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If you got married expecting “happily ever after” without any effort on your part, you’ve probably discovered by now that it doesn’t work that way. Having a healthy marriage takes a lot of work. But it’s worth the effort, because having a partner with whom you share your life can make the trials of life more bearable and the joys of life more joyful.
Every marriage has challenges. Recognizing the challenges of your particular marriage and working together to overcome them will make your marriage even stronger and more vibrant. Traditionally, the most common problems were issues of money, children, and intimacy. In recent years, household chores and technology have made my Top 5 list. In virtually all problems, the most important ingredient is communication.
Whether you have too little, too much, or don’t know how to manage it, money is often a source of conflict in marriage. Usually, the underlying problem behind money issues is either a power struggle or a matter of conflicting values or priorities. In tough economic times, financial concerns can increase stress and irritability, affecting every aspect of marriage.
Sit down together with the goal of collaborating to overcome this problem. Without accusation, try to determine what the underlying problem is first, then craft a solution around that. A budget is a helpful approach to keep certain non-essential spending in line. Think about what values or priorities each of you have (i.e., one of you likes to give to charity; one of you has a hobby that costs money) and define a reasonable monthly expenditure, looking at the big picture.
Consider a prepaid card for each category of spending, so that when the card is used up for the month, you stop spending on that activity or item. But try to budget in some fun-time together as well – date night at the movies or even an inexpensive picnic in the park, just the two of you. Reward yourselves for your financial wisdom!
Children are a source of great joy, but can also be a source of stress. How many children to have, struggles with infertility, differences in child-rearing and discipline styles, toys underfoot, and the running around associated with modern parenting are all issues that can stress a marriage. In addition, one parent or both may focus so much on the children that they forget to notice each other anymore.
As with money issues, it’s important to discuss your values and priorities in childrearing and find a way to work together to get everything done without forgetting about each other.
Intimacy refers to both physical contact (sex, holding hands, snuggling, touching) as well as emotional contact (trusting, sharing intimate or sensitive thoughts and feelings). The busy-ness of modern life can take its toll on the time we spend together as couples. If you’re exhausted at the end of a busy day, you may not be interested in sex. Conversely, you may still want sex but don’t show your spouse physical affection or emotional intimacy the rest of the day.
Intimacy is what makes marriage a marriage, as opposed to being roommates or just friends. It’s critical you take the time to work this out. In many marriages, one partner is more interested in sexual intimacy than the other. If this is the case, find a compromise and balance this with other forms of intimacy. As I mentioned in the previous two solutions, budget into your finances a little money to spend on each other, and budget into your child-rearing efforts a little time and effort for each other.
Years ago there used to be “women’s work” and “men’s work.” But that is a thing of the past. Or it should be. Since in many families both spouses work, household chores and errands should be divided equitably.
Equitably does not necessarily mean equally. Only the two of you can decide what’s “fair.” You’re both probably going to have to accept some chore or errand you don’t really like, but that sacrifice, done out of love for your spouse, will help strengthen you as a couple and keep the household running smoothly, which will decrease stress and increase peace.
This recent phenomenon is quickly becoming one of the biggest causes of divorce, because it affects just about every other cause already listed. Multiple studies now show correlations between technology use and increased dissatisfaction in marriage.
After being apart for most of the day, don’t come home and spend time on your cell phone or tablet, catching up on social media, the latest shows on Netflix, or any of the hundreds of other ways we distract ourselves with news and entertainment. Instead, spend time with your spouse. The best way to do this is to budget your time on the internet or other devices. Decide together what’s important to each of you and plan to spend time together. And please, don’t lie in bed catching up on social media before you go to sleep!
Texting distances people. Research indicates that it creates a “remote social connection” less personal than calling. So if you mostly text your spouse during the day, maybe switch to a call in the middle of the day, just to say hi.
Sharing everything you do on social media can decrease intimacy between couples as well. Try to save some things to be personal, just shared between the two of you.
Communication is the key
You’ll notice that every one of these problems requires communication and concern for the other’s feelings in order to be successfully overcome. If you need help learning how to properly communicate, reach out to a qualified marriage counselor. If you’re in the New York City area, contact me to see how I can help you.