It’s the rare couple that doesn’t run into a few bumps in the road. If you recognize ahead of time, though, what those relationship problems might be, you’ll have a much better chance of getting past them.
Even though every relationship has its ups and downs, successful couples have learned how to manage the bumps and keep their love life going, says marriage and family therapist Mitch Temple, author of The Marriage Turnaround. They hang in there, tackle problems, and learn how to work through the complex issues of everyday life. Many do this by reading self-help books and articles, attending seminars, going to counseling, observing other successful couples, or simply using trial and error.
Relationship Problem: Communication
All relationship problems stem from poor communication, according to Elaine Fantle Shimberg, author of Blending Families. “You can’t communicate while you’re checking your BlackBerry, watching TV, or flipping through the sports section,” she says.
- Make an actual appointment with each other, Shimberg says. If you live together, put the cell phones on vibrate, put the kids to bed, and let voicemail pick up your calls.
- If you can’t “communicate” without raising your voices, go to a public spot like the library, park, or restaurant where you’d be embarrassed if anyone saw you screaming.
- Set up some rules. Try not to interrupt until your partner is through speaking, or ban phrases such as “You always …” or “You never ….”
- Use body language to show you’re listening. Don’t doodle, look at your watch, or pick at your nails. Nod so the other person knows you’re getting the message, and rephrase if you need to. For instance, say, “What I hear you saying is that you feel as though you have more chores at home, even though we’re both working.” If you’re right, the other can confirm. If what the other person really meant was, “Hey, you’re a slob and you create more work for me by having to pick up after you,” he or she can say so, but in a nicer way.
Relationship Problem: Sex
Even partners who love each other can be a mismatch, sexually. Mary Jo Fay, author of Please Dear, Not Tonight, says a lack of sexual self-awareness and education worsens these problems. But having sex is one of the last things you should give up, Fay says. “Sex,” she says, “brings us closer together, releases hormones that help our bodies both physically and mentally, and keeps the chemistry of a healthy couple healthy.”
- Plan, plan, plan. Fay suggests making an appointment, but not necessarily at night when everyone is tired. Maybe during the baby’s Saturday afternoon nap or a “before-work quickie.” Ask friends or family to take the kids every other Friday night for a sleepover. “When sex is on the calendar, it increases your anticipation,” Fay says. Changing things up a bit can make sex more fun, too, she says. Why not have sex in the kitchen? Or by the fire? Or standing up in the hallway?
- Learn what truly turns you and your partner on by each of you coming up with a personal “Sexy List,” suggests California psychotherapist Allison Cohen. Swap the lists and use them to create more scenarios that turn you both on.
- If your sexual relationship problems can’t be resolved on your own, Fay recommends consulting a qualified sex therapist to help you both address and resolve your issues.
Relationship Problem: Money
Money problems can start even before the wedding vows are exchanged. They can stem, for example, from the expenses of courtship or from the high cost of a wedding. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) recommends that couples who have money woes take a deep breath and have a serious conversation about finances.
- Be honest about your current financial situation. If things have gone south, continuing the same lifestyle is unrealistic.
- Don’t approach the subject in the heat of battle. Instead, set aside a time that is convenient and non-threatening for both of you.
- Acknowledge that one partner may be a saver and one a spender, understand there are benefits to both, and agree to learn from each other’s tendencies.
- Don’t hide income or debt. Bring financial documents, including a recent credit report, pay stubs, bank statements, insurance policies, debts, and investments to the table.
- Don’t blame.
- Construct a joint budget that includes savings.
- Decide which person will be responsible for paying the monthly bills.
- Allow each person to have independence by setting aside money to be spent at his or her discretion.
- Decide upon short-term and long-term goals. It’s OK to have individual goals, but you should have family goals, too.
- Talk about caring for your parents as they age and how to appropriately plan for their financial needs if needed.