Finding the person you want to spend the rest of your life with is an incredible feeling, but even the happiest, most compatible couples will face challenges in their relationship. This is normal, and overcoming these common challenges couples face together can actually bring you two closer.
Communication tops the list of common challenges couples face. It is emphasized so much that it can start to feel like a cliche. It’s because communication is SO important. Even in non-romantic relationships. Communication is an exchange of ideas, feelings, hopes, even nonverbals. But, since it’s an exchange it only works when both partners are present and working to create change. Communication gives us a chance to bond. Getting a hug from your partner after a long day says a lot, don’t you think? Exchanging ideas keeps us feeling like we know our partner – this could be discovering something new or reinforcing something we knew. When something is not going “right” we want to be able to bring this up with our partner. This could be something going on in the relationship or outside of it. We want to feel like we’re on the same page as our partner, and the only way to do this is to communicate with each other. We need to be open to changing our perspective and creating a solution that both parties are happy with. When you and your partner are going to have an important conversation, it’s important to slow down and be in tune with both your partner’s emotions and your own. If you feel yourself have a strong reaction to something your partner said – your chest tightens, your stomach drops – give yourself a moment to stop and think about why you had that reaction. It’s okay to ask for a time out and think over what’s been said. Before responding to your partner repeat back what you heard to make sure what they’re saying is what you’re hearing.
Another important aspect of communication is to speak each other’s language. How we express our love and appreciation for our partner might be different than how they do for us. So it’s important to be aware of this and keep our eyes out for these expressions.
Another common challenge couples face is setting boundaries. Setting boundaries can be hard. It can feel like we’re being harsh or selfish. Many clinical psychological symptoms like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, impulsiveness, guilt, shame, etc. can by symptoms of boundary conflicts. Boundaries are not selfish, they are essential for mental well-being. Think of the oxygen masks in an airplane – you must make oxygen available to yourself in order to be capable of helping someone else. Boundaries also help you maintain your autonomy while in a relationship. There are boundaries within each individual, as well as boundaries between your relationship and the outside world. It’s important for you to establish what these boundaries are in each circumstance. Remember, boundaries are not walls, it is important they remain permeable and malleable.
Establishing boundaries makes responsibilities clear. Each person needs to take responsibility of their own feelings and behaviors. You also should have boundaries within yourself. Feelings should never be ignored, but they should also not control you. It is important to be aware of your emotions, to be in tune with them and learn from them. Likewise, we are all responsible for our own thoughts. It is not healthy for you individually or as a part of a couple to swallow opinions of others without examining them. When someone is giving you their point of view listen, but also stop and reflect. Take a moment to see what part of what they are saying resonates with you and your views. Don’t be stuck in your ways, but also don’t blindly change to another’s ideas and views. Lastly, we are responsible for our behaviors, and not responsible for anyone else’s. It is impossible to set limits on others. What we can do is set limits on our own exposure to people who are behaving poorly. We cant change them, but we can change how we interact with them.
Sex is an important part of relationships, which leads to it being common challenge couples face. Talking about sex is equally important. When couples are in heightened levels of distress, often they cut off physical intimacy. This can leave partners feeling even more isolated and disconnected from each other. Often couples will find themselves having less sex over time – busy work schedules, starting a family – sometimes life feels like it gets in the way. But it is important to make sure you are keeping the physical affection alive. A study done by Anik Debrot and colleagues showed that it is not sex itself that is so beneficial to relationships but rather the affection that accompanies it. Showing affection on a daily basis – kisses, hugs, holding hands, cuddling on the couch – meant higher relationship satisfaction. However, it can be hard to want to be physically intimate when you’re not feeling safe in the relationship.
Without emotional security, sexual vulnerability does not feel safe. All couples will face difficulties at some point in their relationship. Those who chronically struggle with their sexual relationship can find this area of their relationship triggers their conflict cycle. There may be past emotional injuries such as abuse or infidelity. These can block a couple’s efforts to connect in an open and vulnerable way. Other feelings like insecurity and anxiety can dampen sexual desire and be triggered by sexual interactions. Talking about sex is the first step to overcoming these hurdles. You want to be in tune with your partner – inside and outside the bedroom. Talk about sex in a neutral setting, not in the bedroom. Talk about what’s happening with you that might be getting in the way of this physical connection (insecurities, past injuries, anxiety, etc.). Let yourself be vulnerable with your partner. In the bedroom, work to connect together physically. Listen to your partner’s non-verbals. Try new things. Guide your partner to touching you how and where you like. Tell them when and what feels good, and listen to what they tell you. What happens in the bedroom can mirror your communication and connection outside. Practicing being open to new things and to listening to your partner in the bedroom will lead to you implementing these skills outside the bedroom.
Finances can be an anxiety inducing topic for anyone – so it’s no wonder it is a common challenge that couples face as well. Talking about money can be stressful. The finance talk should definitely happen before marriage, but if it hasn’t, now is the time to start. (Premarital counseling helps with working through those tough conversations and important topics you might not have thought of yet). Having clear conversations around money is a necessity. Are you going to have a joint bank account as well as your own separate bank accounts? How much is each person going to attribute to the joint account? How will you make decisions on big purchases? Are you or your partner a bit reckless with spending? There is a lot to talk about.
Besides these talks, a strain in finances can add to a strain in your relationship. If you’re feeling stressed and hopeless you might find yourself being short with your partner, or distancing yourself. Remember, you’re not in this alone. Your partner is there to support you, even when things are tough. Talk to them about what’s going on, and develop a plan together. Together you can decide where to cut back on some spending. If your partner picks up extra hours, be patient when they get home. Plan self-care nights – even if that means you watch Netflix while your partner reads a book.
Inevitably, there will be many challenges couples face. Know that this is normal, and working through these challenges will bring you closer as a couple. Be patient with each other as you work through things, and be patient with yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for a break in the conversation if you are feeling stuck or frustrated. If you need extra help or guidance working through your issues give us a call to book an appointment. Even if you haven’t hit these bumps yet, remember that therapy is great maintenance, not just a repair, tool.