When we’re single, it’s easy to fantasize about how much better life will be once we find that perfect person – regular romantic dates, on-demand sex, endless snuggles, and the comfort of having that confidant we can reach out to for support at any time. And while couplehood can be pretty awesome (my husband and I will actually be celebrating our four year wedding anniversary in just a few months), there’s a lot that goes on in marriages and relationships that people aren’t exactly shouting from the rooftops, especially those who have been together for some time.
“Relationships can be madness but since we are so uneducated about the realness of being together, many people don’t realize that this is a common stage in love,” renowned celebrity relationship expert Audrey Hope told me in an interview. “It is time to know the truth about relationships, so when the bad times come up, you are prepared.”
Here are some of the most common problems couples face but don’t necessarily talk about.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably become upset with your significant other for things like forgetting to take out the trash or leaving dirty dishes in the sink. If you’re anything like me, you’ve also chosen not to acknowledge that said actions made you mad, but rather waited for your S.O. to figure it out for themselves. When they don’t, this of course, makes you even more mad.
“Couples are not great at talking about issues that really matter to them,” explained Hope. “People keep storage bins and boxes, and tuck things away hoping they will disappear. In order for relationships to work, each person must learn how to speak and say what they mean.”
Hope also stresses that too often we assume that our partners know what we are feeling, when in fact, they often have no idea. “Good old fashioned sitting down and talking eye to eye can heal many problems.”
When we do get around to communicating — or at least trying to — it doesn’t always end up in a productive discussion. In fact, many couples resort to screaming, bickering, and name-calling as a means of getting their point across.
Life coach Nathan Whitson says that this is a natural overflow of weak communication within our relationships. “We try to work around each other and not with each other,” he explained to me. “When this happens, we fight. Rarely is it done in a helpful or fair manner.” Instead, he says, we speak rashly and with an off-putting tone. “Our spouse hears this and responds with the same, and around and around we go, spiraling out of control because we have never learned to fight fair.”
Instead of lashing out in the heat of the moment, Julienne Derichs, a licensed clinical professional counselor, suggests trying to revisit the topic once your emotions have settled. “If a couple never circles back around to the issue that caused conflict to begin with the same issue will only come up again in their next fight,” she said. “Now you are fighting about the unresolved issue and the one that’s happening right now . . . it goes on and on until someone gets overwhelmed and walks away.”
In the beginning of a relationship, we typically want to spend every waking moment with our new sweetie. Whether it’s dinner on a Wednesday, Netflx and chillin’ on Thursday, or an impromptu weekend road trip, no work deadline or family commitment is too important to keep us away from our boo. Fast-forward several years and too often the excitement has faded, leaving a monotonous coexistence in its place. “Over time, a lack of communication and not learning to fight fair takes a toll on our homes,” said Whitson. “We don’t feel like communicating because it usually ends badly and it becomes easier to focus on everything but each other. This is a recipe for disaster . . . we drift slowly apart and wonder where it all went wrong.”
Derichs agrees, saying that slow-moving but ongoing emotional, physical, intellectual, and experiential disconnection happens to couples more often than we think. “Couples don’t realize the many subtle ways they are ‘turning away’ rather than ‘turning towards’ their [significant other] . . . this often leads to chronic disconnection which becomes a big problem in relationships.”
While taking our relationships for granted is common, relationship expert Inga Verbeeck, who founded the exclusive matchmaking agency Ivy International, explains that it doesn’t have to be inevitable. “Make sure to make time to go on date nights and celebrate special occasions,” she said. “Just make time for each other and make sure it’s well spent!”
Life today is so stressful when it comes to money and making ends meet. Throw a relationship into the mix and it becomes even more complicated. Even if both of you are doing well financially, there is still a budget to work out and decide who’s going to be responsible for what in your relationship.”Money is the number one issue in relationships at all stages — beginning, middle and end,” Hope told me. “So many women are shut down and don’t know what their partners have. There is no fine clear line of how it works and so resentments build.”
Relationship expert April Masini agrees, telling me, “People carry stigmas about money from their families into their adult relationships. These stigmas include feelings of guilt and failure.” She added that many people feel that talking money is distasteful and might even try to avoid the topic at all costs.
To avoid conflict, Hope suggests learning how your partner feels about money early on. “There has to be discussions about how you both feel so there is mutual respect, and no one holds on to feelings that fester.”
“Why is he being so secretive with the credit card statement?” “Who is she texting all the time?” “Why does he have to leave the room to have that phone conversation?” “Why doesn’t she want to be friends with me on Facebook?”
These are just some of the questions that, according to Jeffrey Savitt, a professional divorce mediator in New York City, indicate a lack of trust within our relationship. “The list goes on and on,” he explained. “And when there isn’t open and honest communication between partners, lack of trust grows and can be fatal to a relationship.”
Derichs adds that trust is a key component to every successful relationship. “Call it what you will, when one person lies in the relationship, there is a break in the foundation,” she said. ” A solid relationship must be built on trust. If something betrays that trust, and the couple just picks up and goes back to life, eventually there will be an earthquake. Authenticity on both parties is the secret key to happiness.”
Like trust, respect is also a vital component in any relationship that stands a chance at longevity, Derichs told me. “Trust and respect are the foundation in which a healthy relationship sits upon.”
Savitt agrees, saying that losing respect for one another is a common problem that can ruin a relationship. “Sometimes in life we have certain expectations of those closest to us, and when those aren’t met, it can be easy to forget what we once loved about the other person,” he said. “We can look down on them and be dismissive of them. There are few things more devastating than to be looked upon with such negative judgment, especially when that gaze was once loving.”
It’s easy to look at any cute, hand-holding couple out on the street and assume that they must be getting it on, like all the time. But according to Jonathan Bennett, a certified counselor who also runs ThePopularMan.com, more often than not, this is far from the truth.
“Many couples are unsatisfied with their sex lives, whether it’s infrequency, lack of attraction, or a stale, vanilla approach,” he told me. “Typically, this occurs because, like with many aspects of a long term relationship, setting occurs in a couple’s sex life. They no longer have the adventurism or energy that fueled their sex lives in their younger days.”
When sparks fizzle out between the sheets, it can cause other issues, as well, said Savitt. “Intimacy can mean many things. When people feel alienated from each other, when even just regular communication is lacking, it does not create the emotional closeness that creates desire and intimacy,” he said. “Not having the sex life one might want, feels like one of the most painful rejections a person can suffer. The result can be lashing out, fighting, misery, and in some cases, infidelity.”
Not accepting each other’s flaws
When we first fall in love, it’s almost as if our partner can do no wrong. From their clumsiness to their sense of humor, everything is swoon-worthy and adorable. But, as we spend more time with someone, those oh-so-cute quirks can sometimes become, well, sort of annoying.
“When people first meet and fall in love, there is a great deal of idealization of the other,” explained Sue Mandel, Ph.D., a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Encino, California. “Over time, since none of us are perfect, individuals whose expectations are unrealistic tend to become disappointed and frustrated, even resentful.”
In order to have a successful relationship, Mandel says that we must realize that we can’t change our partners, even their less than desirable habits.
Let’s face it. No one really likes to admit when they’re wrong. And when it comes to relationship problems, many find it easier to blame things on their partners, rather than take responsibility for our own feelings and actions.
“Bonding with someone and entwining your life together does not give anyone the right to blame the other person for your own unhappiness. This is the common ‘he did this’ or ‘she did that’,” explained Hope. “Most therapies begin with these sayings, and it is not about the other person. You never get to be a victim in a relationship. In spiritual law, we are all responsible for ourselves and are the creator of our own reality.”
The bottom line: own up to your stuff. You partner will respect you for it.
Maintaining relationship bliss
It’s no secret that relationships are a lot of work. They take trust, patience, compromise, and a whole slew of life skills. That’s why, Hope says, we should strive toward becoming the best version of ourselves before jumping into any serious relationship.
“The best way to have a great love relationship is to be healed and whole in your own self,” she said. “Find happiness in your own court, on your own side of the rink, so you are free to love without blame.”
Hope added, “We must become what we wish to find, so become your list. Look within and quit using the relationship as an excuse to stop living your dreams. Go into the relationship as an individual and stay that way. This is the secret to love.”