games, plays, picnics.
- Leave behind phones and take out “we” time every three months and go to a resort to reignite the spark.
Sexual mismatch (sexual interest or disinterest, frequency and the importance given to it)) can create many other relationship problems. And a lack of sexual self-awareness can worsen them. But sex brings you closer together, releases bodily hormones to help make a healthy couple.
- (Plan)3 and (talk) 3.
- Ask friends/family to take your kids every week/fortnight for a sleepover.
- Change the scene and the timing to make it more fun. Learn what turns you and your partner on.
- If your sexual problems can’t be resolved, consult a qualified sex therapist to help resolve them.
Many partners work outside the home, bringing more work, tiredness and stress. So it’s important to divide the household chores in fairly.
- Be organized and clear about your respective jobs at home. List down all the tasks and agree on who will do what. Be fair to avoid any resentment.
- Find other solutions. If you both hate household work, consider outsourcing it but if one of you likes to clean and mop, the other one can do the dishes.
Marriages don’t end with the “I do” at the time of tying the knot. Most relationships lose their luster over time. Make yours a priority to keep the spark intact.
- Do things you did while dating – appreciate and compliment each other.
- Schedule “we time” as you would any other important event.
- Respect and say “thank you,” “I appreciate…” to let your partner know that they matter.
Occasional conflicts are marital life. But if the same lousy situations keep repeating, it’s time to break this toxic routine. You can reduce your anger and look calmly at the underlying issues.
- Argue in a civil manner.
- You are not a victim of anything as it’s your choice to react and how.
- Ask yourself – While arguing, are your comments resolving the conflict or are you settling the scores? If your comments hurt, change the strategy.
- If you keep responding in the same, painful ways, you can’t expect a different result this time. Make a little shift. If you usually jump in to defend yourself before your partner finishes speaking, wait a little. It can change the whole tone of an argument.
- Yield a little to get a lot. Apologize when wrong. It’s tough, but just try and watch out for something wonderful.
- You can’t control anyone else’s behavior as the only one in your charge is just you. Change that YOU.
Some marital problems could be solved if the two identify their bad habits and change them. People hardly ever make a conscious decision to argue over petty things, and be critical of others, or leave their personal mess. They get busy or distracted and build stress inside.
Not expressing constructively
While arguing, it’s easy to let emotions overpower you with their intensity. You could say hurtful things that would worsen the problem. Avoid this route.
While discussing marital problems, be a constructive problem-solver. It is important to stay on the topic and not bring up previous issues. It’s no use talking of the coffee spilt by your husband in the mornings if the issue in hand is why he gets home late.
Not working together
While resolving marital conflicts, approach them together and decide on the best solution as a couple. One spouse cannot decide for both of you. With collective decision-making, you factor in your partner’s feelings. Have an open, receptive mind and encourage your spouse to voice opinions for inclusive decision-making in all important matters.
However, if things begin to heat up in an argument, try to keep things light and controlled.
Not acknowledging other’s feelings
Opening up about your feelings and having those feelings shut down makes you feel undervalued. Of course, you wouldn’t want your spouse to feel that way. So if you are trying to resolve a marital conflict, encourage one another and give the other one a chance to express their feelings. Even if you don’t agree, put yourself in their shoes to know why they feel that way. And look at the ways to address them; that’s what couples in healthy marriages do.
Children’s upbringing can be a potential source of stress. Kids are a wonderful gift of marriage and bring more meaning to our lives, but they can also cause additional stress as raising them warrants more responsibility and a role change, providing more fodder for disagreement. Having children also reduces the “we time”, a combination which can test even the strongest bond.
Day to day stress
Day to day stressors can worsen the previous problems. A stressed out partner is impatient after getting back home, handles conflict less effectively and has less emotional energy to devote to nurturing the relationship. And with both partners having had a difficult day, it is only exacerbated.
This daily stress can test patience and optimism, leaving couples with little to give each other emotionally.
Changing role of women
Women are getting more and more educated and are no longer mere homemakers. They are financially, socially, physically, and mentally independent, which runs contrary to the mentality of women being considered only as nurturers.
Besides, many males are raised to expect wives earning lesser than them. But with reality hitting hard, there are ego clashes, which few can handle. They cause marital dissatisfaction. Modern women are not reluctant to walk out of a marriage that isn’t working.
- Be more egalitarian and accommodating of your wife’s aspirations and feelings. She is your equal and nothing should compromise this status.
- There is nothing like mine or yours. Be proud that she earns more as her success is yours, too. Celebrate her achievements.
Relations with in-laws
Nearly 2/3rd of married couples stay with the husband’s parents, which can be the root cause of many problems, the most common cause being the relations between the mother in law and the daughter in law. With worsening relationships, many marriages come to the brink.
Try living separately from your in-laws to minimize such possibilities.
Feelings of “competition”
It’s quite common to feel the need to ‘win’ an argument as it feeds the ego and makes us feel good that we proved our spouse wrong.
Never try to resolve your marital problems with this attitude as you may win an argument, but you will lose the relationship and that’s too heavy a cost. It isn’t about winning or losing. Rather, focus on the issues so you can be happy and healthy.
A common hurdle is when both of you don’t see eye to eye over marital issues e.g. one spouse is willing to discuss, the other one isn’t interested.
In case of an impasse, take a break and give some time to put things in perspective.