One of the most common reasons to seek counseling is for marriage issues. Whether couples have been married for a few months or over 50 years, their concerns and problems are often the same. The good news is, most of the problems couples present with can be changed if a couple chooses to address them.
However, sometimes couples don’t realize that a marriage issue is present. Here are 11 common marriage mistakes and how to fix them.
Splitting the housework evenly. Many couples assume that splitting housework is the “fairest” way to make sure the chores get done. But aiming for 50/50 split means you’re constantly keeping score. When one person feels the other isn’t doing their fair share, it can lead to feelings of anger and resentment. It’s important to talk openly about who is going to do what in terms of cooking, cleaning, maintaining the house and vehicles, and caring for the children. Feeling as though the labor is divided into a mutually agreed upon manner can go a long way to help ensure each person feels their contribution is valued. Many couples split housework by what they are best at. One person might handle all the bills, grocery shopping, and laundry, while the other does yard-work or car maintenance. Some weeks, you’ll end up doing more, but the key is to not keep track because if your spouse handled the grocery shopping, you might end up with a pantry full of Tostitos.
Having unrealistic expectations of marriage. Therapists will agree that what ends many marriages is often failure to accept the person you are married to, yourself, or the relationship for what it really is. So many couples meet, date, fall in love, and marry. We are raised with the notion that love and respect are the most important factors in a marriage but actually acceptance and communication may be the key to a long lasting union. If couples can weather the storms, communicate, and accept that marriage is not always wine and roses they are far more likely to stay together.
Thinking sexual issues don’t matter. When a couple isn’t on the same page with sexual intimacy it can mean big problems. Most sexual problems are treatable if a couple is willing to seek help from a medical or mental health professional. Identifying and fixing difficulties in their sex life can not only make sex better, it can fix other problems as well, because it is hard to feel distant from or angry at someone who you feel so connected to. Without a good sex life, couples are missing the intimacy that quality marital sex provides. Keep in mind, it is best to check with a doctor if one spouse’s libido continues to go down or sex hurts in any way. There may be underlying health issues that need to be addressed. If health is not the issue, talking with a therapist may help with opening up communication towards an often tricky subject.
Anger problems. A bad temper can quickly create a lot of hurt in a relationship. When one or both partners aren’t able to successfully deal with their anger it can create a lot of damage. It’s important to learn how to deal with anger successfully so that it doesn’t build up or become a weapon that hurts the other person. Talking with a therapist is a great start to understanding the root of your anger.
Staying up to resolve an argument, even if it takes all night. This usually comes around because some well-meaning person at your bridal shower advised you to never go to bed angry. We beat up ourselves and our spouses into the wee hours in the name of “resolution.” But the more we try to resolve (aka, win), the later it gets and the more exhausted and resentful we become. So yes, go to bed angry sometimes. Get some rest and sleep on it. Reconvene in the morning when you’re both rested, more open-minded, and less riled up.
Expecting your partner to be able to mind read. We all assume our spouse knows we need a hug after a bad day at the office or figure that he’ll wash the car on his way past the car wash because it’s so obviously dirty. Then we get resentful because our spouse didn’t do what we thought was so evident. The solution is to be transparent. Give your spouse the information he or she needs, rather than expecting him to know the unknowable. Communication is the key that keeps your marriage functioning.
Putting off kind gestures. You had good intentions to give your spouse that well-deserved back rub, or watch the kids so she can get out the door for a child-free afternoon, but then you flake. The time never seems right. The to-do list remains too long. We think we’re great spouses but sometimes we’re just not. The best solution to our procrastination is to commit to things. Sending your husband a text promising a back rub makes it more likely you will do it. Arranging a personal training session for your spouse makes it more likely you will watch the kids for the afternoon.
Parenting Differences. Parenting disagreements sometimes results from different parenting philosophies. For example, one partner may prefer to allow kids to make mistakes and face natural consequences but the other partner may favor a more proactive approach to preventing a child from making mistakes, which can lead to conflict. When your parenting style differs from that of your partner, it can be frustrating at best and destructive at worst, creating conflict and distance between partners and confusion among the kids. Parenting requires constant assessment and adjustment based on the individual child’s development and temperament. The same goes with parenting together, as a unit. Compromise is good, and necessary, and the best interests of the child should always receive top billing. Discuss your goals for raising your children, and how each of you would come to those goals.
Financial Disagreements. No matter how much money a couple makes, it seems like financial disagreements are often a big problem. Whether a couple is in debt, doesn’t have a budget, or can’t agree on what to spend their money on, financial problems can lead to a lot of conflict. When a couple gets married, they bring their personal attitude to finances into the union. If an understanding and agreement about how money will be earned, used, saved, and spent isn’t clear and agreed upon early on, you may be headed for trouble later on. Undiscussed financial issues can become larger than life and tear even the most devoted couples apart. To avoid financial conflict, don’t keep money a mystery in your marriage. It’s critical for a couple to build a realistic budget, create joint short- and -long term financial goals (and stick to them), consistently put money aside in case of an emergency (a job loss or illness), and review goals and budget together every so often.
Underestimating the power of small changes. Sometimes couples look to big solutions first which may cause resentment between spouses. When one spouse asks the other to quit their job because the demands of housework and childcare are too overwhelming with both partners working, consider the smaller changes that might help first. What if you cooked more meals on the weekend? Or hired an occasional cleaning service so neither of you has to spend your free time scrubbing the sink? Instead of grand solutions, look for the incremental changes that can improve situations first.
Lack of communication or active listening. Communication is the key to a good marriage. And listening is the biggest part of communication. When one person doesn’t feel heard by the other it can be nearly impossible to accomplish much within the marriage. Simply knowing your spouse cares enough to listen can be helpful, even if the problem isn’t immediately resolved.
Direct communication requires that both partners be willing to honestly discuss what they are feeling and what they need from the other person. However, many feelings such as fear, pride, or hopelessness often get in the way of direct communication. When people don’t communicate directly, they sometimes suffer in silence or take a passive route to communicate. However, you have the power to build a healthy marriage by offering your spouse encouragement rather than criticism. This form of positive communication involves some basic habits: being intentionally gentle, listening intently, and validating your spouse. Through these habits, we can bring about change and growth in the marriage.