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Staring out from the altar at your family and friends dressed in their Sunday best, giving you thumbs up and throwing rice, is great, but it doesn’t reveal much about the other 99 percent of marriage. As any veteran husband will tell you, this is an ever-evolving relationship. Hopefully you experience many decades of wedded bliss. Oh, you will definitely squabble, rub each other the wrong way, bicker, and threaten to burn the whole f—er down. You’ll disagree on everything from your in-laws to your kids’ education. And these conversations are a constant. Marriage is hard. Wait … don’t leave. There’s more.
One of the tenets of a long and happy marriage — other than having the same feelings about co-sleeping, snacks, and Netflix shows — is preventing tiny spats from blossoming into a full-fledged mortar-shelling sessions. This may sound obvious, but according to Rachel Sussman, licensed psychotherapist and one of the nation’s most sought-after relationship experts, these are the issues that drive most couples onto her couch … or into divorce court. Sussman shared 5 of the most common issues she sees — and how to prevent them from snowballing into potential relationship ruiners.
Talking Over Each Other
Maybe you’re bickering about diaper-changing duties or why you can’t always play the good cop when disciplining your kids. Whatever it is, if you each feel strongly about it (not to mention tired or stressed), normal rules of engagement break down. Then the conversation turns into the home edition of Who-Gets-To-Talk-More ™.
“Unskilled communicators tend to either hold things in until they explode, behave passive aggressively, give the silent treatment, or become combative, defensive … on and on,” says Sussman. These behaviors are ramped up during big discussions and lead to full-blown scream-fights.
This is tricky stuff for sure. But in those moments when you simply can’t sit still and let your partner have their say, Sussman suggests sitting on your hands. Literally. Then, when your other half is done talking, try repeating what they said in a calm manner. “Repeating what you just heard works because it lowers the temperature in the room” added Sussman. Take a deep breath and move on from there.
Treatment Of In-Laws
Maybe your mother-in-law’s so passive aggressive she makes Mama Soprano seem well-meaning. Maybe your father-in-law’s a grump who won’t stop cursing in front of the kids. Hell, with time, even the kindest parents can morph overbearing, nosy, creatures who add their 2-cents so much that you could start a hefty retirement fund. It’s only natural to get frustrated. But, per Sussman, problems arise when you don’t talk about them in a respectful manner and fail to compromise on everything from visits to overindulging the kids.
To prevent these problems from eroding a marriage, Sussman says to curb the trash talk and keep in mind that you and your partner come first now. “When you get married, that’s your new nuclear family,” she says. “That comes first. You and your partner have to be willing to push back when extended family makes that an issue.” The key, she says, is communication and becoming a unified front.
Different Philosophies On Spending
Your wife likes to save. You like to indulge. It’s a crappy sitcom waiting to happen. It’s also, per Sussman, quite common — and it can really start to gnaw at a relationship in the later years. Especially because it’s not likely to change.
Sussman’s advice: Have a third, objective party weigh in. Immediately. “You’re going to want to nip financial issues in the bud early on,” says Sussman. “Sit down with financial planner because when it comes to money habits, a lot of people play the blame game.”
Staying Silent About Sex
You want to get your freak on a few times a week; your partner wants it only once. While it may not seem like a big issue at the beginning, sex issues can easily derail couples. Because one person may start to resent the other for not viewing sex as not important enough, or too important. And you’ve come too far since high school to be having pity sex.
Per Sussman, the best thing to do at the first sign of some misfiring Bunsen burners in the ’ol sexual chemistry department is to A) openly discuss any issues and B) see a sex therapist.
“Sometimes a person who has a low sex drive is criminalized and sometimes a person who has a high sex drive is too,” says Sussman. She says that seeing a sex therapist “can at least create a dialogue” between you and your partner, and that can go a long way toward a new understanding. And — maybe! — something besides missionary.
Getting Stuck On Differing Timelines
The younger you and your partner are, the more likely you are to see the big picture of life differently. “With young couples, commitment or timeline issues are very prevalent,” says Sussman. “One is wanting to move the relationship forward quicker than the other; one is dragging their feet for what could be a large variety of issues.”
The best way to combat being stuck on different timelines? Talk about your big picture goals early and often. When will you buy a house? Do you want kids? If so, when? Do you want more kids? What the hell is wrong with you? By discussing your future 5, 10 years down the road, each of you will have an easier time avoiding speed bumps on your journey towards meeting in the middle at Compromise Junction.