5 Relationship Problems That Are Totally Normal
Linda Carroll, M.S., LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist, psychotherapist, and board-certified life coach who has been working with couples and individuals for 35 years. She is the author of the highly acclaimed book 'Love Cycles: The Five Essential Stages of Lasting Love,' which has been translated into four languages.
Many of us believe that the success of the relationship is determined by what our partner says and does. This is not true: your happiness and fulfillment begins (and ends) all within you.
There are common love troubles that tend to induce doubt in us about our relationships. But the truth is, many of these common woes are totally normal. It all comes down to being more aware of them, and knowing how to approach them. From there, we can start to recognize our own power in making ourselves happy — both in the context of our relationships, and even on our own ….
1. The Blahs
I live in Oregon, where the winters are gray with rain, which may pour or drizzle, but rarely stops. I keep framed photographs of spring flowers on my desktop to remind me that winter is temporary. Marital blahs can be temporary, too, if we learn how to recognize and manage them.
The physiological explanation for feeling less-than-enthusiastic is based on the human craving for pleasure. The feel-good chemical, dopamine, is released when our minds are excited and stimulated, and we feel off-balance when we experience a shortage.
The biggest challenge of the blahs is not to blame our partner for the way we feel. Instead, we must look for ways to accept the naturally evolving ordinariness of life and to consider some steps we might take to add some healthy pizazz to our daily grind. Maybe it's a movie, maybe it's cooking dinner, maybe it's talking about a new book. Experiment!
2. The Blues
If the blahs grip us for too long, we can sink into the blues. Many things can trigger depression — including genetic makeup, life crises, and ongoing relationship problems. Unlike medical conditions that can be diagnosed through measurable tests, depression is diagnosed through behavioral symptoms: exhaustion, low sex drive, disturbed sleep, anxiety, reduced self-esteem, irritability, negativity, and a quicker-than-usual temper.
Often, those suffering from depression believe that they can simply "will" themselves out of the darkness. Others numb their pain temporarily with various forms of self-medication, including drugs, alcohol, sex, food, constant exercise, or long hours at the office — some kind of distraction that keeps their attention away from the empty, sinking feeling inside.
In our search for logical reasons to explain why we feel so badly in our own lives, we often look to our relationships, and conveniently blame them as being imperfect. The truth is that all relationships and marriages are imperfect. We are human, and perfection is not possible — nor is it desirable.
If we are unhappy as individuals, we can't simply look to our relationships as "the problem." Your relationship in and of itself is not the cause of your suffering; the lens we look through when assessing our experiences, emotions, relationships and so on — that is the problem we must work on.
Countless studies point to depression as a major factor in unhappy marriages as well as life with a depressed partner, especially when we try to "fix" their problem. Compassion fatigue runs high, and our tolerance runs low. A depressed person needs to seek a health care professional for diagnosis and treatment, just as they would for any other illness.
Betrayal can take many forms, from garden-variety lapses in judgment that make your partner feel disregarded or discounted — to more serious heartbreakers like infidelity. Common forms of betrayal include broken promises, financial deception and the invasion of privacy — from snooping on a computer to reading a private journal.
Sexual betrayal is an especially difficult problem to resolve. Sometimes the only solution is for both partners to clean their respective psychological closets of all baggage, and to find the courage, honesty, and love to repair and forgive. It's extremely hard work. But perhaps the depth of this process explains why some of the strongest marriages I know have arisen from extremely serious betrayals.
4. Loss of Connection
We are wired in our brains and hearts to be connected; numerous studies show that touch, hugging, and being a part of loving relationships helps us to live longer, healthier, and happier. So how can we manage the anger and conflict that are part of all relationships, and avoid the loss of life-enhancing connection?
The secret is to manage our "love account" just as we manage our bank account — by keeping the deposits higher than the withdrawals. Listen, support, touch, apologize, appreciate, and surprise, no matter what. We need to practice these behaviors often enough to amass the goodwill to cover those times when the relationship is in the red.
5. Bad Moods
According to an old English saying, "One day you're a peacock; the next day you're a feather duster." On "Peacock Days," when everything is going our way, it's easy to behave lovingly. It's a snap to keep our promises to our partner. It's easy, even joyful, to allow disappointments and flashes of anger to subside and to move quickly to repair.
On "Feather Duster Days," none of this is easy. We simply find ourselves in a bad mood. This is perfectly normal. What matters is how we handle our bouts of grumpiness.
Ask yourself how a bad mood affects your work performance. How do you treat your colleagues and customers? Now, ask yourself: How do I treat my partner? My guess is that you stretch yourself so as not to indulge the bad mood at work, whereas at home, you may make less of an effort.
If you want to create trust and good health in your relationship, you need to keep your generosity your promises and your manners intact even when you're feeling low. Remember, you can make changes regardless what your partner is doing. Once you shift your focus from their behavior to yours, you gain enormous power to affect both your relationship and your own well-being.
The preceding post is a modified excerpt of Linda Carroll's new book Love Cycles: The Five Essential Stages of Lasting Love. Copyright © 2014 by New World Library.
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