Marriage is a long experience, with good times and bad times, good years and bad years, even good decades and bad decades. Sometimes it requires a real adjustment in your perspective of time to wrap your head around just what a major undertaking marriage is. And, like every worthwhile human experience, it comes with its challenges.
Every marriage is unique, a once-in-a-lifetime combination of two different people and personalities, taking place during a particular era and place. But despite that, there are certain common experiences that nearly every married person has to deal with, wherever and whenever they get married. Here are eight common challenges that most married people encounter during their relationships.
1. Anger and Resentment
People aren’t perfect – they make mistakes. That’s something you will learn for sure once you get married, though you should have learned it before then! You will make mistakes, you will screw up, you will drop the ball sometimes. You will say the wrong thing, or forget to take out the garbage or forget to pay the electric bill and come home to a dark house and angry spouse. Something will go wrong at some point.
Your spouse will also make mistakes. Over time, they will change in your eyes from the perfect ideal person you first fell in love with to a more realistic, well-rounded person. You will see plenty of new things to love about them, but you will also see their flaws. Perhaps they will snore and keep you awake at night. Maybe they like sleeping in a cold bedroom, with all the windows open and two fans blowing, while you like to be warm.
All these things can make you angry, and they can make your spouse angry. Anger is a normal, healthy human emotion. But how we express our anger can be very unhealthy indeed, and can hurt the people around us and damage our marriage, too.
If you are angry about something your spouse has done, or not done, it is OK to express that anger. But the expression should be proportionate to the degree of their mistake. If they forgot to take out the trash and you go berserk on them, well, that’s not OK. Express your anger, say what you need to say, and then drop the subject. That’s the hard part. Don’t bring it up again. If you’re still angry inside, find a healthy way to let that out – exercise is a good way. Writing about it and then ripping up or burning the paper is another.
Resentments are caused by anger that isn’t ever expressed, so it festers and burns inside a person until, sometimes years later, it contributes to an explosion, like the pressure of hot lava building up in a volcano for ages. Expressing your anger and dealing with it in a healthy way helps prevent more serious and damaging resentments.
This is very helpful in regard to anger, but also to all other areas of your marriage. As your relationship evolves and becomes more complex, you need to find new and better ways to communicate to each other. Some small things need to be communicated often – such as “I love you.” Don’t just assume your spouse knows you love them and doesn’t need to hear it any more. Don’t let your marriage become more like a business arrangement with two partners rather than a love affair.
A bigger challenge is finding good ways to communicate about more humdrum, prosaic things, like who’s taking out the garbage this week, or how are we going to pay our mortgage if one of us loses their job? Set aside a regular time (it can even be when you are driving together) to take turns talking about what’s on your mind. While your spouse is talking, keep silent. Then talk when it is your turn. This will train both of you how to listen as well as talk.
Remember it is important to talk about positive things as well – see the section on dreams below.
Everything changes. You will change, your spouse will change, the political climate will change, your family and finances will change. Accept that change is going to happen and you will be far better off when it does happen. Some possible changes aren’t any fun to think about – sometimes people fall out of love with their spouse, or become less sexually attracted to them. Don’t obsess over all the things that could go wrong, but be honest about the eternal fact of change. Your marriage will be quite different than it is today in a few years, or even a few months. Don’t be afraid of change, but be aware of it.
4. Aging and Health
One certain change is growing older. You and your spouse will age. Not only will you not be as fit or youthful or sexy as you once were, but your strength and stamina and your interests will change. Some people fight fiercely against aging – at age sixty they still dress like teenagers – while other people try to go along with it more gracefully. Whatever you choose, you must accept that both of you are getting older.
Aging often brings health challenges, both small ones and big ones. There are no guarantees of how long the two of you will have each other and have good health. So if you are healthy and happy together today, it is important to enjoy that.
Money is a taboo and toxic subject in our society, in some ways even more difficult to discuss than sex. Make sure that part of your regular communication routine, discussed above, includes monthly or quarterly check ins about your finances. The amount you each earn and spend should be completely transparent – each of you should know what the other person contributes to the bank account and what they take out. Just keeping current with each other on the subject of money will eliminate most of your problems in this area.
They have to be done. Dishes must be washed, dogs must be walked, children must be taken to school or sports practice, dinner must be made, garbage taken out, and so on. Divide up the chores in a way that is fair to each of you. If you particularly despise one chore, such as scrubbing toilets, make a deal with your spouse – take something they hate doing in exchange. Communication is the key here, once again.
If both of you have jobs, you can sometimes be pulled apart in different directions by the requirements and demands of your career. Planning ahead really helps – if your ambition is to rise to the top level of your business, become a C-level executive, for example, then you must communicate that clearly to your spouse, and make sure you both compromise on what matters to you. One of you may want to move to a new city for a great job opportunity, while the other one wants to stay. Communication is the only way to resolve these issues. Be open to what your spouse is saying, and be ready to compromise.
One area of communication is vital for a married couple – dreams. Achieving your dreams is not nearly as important as having dreams. That may sound crazy, but it’s true. Far too many couples get bogged down over time in the mundane, everyday business of life, and they forget to dream with each other. Each of you has dreams, small ones (buying an article of clothing), and big ones (buying a house). Whatever your dreams are, it is important to communicate them to your spouse. Share your dreams with each other, whether they are for dinner at a fancy restaurant, buying new dishes, getting a puppy as a pet, or a two week holiday in Fiji. Your spouse should know what you dream of, and that way they can always help you get where you wish to go.