6 Tips To Handle Marriage Problems
Updated March 03, 2020
Reviewer Stephanie Deaver, LCSW
Whether you are experiencing the first year of marriage problems, or marriage problems after retirement, it is difficult to fight through the tough times in a relationship. Despite the belief that marriage gets easier with time, there will always be occasions when two people just do not get along. While some issues in marriage might be small, like who is emptying the dishwasher tonight, others, like infidelity, can rock the relationship to its core. Here are six tips to handle marriage problems no matter how large they are.
1. Set Aside Time to Talk
Although you may want to discuss a problem as soon as you spot it, it is rarely helpful to blow up in the moment. Speaking out in a flash of anger usually results in nothing more than hurt feelings and more fuel for the fire later. It is even more useless to talk about an issue when one spouse cannot or will not actively listen.
To best address marriage problems, agree on a time when you and your spouse are both willing and able to talk through the issue. Get a babysitter, silence the phones, and turn off electronics. Do everything possible to limit distraction and focus on the issue at hand. Create a private, safe space where both parties can share their feelings, and try to make progress on the issue during this time only. If the problem cannot be solved in one sitting, you can always set aside more time for it in the future.
Try to avoid bringing up the problem outside of the scheduled time to talk. Never carry on the argument through text or email afterward and avoid repetitive messages to your spouse's phone or computer (no matter how tempting it is to speak your side of the argument when they cannot argue back. Separating the conflict from the rest of your relationship will keep the issue from sneaking into areas of the marriage where it does not belong.
2. Talk AND Listen
As important as it is to make your spouse see your point of view, do not forget that they have their own too. Although it is easy to believe that your perspective is the right one and only your solutions make sense, often, the right approach to problem-solving is the one that takes both spouses feelings into account. There is always a middle-ground when it comes to working through an issue, and marriage problems are no different.
When discussing an issue with your spouse remember that a big part of communication is listening. While you may not like what they are saying, being sensitive to the fact that what they are saying is true to them is a good way to see the problem through their eyes. Criticism hurts, and it is easy to get too focused on the things they might claim you are doing wrong. However, taking time to hear their thoughts will make them feel appreciated and more likely to work with you instead of against you.
Try not to get hung up on who is "right" and who is "wrong." Instead, work toward equal talking and listening with your spouse to find the root of the problem. When both perspectives are spoken and heard, you can find a solution that works for both of you.
- Focus on Behavior
Even in common marriage problems, it is easy to forget that our spouse is more than the things they do. People often try to understand others regarding their actions, but in marriage, this can lead to blanket-statements and accusations that are not true, only causing more resentment and anger down the road.
When discussing an issue in the marriage, focus on the problem, not the person. Avoid statements that start with "you", such as "you are so lazy," or "you never help me." Instead, try to word concerns in ways that place the frustration on the action, like "When I do not get help around the house it makes me feel angry."
One way to do this is to focus on how the behavior makes you feel. This takes the blame away from the person and puts it on the consequences of the action. It also minimizes the chance that your spouse will take personal offense and fire criticisms back. It also presents an opportunity to discuss how the behavior can change. Your spouse will find it easier to change something they do, as opposed to who they are as a person. Communicating in this way does take planning and practice, so it helps to think about how their actions make you feel before bringing them to their attention.
- Find a Common Goal
One of the most important things you can do when working on an issue in the marriage is deciding what the end-goal is for you and your spouse. Do you want a certain behavior to change? To stop? Do you want to start doing something new? If you walk into a serious talk about your marriage knowing that you both want the same thing, you will have an easier time coming up with ways to make that goal happen.
Sometimes, you and your spouse may want different things. When deciding what your end-goal will look like in this situation, you may have to compromise. To do this, focus on big-picture ideas. Think about what you do have in common and talk about what you would consider an overall improvement to the marriage. Even if the end-goal is very general, like being more empathetic toward one another or just keeping the family together, you will at least be on track to working as a team.
5. Set Realistic Expectations
The easiest way to make your marriage goals become a reality is to set realistic expectations of one another. To do this, it is helpful to avoid words like "always" and "never." For example, you would not want to say something like, "I always want you to help me clean the house," or "I never want you to ignore me," because at some point the other person will not live up to your expectations.
Ultimatums are another no-no when it comes to working through marriage problems. Ultimatums can quickly become emotionally or mentally abusive. You would not want to tell a spouse anything like "I will only put you first when you get better with money." One person should never have to do something, to get love, respect, and affection back, especially in a marriage.
As soon the argument starts to include words like, "always" or "never" or resorts to ultimatums for either party to get what they want, the opportunity to work together as a team is gone. Remember, your spouse is not perfect, but they should not need to act a certain way or do a certain thing to stay in your good graces.
- Keep It Private
Even the most narcissistic marriage problems need a certain degree of privacy. When two people enter into a marriage, the expectation is that the person they are choosing to spend their life with will respect them enough to promote their reputation, not destroy it.
When working through marriage problems, be mindful of what is okay to share with friends and family and what is not. Sharing every intimate detail of your marriage with your parents or best friend might result in your spouse feeling shame, embarrassment, or anger. Although you may think you are simply blowing off steam, you do not know how you are changing the image of your spouse in the mind of your confidant. It might be hard to repair the damage when the marriage issues resolve with friends and family still looking down at the person you love.
This is especially true with social media. As therapeutic as it is to vent your frustrations, you may never be able to fix the way you portray your spouse online. Remember, a lot of opportunities present themselves through social media, including new job opportunities and friendships. Do not paint your spouse in a bad light over a short-term disagreement.
This rule does not apply when it comes to abusive situations. If you are in an abusive or dangerous situation, speak out NOW! Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)!
There are many marriage problems signs, and what is an issue in your marriage may not be in someone else's. If you and your spouse cannot seem to find common ground, or work through your problems, there are many resources, including marriage counseling to help you.
Online, there are endless marriage problems advice articles, but sometimes, having a third-party from outside the marriage lets you see opportunities you could not see on your own. Luckily, you can combine convenient online help with the knowledge of licensed therapists through services like ReGain. Whether in person or online, when you let a professional into your marriage, you get to learn more about yourself and your spouse than you ever imagined possible.
Whether you've been married one year or fifty, you should know that marriage problems happen. Just because you run into a rough patch in your marriage, it does not mean you're doomed to divorce. All problems, big and small in marriage benefit from the little things that you do to work together, but when you seem to hit the end of the road, licensed therapists are always there too. If you work through your problems with your spouse, your marriage will come out stronger than ever.