Challenges in Marriage and Relationships

Even the best marriage or relationship will have challenging times.

fighting-coupleSadly, the guidance and support from traditional (extended family, church, neighborhoods) and their ability to help couples through these times has diminished significantly over the past few decades.

Marriage counseling cannot fully fill replace the depth of support from those resources, but it can provide useful guidance, insight, and encouragement during the inevitable challenges that come to all marriages and long term relationships.

Every marriage is unique. But there are some issues or stages that are quite common, which many couples will experience at some point in their relationship and may find themselves struggling to resolve them. Below are descriptions of some challenges that may occur in your marriage or relationship. Of course, these examples do not include all challenges encountered in marriages or relationships, but suggests some of the more common difficulties couples can face.

Ideally, both parties participate when the primary purpose for counseling involves a relationship. But when that is not possible, there can still be significant benefit from one person using individual counseling for concerns about their relationship.

Call today to schedule your appointment. (828) 686-9601

Uncommitted Relationships

This is the first stage in most relationships; whether it is considered dating, courtship, or “just friends – maybe more”. Learn More

Often couples in this stage don’t seek counseling when things get difficult, but instead they simply break up.

And that’s often quite appropriate, since dating is a way exploring what one wants from a relationship or if a person is a good match. But when there’s been a significant investment with each other or there is potential for a long term relationship, couple counseling may be helpful for working through a difficult phase and avoiding the loss of the relationship. Also for those who find their relationships never move beyond this stage, despite their desire for a committed relationship, they may wish to use individual counseling to explore what is contributing to this pattern.

Moving Toward Commitment

In the past, counseling at this stage was predominantly viewed as premarital counseling; however “commitment” may take many forms besides marriage. This is arguably the most proactive (and underused) form of couples’ counseling. Learn More

The transition from exploring possibilities with a person into making a commitment to marry and be a part of their life is quite significant. Many couples move into commitment “by default”. That is, they simply following their natural attraction for each other without making explicit and clear agreements about their commitment. This may result in assumptions being made, often followed by feelings of disappointment or even betrayal when ‘surprises’ begin to emerge later in the relationship.

At this stage the prospects for long term success in couples’ commitments is largely dependent on three factors. First, the couple’s willingness to be candid and specific about their expectations and agreements. Second, a willingness to realistically consider the “nuts and bolts” implications of their commitments, especially related to cohabitation or marriage. And lastly, each partner’s willingness not to “give in” or agree to things that don’t truly fit for them.

Admittedly, it is not a very romantic process to deal with these issues directly, but doing so can help to avoid many future challenges – and can actually lead to greater intimacy. For many people this may not be a natural or easy process, or they may even be unsure what issues to address, so counseling can be very helpful to couples in this stage.

Post-Honeymoon Marriage or Relationships

Although it may seem inconsistent with the title, ideally couples move through this stage of their relationship before the couple marrying or making a serious commitment to each other. But, not all couples follow that sequence. Learn More

During the early phases of a relationship there is a heightened sense of excitement about discovering and enjoying the qualities of a new companion. In the “honeymoon phase” this excitement and attraction allows couples to gloss over each other’s “less desirable” traits. How long this phase lasts varies, but inevitably the newness and excitement must subside. As that happens it’s quite common for an increased level of conflict to emerge as the couple starts to address the areas where they don’t match up so easily.

This time may be confusing to couples and lead them to question their compatibility. But, it is a perfectly natural (and unavoidable) phase of a relationship. It actually provides a valuable “testing ground” for the couple’s ability to constructively address and resolve differences and conflicts; which is essential for intimacy and having a healthy long term relationship.

Couples’ counseling can serve a valuable function in this phase by assisting couples to find their unique methods for dealing with their differences in mutually respectful and productive ways.

Marriage Gone Flat

Nearly every marriage or long term relationship will have phases when the intensity, attraction, or energy of the interaction between the couple ‘goes flat’. This can occur for many reasons, but taking action toLearn More

understand and address the reasons is often crucial for the relationship to move beyond this phase.

Often couples will first try to resurrect the things that gave their relationships vitality in the past. Sometimes that can work or at least help to make temporary improvement. But relationships continually evolve, so what worked in a past stage may no longer fit or even be possible within the current circumstances.

While there are many things that couples can do to help revive their relationship, those things need to be relevant to relationship within its current status. When a couple is committed to their relationship, but feeling adrift, counseling can be most useful to help understand what is causing the decrease in connection and what actions can be taken to revitalize the relationship.

Established Relationships Under Stress

A relationship is a partnership of two people, but it certainly doesn’t exist in isolation. Events outside of the couple’s control frequently have an impact on the quality of their relationship. Jobs, illness, aging parents,Learn More

unexpected expenses, and even natural disasters are just a few of the possibilities in life that create stress and impact the quality of a relationship.

While meeting these challenges together can often strengthen a relationship over the long term, it can also create significant disruption and disharmony in the short term. Oftentimes, having the support of a counselor can help a couple to solve problems more effectively and reinforce the strengths of the relationship during difficult times.

Relationships in Transition

Change is a fact of life, so successful long term relationships must have the ability to adjust and adapt to changes. Even when the change is something planned or desirable Learn More

(birth of a child, new job, retirement) there is a phase of transition when some previous patterns of interacting may no longer work, but new patterns have not yet been established. In order to remain functional and enriching to the couple, relationships periodically need to be redefined and retooled. Counseling can assist a couple to be proactive about facing these transitions in order to decrease the intensity and duration of the discomfort, confusion, and frustration that often accompanies these transitions.

Marriage and Relationships in Mid-Life

Middle age brings it’s own set of changes and challenges, both to individuals and to our relationships. In a long standing marriage or relationship the mid-life issues are often related to making transitions, as noted in the section above. However, more than ever people are starting new relationships in their middle years.Learn More

In many ways a midlife relationship has more flexibility, and therefore more options for the couple to define what form of relationship fits best for them. But, there are also fewer models or predictable expectations for relationships started in midlife.

One thing that usually becomes clear fairly quickly is that many of the guidelines, priorities, and approaches that fit in young adulthood don’t easily transfer to romance in midlife. Unlike couples starting a relationship in their youth, mid life couples have already lived a lot of life. So most often they have significant personal patterns, preferences, and even other commitments or obligations that they must integrate into their relationship.

Because of this, many couples coming together in middle age often face the issues related to “Moving Toward Commitment”, as noted in the section above. Counseling can be beneficial for an individual who is exploring relationships in their middle years; as well as for couples who are drawn to combine their lives, but may be challenged to find the forms that work for them.

The Ended Marriage

Not all marriages or long term relationships last… and many do come to an end. Quite often after the partnering aspect of a relationship has ended the two individuals still need to continue interacting with each other. Learn More

This is most common when a couple has children, but it may involve other issues that linger after the couple has separated (shared assets, business interests, common social groups.) It can be awkward or emotionally difficult to come together and plan how to manage future interactions, so many former couples avoid doing it. But, without having some agreements and plans in place, every encounter with the former partner is an unpredictable and undefined event.

It’s rarely easy dealing with a ex-marriage partner – especially in the early days. Using a marriage counselor as a consultant and/or mediator to establish agreements make plans and their future interactions can often help to avoid unnecessary anxiety, embarrassment, or emotional disruption.

A more comprehensive look at each of these stages is available at my marriage counseling website: Asheville Marriage Counseling.