Common couples problems

Repetitive unproductive conflict

Attempts to discuss disagreements become angry, unresolvable arguments. Frustration builds. Neither partner feels heard or understood. Couples need to be able to discuss differences in a way that leaves them feeling good about the relationship afterwards and good about each other.

Loss of love

One person feels that he or she has “fallen out of love” with the other. Both partners may be equally upset by this, but feel helpless to restore the closeness they once had. In some cases, emotional obstacles, such as simmering anger and frustration, temporarily choke off loving feelings. Identifying these obstacles in treatment can allow loving feelings to flow more freely again.

Extramarital affairs and damaged trust

Affairs involve emotional and/or physical relationships that are usually hidden from a spouse until discovery or disclosure and may threaten the marriage. Many couples can repair the damage done by affairs when both still want to preserve the marriage. Couples therapy is often the best way to accomplish this. But trust can be damaged in other ways, such as excessive or hidden spending; compulsive behaviors, such as sexual addiction; or perceived lack of support during a difficult time. The process for repairing damage in these cases is similar, in many ways, to that which is most helpful after extramarital affairs.

Crisis of commitment

Uncertainty about commitment can develop following an affair, when partners grow in very different directions over the years or after years spent feeling neglected and disconnected. The question being asked is not just “Can we fix the relationship?” but “Do I really want it?” The challenge involves sorting out feelings, taking into consideration the interests in everyone affected by the decision and finding a sense of conviction about the right answer for each partner.

Sexual difficulties

Even with greater openness about sex in popular media, many couples find it difficult to talk about sexual problems, including difficulties with arousal or orgasm, significant differences in sexual interest or preferences, sexual avoidance, and sex that has become routine and unsatisfying. Many couples’ sexual relationships can improve when couples therapy incorporates techniques of sex therapy and that improvement can spread “beyond the bedroom” to deepen feelings of contentment and connection between the partners.

Disconnection and loneliness

People have a deep need to feel closely connected to another person. When that connection is weakened or lost, the relationship is in trouble. It feels like your partner doesn’t care about you, like you’re living alone or with a stranger. These feelings should be a “wake up call” that the marriage is in danger. Couples who pay attention and try to remedy the loss of connection can avoid more serious damage to the relationship.

Lack of passion

These couples feel that they’re “living like room-mates” or siblings. Conflict is low and the relationship is amicable, but one or both partners miss a sense of passion and romance in the marriage. Couples therapy can help them clarify and compare their expectations and explore possible obstacles to a more passionate relationship.

On again, off again

These couples have difficulty deciding whether or not they are, in fact, a couple. They repeatedly break up and re-unite, unable to either commit to the relationship or end it, and feel increasingly exhausted and desperate in the process. Couples therapy – and, in some cases, a focused couples evaluation by itself – can help the couple “get off the merry-go-round” and either commit to improving the relationship or end it and move on with their lives.

Conflicts over parenting

It is normal for parents to disagree on some aspects of parenting but when those disagreements can’t be resolved and become negative and inflexible, both the marriage and the couple’s children suffer. Parents need to try to resolve their disagreements respectfully, tolerate their differences and, as much as possible, work together in the best interests of their children.

Difficulties with in-laws

The question behind most conflicts involving in-laws is “Whose side are you on?” But both partners need to balance their loyalty and love for each other with those for their own families and to tolerate their partners trying to do the same thing, creating boundaries around their relationship that are firm enough to protect their privacy and control over their lives together but flexible enough to allow positive emotional connections with both families of origin.

Challenges for same sex couples

Familial and social responses to same sex couples vary widely and may present unique challenges. Couples therapy can foster a couple’s resilience and unity, promoting effective responses to these difficulties.

Struggling with stressors

Serious medical illness, unemployment, financial or legal difficulties, and other stressors make it more difficult to be generous and thoughtful in a marriage. In these cases, couples therapy can foster adaptive coping, mobilize resources, support all family members, and preserve trust and affection.

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