7 Relationship Problems

Be Prepared for These Issues

I want to be sure that you are focusing on the topics that will lead to healthy marriages. It helps me to understand the types of issues that are common with couples. What impacts them? Where do I need to focus?

I was speaking with a Christian psychologist about marriage education and marriage curriculum. He told me that he thinks a lot of it is kind of fluffy. He spends his time with couples whose marriages are in distress. He didn’t think that much of the material was directed at these struggling couples, but these couples are the ones that really need the help.

As a developer of curriculum, this struck me. I want to be make sure that I’m focusing on the right issues that will lead to health. I want to train other mentors to be sure they are talking about the right issues.

There are a couple of reasons for knowing what those common struggles are. First, it helps to not be surprised or to feel overwhelmed. Second, it helps to guide a dialog about where to focus.

I am a Christian and I want whatever I do to be Biblically based. I also appreciate the psychological research that has gone into studying what makes for healthy marriages. There have been a number of studies that outline common factors in distressed marriages and how to deal with them.

Here are the common relationship problems called out in the research that we need to cover to be effective.

Problem 1: Lack of Positive Interactions

Couples that have ongoing positive interactions are better able to sustain relationship satisfaction. Over time, many couples shift from positive interactions to negative interactions.

How many of your interactions are positive versus how many are negative? Many of the couples that we have worked with have forgotten to focus on building positive interactions into their relationship.

As they do less positive interactions, negative interactions tend to dominate.

Couples can improve their relationships by building connection through more positive interactions.

Problem 2: Lack of Closeness

Healthy relationships feel close and connected. Unhappy relationships experience a sense of separation and distance.

People experience closeness in different ways. For some, it’s the expressing of emotions. For others, it’s having shared positive experiences. For others, it’s having sex.

Distressed couples don’t talk about positive aspects of their relationship. They tend not to be very self-disclosing with each other.

Problem 3: Poor Communication and Conflict Management

Often, couples that are struggling have some type of communication deficit in their relationship. They aren’t communicating in a way that facilitates closeness.

In contrast, showing contempt, disgust, fear or emotional withdrawal tends to lead to more separation. Dysfunctional communication leads to either more verbal attacks or emotional withdrawal.

Healthy communication also facilitates being able to adapt to change. Change is inevitable. Our lives move through seasons and these changes cause stress on relationships.

Seasons of life include the big changes: getting married, having kids, kids going to school, becoming empty nesters and retirement. Big changes can also be new jobs, moving, financial or health challenges.

Are you able to cope with change?

Relationship challenges often come out during these major transitions. It’s about your ability to adapt to the new situation. If you don’t have good communication skills or if you have unrealistic expectations, these changes bring about more stress in a relationship.

Problem 4: Beliefs and Expectations

The beliefs and expectations that individuals have when they enter marriage can be predictive of relationship distress. Unrealistic expectations in areas such as the importance of communication, appropriate conflict resolution, family dynamics and roles all lead to challenges in their connection.

Many of these beliefs come from our family of origin. Understanding their impact on your relationship can help you to examine what is healthy and what is unrealistic.

Problem 5: Negative Thoughts and Negative Bias

Satisfied couples and dissatisfied couples interpret behaviors very differently.

Let’s say that one partner is late coming home from work. The person in the distressed relationship is more likely to think “they are so selfish, they really don’t care about me.” The person in the satisfied relationship will be more likely to think, “I know they are working hard and are under a lot of pressure at work.”

Same behavior. Two different interpretations.

The same is true of positive behaviors. Distressed couples tend to discount positive behaviors. Happy couples tend to discount negative behaviors.

Problem 6: Insecure Attachment Style

This is one of the top psychological theories of love. Personally, I think that it’s very Biblical and insightful. In this brief article, I can only mention it in passing.

If you’d like to read a bit more about it go to this post on 3 Conflict Patterns.

We have woven this throughout our material.

Problem 7: Poor Sex

Healthy marriages have a healthy sex life. Sex and relationship satisfaction are closely connected.

Healthy communication brings closeness, which helps the sex life. Guess what? A healthy sex life also helps communication.

The two are intertwined.

The Good News

Couples can improve!

As marriage mentors and marriage educators, we can help by focusing on the right issues.

Tips for Marriage Mentors:

  • Focus on the right issues – The issues that are outlined in this blog post are the key findings of a number of research studies.
  • Acknowledge negative thoughts, feelings and behaviors – When we are struggling, we will have negative thoughts and emotions. As mentors, it helps when couples can recognize them and make new choices.
  • Be sure to equip couples with communication skill building – Teach couples healthy communication skills.
  • Find curriculum that helps couples to explore their beliefs and expectations – Marriage education material that names common unrealistic expectations can help couples to identify unrealistic beliefs and expectations.