In spite of the fact that every marriage experiences problems, successful couples are savvy. They gain success in marriage by hanging in there, by tackling problems and by learning to how to maneuver through the complex issues of everyday married life. Many do this by reading good books, attending seminars, browsing web articles, going to counseling or by just observing other successful couples. However, successful couples will tell you that they also learned by experience - by trial and error. Here are some common problems I have observed in working with couples for over 20 years. These are problems that almost every couple deals with today but also practical insight and ways to overcome problems successfully.
Problem 1. Not understanding what is “the main thing” is in marriage. Many couples measure success of their marriage by whether or not they are happy. Though we all want to be happy in marriage, happiness is not the most important thing nor is it always an accurate barometer of success. The reality is that happiness will come and go often as frequent as waves on a beach. Happiness in marriage comes from believing, expecting and doing the right things. Successful couples learn to intentionally do things that will bring happiness back when life pulls it away.
Problem 2. We get confused about commitment. We often think that commitment in marriage is like commitment to a job or hobby- if it gets too tough or no longer exciting then we should look for greener grass. The problem with the greener grass concept is that yes the grass looks greener, until we get to the other side and realize its artificial turf. The grass is typically greenest where we water it the most. In order to be successful, we have to view our commitment in marriage different from other types of commitment. Our marriage is much more important than our career choices or hobby. When things get tough and couples don’t know what to do, we need to learn the value of hanging in there and being there for their spouse. Time can’t solve all marriage issues, but time has a way of helping couples work things out by providing opportunities to even out stressful things in our life like finances, health issues and problems with teens. .
Problem 3: Couples often try to handle problems the same way each time. But, here’s the trick, If you do what you always do, you will get same result. If you try to handle a problem the same way or simply react the same way each time, you will probably keep getting the same results. Successful couples learn that you often have to approach problems differently to get better results. If we don’t know how to approach the problem differently, read a book, ask a mentor, talk to a counselor. Often it’s the minor changes in approach, attitude and actions that make the biggest difference in marriage.
Problem 4: Believing that changing behavior is a cure all. Many couples believe that “If I just do all the right things everything will be ok.” Sure, if we are always criticizing our spouse, we need to learn how to change that behavior. But, what drives negative behaviors like being critical constantly? Attitudes, beliefs and expectations. Many marriage problems stem from not only bad behaviors but bad attitudes. Your attitude does matter toward your spouse. Changing behavior is important, but so is assessing and changing attitudes. Bad attitudes often drive negative feelings and destructive actions. Make sure that your attitude and beliefs about your spouse are accurate and fair.
Problem 5: Putting all your energy into to changing your spouse. Trying to change someone other than you is like trying to drive a car with no wheels, pretty challenging. For years in my marriage, I tried to change my wife. I was structured, liked to plan things out. I hated being late. She likes to wait until the last minute to do things and often flies by the seat of her pants. In stead of trying to change her, I learned to appreciate this quality about her. I learned that I don’t have to plan out every detail and that sometimes it’s exciting to fly by the seat of my pants. She learned from me that sometimes planning is a good thing. We learned that we were just different, not wrong. The person we have the most control over in changing in our marriage is often ourselves.
Problem 6: Misunderstanding what love is. Love is a verb, not just a feeling. Yet many people feel it’s just that, only a feeling. Love involves emotions, but it also involves action. Everyday life rips away at the “feel good side of marriage.” Feelings, like happiness, will fluctuate. But real love is based on not only the passion, excitement and feel good stuff, its showing up everyday and demonstrating love. Its doing things for the other even when we don’t feel they deserve it. It’s standing up for them even when they make a mistake. It’s believing the best about them when it’s easier not to. It’s doing good things for each other on a regular basis.
Problem 7: Thinking that a crisis is the end of the road. A crisis doesn’t mean the marriage is over. With every crisis comes both danger and opportunity. We can choose how we respond to the crisis- as a threat to our marriage or an opportunity to make it better than ever before. Crisis are like storms: loud, scary and dangerous. But to get through a storm you have to keep driving. A crisis can be a new beginning in marriage, even couples who have experienced something as difficult as an affair. It’s out of pain that great people and marriages are often produced.