When couples have problems they always want to solve them. But just because the two of you have some issues certainly doesn’t mean that that you are unique, or even unusual. In fact, if you know of a couple that doesn’t have any problems they need to solve they are either great at keeping their stuff close to the vest or they are amazing and we want to read their book!
It’s important to realize that you are not alone in your struggles and there are many others who share your pain. Of course the issues you and your partner face are unique to you because you both have your own coping and problem-solving skills that you bring to the relationship. But take solace in the knowledge that because we all share most of the same concerns, there are myriad solutions.
Following are some of the most common complaints that couples are bring to therapy, along with some suggestions on how to fix them.
This is the biggie. It’s the rare couple that doesn’t come to us in counseling talking about communication issues. Of course it’s paramount that couples are able to communicate effectively. But most importantly, WHY aren’t they able to communicate? What are the barriers standing in their way and why do things become so heated? That is perhaps the most important work that will be done in therapy, but in the meantime, a couple of strategies can help get you on the right path: Reflective listening: slow down and listen to what you’re partner is saying, the reflect back the message you received – without judgment or interpretation! Ask your partner if you got it right. “I” Statements: When expressing your thoughts and feelings, accept responsibility by using the word “I,” as opposed to the blaming “you.”
Depleted Emotional Bank Accounts
These necessarily the exact words that a couple will use when describing their relationship woes, but it’s not unusual that even the smallest issues can cause big blowouts because our emotional bank accounts are bereft of funds. Imagine deciding to run a marathon without any preparation. Your body would rebel because you didn’t build up any stamina with proactive exercise. The same applies to your emotional interactions. If you and your partner have a big, emotional issue and you haven’t been working on your emotional “muscles,” then you may not be in the greatest shape to deal with emotional strife. But if you take time when things are good to fill your partner’s emotional bank account with positive deposits (“I love you.” “You look great.” You’re an amazing parent.” You get it – compliments), then he or she can more easily weather the storm of a negative emotional event.
With the advent of texting and Facebook, etc., it has become pretty easy to maintain relationships that would never even have existed just a few years ago. These new-age relationships can quickly become threatening to our partners as they can easily cross the conventional lines of appropriateness. What is, or is not, appropriate is specific to each couple, but once emotions or personal details become part of an electronic relationship, many partners start to feel like boundaries have been broken. Most important in these scenarios is to respect the communication you are receiving from your partner. Even if you don’t believe you are being inappropriate, or that you are actually cheating, if your partner is feeling it then it matters. But most importantly, what is your partner seeking from this relationship that they aren’t getting from the relationship you share? While figuring this out it will be necessary for the “communicator” to take a break from all but professional, or necessary, connections with their “friend.”
Disparate Sexual Desire
Most of us didn’t have any training on transitioning for teen sex to adult sex. In other words, when sex – or even a relationship – is new to us, the sheer excitement can be enough to make sex amazing and desirable. But when our relationships continue and become more “mature” (jobs, kids, any responsibility), then sex can often become more of an expectation, or even a chore. But nobody ever told us that would happen! So it isn’t at all unusual that once we settle into the routines of our relationships, our natural levels of sexual desire may clash.
Your best bet is communication, but, unfortunately, our American culture is not one that necessarily supports open sex talk as we grow up, or even once we’re adults. Couples counseling can be a wonderful venue for finding new levels of comfort around difficult topics, but you can also accomplish this alone with some communications strategies found above. A specific strategy that helps couples reconnect is called sensate focus. This exercise helps couples get in touch with one another’s – and their own – bodies to focus on what feels good. This is done without specific sexual touching, and without the expectation that it will end with sex. This is great for decreasing the pressure that the lower-desire partner may be feeling
About the Author:
Aaron Anderson is a therapist and Director of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. He is a writer, speaker and relationship expert. He specializes in working with couples learn to communicate and overcome sexual difficulties.