Shouldn’t it be easier than this?
She was crying. I was fuming. We’d been married for just one year, and we were fighting about . . . I don’t even remember. My wife asked the question first, but I was already thinking it.
If you’re married or have been in a relationship, you’ve probably asked or thought it, too.
Of course, we figured we’d be different. That our love was special. It didn’t take us long to learn the truth: every marriage has problems. Every. One. It’s how you respond to them that makes the difference.
Here are seven common relationship problems that can prevent your marriage from being the-best-version-of-itself—and what you can do about them.
1. SETTING UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
My wife expected me to change after the wedding. I expected her to stay the same forever. Neither of us had it right.
When we fail to live up to the expectation someone has for us, we create what’s called an “expectations gap.” And expectations gaps can only be filled with disappointment, resentment, anger, frustration, and loss of trust.
Similarly, when you set an unrealistic expectation for your spouse—especially a poorly communicated one—an expectations gap is created. You’re frustrated because your spouse failed to meet your expectation; your spouse is frustrated because he or she felt helpless to meet your impossible expectation.
Here are a few expectations that lead to expectation gaps:
- Expecting to start out where your parents are now
- Expecting your spouse to fix all your emotional issues and make you completely happy
- Expecting your spouse to be a mind reader
- Expecting your relationship to be like your favorite RomCom (with Hollywood’s best writers)
2. STRESSING ABOUT MONEY
There’s a common saying that goes like this: more money, more problems. Well, in most homes (mine included), it should be more money discussions, more arguments!
Give generously and let the Joneses keep up with themselves.
Not only are finances a major source of conflict in virtually every marriage, but money arguments are typically more intense, too. Creating a budget together can help, but it can also lead to even more fighting.
The best things you can do are trust each other, communicate often, learn the difference between things you need (lasting happiness) and things you want (momentary pleasure)—and let the Joneses keep up with themselves.
Tip: Give generously. It’s almost impossible to give without 1) talking about money with your spouse, 2) learning discipline and patience, 3) prioritizing spending, and 4) appreciating what you have.
3. PUTTING YOUR KIDS FIRST
You’re on a plane with your family. Turbulence rocks the plane and the oxygen masks deploy. What do you do first?
If you follow instructions, you secure your own mask before helping others.
There’s a reason for this. You’re no good to anybody if you’re incapacitated—physically or emotionally. You might feel guilty or like a bad parent putting your spouse (or yourself) ahead of your kids, but the best way to take care of your kids is to take care of your marriage. Your kids will not only be happier and more successful as adults, but also have healthier relationships.
Tip: Make date night a priority (at least once a month, weekly if you can swing it). When you love your spouse with all you’ve got, your kids reap the lifelong benefits.
4. TAKING YOUR SPOUSE FOR GRANTED
Some of the issues I have with my wife are so cliché it’s almost embarrassing. There are times I feel as if I come home from work and enter into a bad sitcom. I had a long day, I’m tired, and I just want to sit down with a beer. She’s just as tired from a day of cooking and cleaning and taking care of our little girl. We each think that we worked harder than the other (she’s usually right on this one!), that we’re more tired than the other, that we need more support from the other. Routines are great—and necessary—but they can also lead to a couple taking each other for granted.
Remember when you first started dating? The butterflies in your stomach, the electricity at every touch. You were practically humming with excitement. Holding onto this childlike wonder—for your spouse, for marriage, for life—can really help a struggling marriage thrive.
Tip: Never stop wooing! And, every day, try writing a gratitude list of three things you are grateful for about your spouse.
5. FIXING INSTEAD OF LISTENING
All right, men. Listen up. This one’s for you. We are doers—listening and empathizing are too passive. If something’s broke, we want to fix it. If there’s a problem, we want to solve it. But sometimes the issue isn’t the issue. Sometimes the problem doesn’t need to be solved, it just needs to be said, out loud, to someone who will listen and still love you on the other side of it.
Who doesn’t love it when someone actually listens to us? When someone sits, looks us in the eyes, and pays attention to our every word—it’s better than flowers, chocolates, and jewelry.
Tip: Men. Look her in the eyes. Give her your undivided attention. And say it with me: “I’m so sorry. That really stinks, honey. Your feelings are important to me. Please, tell me more.”
6. OVERUSING TECHNOLOGY
Imagine your husband has a really nice hammer. He takes that hammer everywhere—to work, in the car, to the bathroom, and even to bed. Every break in the conversation, or even while you’re trying to tell him about your day, he whips out his hammer and starts hammering. Annoying, right?
Well, phones are tools, just like that hammer. They serve a purpose, but when we abuse them, they can really get in the way of relationships. Just remember: neither a hammer nor a phone has ever improved or saved a marriage.
Tip: When you’re home and together, put your phones away to charge, and unplug from social media.
7. MISUNDERSTANDING THE PURPOSE OF MARRIAGE
Ask one hundred different people, and you’ll probably get one hundred different answers. What is the purpose of marriage? Did you ask this question before getting married? If not, that’s okay. Ask it now.
Marriage was designed to help you both become the-best-version-of-yourselves, together.
Is it an outward expression of love? Is it a legal contract? Is it just a social construct? Talk to your spouse about it. Ask older couples that seemed to have “figured it out.”
Modern culture will have plenty of answers to this question as well, but it’s not as complicated as you might think. In fact, it’s simple: marriage was designed to help you both become the-best-version-of-yourselves, together.
Tip: Regularly check out a good marriage retreat—through good times and bad. Dig that well before you get thirsty!
So, should it be easier than this?
No. But nothing in life worth doing is easy.
In fact, every single marriage will encounter most, if not all, of the problems listed above. And that’s okay, as long you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and get to work.