Gary's blog for couples and parents plus resources for individuals, leaders and churches.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Key Causes of Marriage Problems

Recently I served on a panel in our weekend services answering questions about the things that bring pressure points to a marriage. I had no clue what topics would be covered but I was pretty sure there were a couple of places we needed to go.

Why? Because marriage problems, while complex and unique to each couple, have fundamental causes and issues that every couple would be wise to take note of and do inventory on regularly. And if you're deficient in these areas then make sure you get some preventative or remedial help that can assure that your marriage can remain vibrant, healthy and on track the way God intended.

The first common characteristic I see in troubled marriages is a lack of premarital preparation. That means that a couple began their new home with few skills and little understanding about what marriage is, can become and how to keep it growing. As a result they often don't know any better. They can begin to think that their dysfunctional ways of relating are normal and therefore continue to perpetuate them rather than learn to change.

It's only when things get so bad that the couple finally get help but even the assistance process is challenging because there is so much in their thinking and behaving that must be altered. If you didn't have premarital counseling before marriage I would seriously consider getting some or at least a marriage mentor and begin to talk about how your relationship is going. You might discover some major changes you need to make to avoid greater problems down the road.

Second, meaningful communication with each other is non-existent or severely inhibited by the ways the couple connect on a daily basis. So many couple are more interested in being right than doing what's best for each other and their home. Simple discussions turn into all out wars with yelling, pouting, swearing and demanding as the weapons. When things get bad enough most start to use namecalling and bringing up the past as ways to get in their final blow.

And those who take things to the limit can even begin to hit one another. These couples`need to know that there is a better way. And while I don't have time or space here to detail all of what healthy communication does and doesn't look like let me address a couple of places to start.

Begin by listening. Yes, listening. Turn off the TV, look at each other in the eye, and talk about how you feel about what's going on and why. Identify one another's feelings without defending your position. When we listen well we begin to understand and we all want and need understanding. Once we've heard the other person's feelings then we need to ask what they need from us that would help them feel less that way.

An example: So honey, you're confused and even hurt about our finances right now because I question your spending a lot and don't give you as much freedom as you would like with money. What do you need from me that would help you not feel that way as much?

Get the idea? Communication takes time and work. It requires putting aside our own demands and listening to the other person. I've never seen a couple struggling with their marriage who is very good at this.

Finally, when you talk with one another only speak in the here and now. By that I mean that you only talk about the current issue and what is happening right then, not things from the past or predictions for the future.

Here's the wrong way: Ron, you just never listen do you! It's always about you when we make a decision whether it's about going to dinner or changing jobs.

You're just like your father so why should I ever expect things to be different?

Here's the right way: Ron, I was confused tonight and frankly a little hurt when you told me to choose where we'd go to eat and then last minute you decided we would go somewhere else.

Can you see the difference? The first responses are filled with character attacks based on the past and then the spouse says the same about the future when the comparison to his dad is brought in. The implication? You'll never change. You're a loser, that's the way you are so why should I try?

But in the second example, the spouse focuses only on what's going on right now. That is huge in developing healthy communication skills and having meaningful conversations. A person is far more likely to engage in the second conversation than the first and will have far less tendencies to make war over it.

If you want to bring some pretty immediate help to a struggling marriage, start by getting some counsel or mentoring and try these communication skills. You'll be surprised where that can take you if you try!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

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