From an early age, we are taught that once we fall in love we live happily ever after and ride off into the sunset with our perfect mate. This kind of message often creates the misconception that relationship difficulties are abnormal and a sign that a relationship must be doomed. In reality, relationship difficulties are not only common, but also a normal aspect of marriage and dating. All romantic relationships have their ups and downs; sometimes partners feel incredibly connected to each other, while other times they may feel disconnected and confused. To make matters worse, it is all too easy for people to begin comparing their relationship to others’ relationships without considering that some couples present only the positive aspects of their relationship when in public, yet struggle with their own relationship issues behind closed doors.
So how do you determine when difficulties in your romantic relationship are more than you and your partner can handle on your own? The answer to this question varies from couple to couple, but one important aspect to consider is whether you and your partner are able to communicate effectively with one another, even when negative emotions surface. People often assume that negative emotions, such as resentment, anger, and hurt, are bad for a relationship; however, it is often during the “troubled times” that we learn the most about ourselves and our partners, which can actually strengthen a relationship.
The key resides in solid, empathetic communication because when we are able to communicate effectively with our partner positive changes can take place. One of the most important aspects of communication, listening, was highlighted by Dr. Kelly Theis in her recent blog, Listening Isn’t As Easy As It Seems. Allowing your partner to feel heard and understood by you is not only a surefire way to open up lines of communication, but also an act of love that helps create an atmosphere of mutual respect and intimacy.
For many individuals the prospect of marriage therapy, or couples counseling, evokes feelings of embarrassment, fear, and/or anger, which is completely understandable and normal. Talking about the unpleasant aspects of one’s marriage is difficult; however, it is hoped that the process of counseling will also lead you and your partner to uncover your unique strengths, both as a couple and as individuals. Learning to balance both the “we” and “me” aspects of your relationship can help you and your partner grow together, as well as individually.
Mary Kathleen Hill, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist