Normalizing Relationship Problems: Why Couples are Prone to Struggle and Why it is Okay

Normalizing relationship problems. Couple's hands drink two different types of coffee

What relationship doesn’t have problems? For some reason, it is common belief that “good” relationships experience little or no conflict.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.   Dr. John Gottman, renowned relationship expert who has studied couples for over 30 years, found that almost 70% of problems within a couple’s relationship are considered perpetual in nature. In other words, MOST of the problems we encounter within our relationships are unsolvable. These problems will continue to occur throughout the life of our entire relationship. The goal here is not to resolve the problem, rather it is to simply create dialogue around the problem. You read that correctly.  Seeking a solution is not the goal.

The Goal of Managing Perpetual Issues

The correct antidote for perpetual issues is to TALK about the problem.  Do not focus on the content of the argument or issue.  Instead, it is imperative to focus on the process of our conflicts and the meaning behind them.  It’s not about the nail! (A must see video which illustrates this concept-  Most issues we encounter as a couple have very little to do with what is on the surface. It’s not about your husband’s clothes on the floor that forever refuse to make it into the laundry hamper.  Nor is it about your wife’s nagging about those clothes.  The clothes on the floor represent something much deeper.

What is Under the Surface?

So, what do the clothes on the floor represent after all? The negative reaction or response to finding the clothes on the floor may be about not feeling respected as a spouse who works hard to keep a nice home for their family. Or perhaps it’s about growing up in a chaotic household where there was never any predictability and order.  Furthermore, the “nagging” from your wife also represents something more.  Perhaps you grew up in a critical home and the “nagging” is only a reminder that you are not good enough or cannot do anything right.  The key here is to identify not only why these problems are triggers for you, but to be able to share the story behind it.

Understanding Perspectives Outside Our Own Promotes Growth

Being able to understand one another’s perspective from this depth makes a world of difference in helping positive change occur in these areas of conflict and struggle.  However, it is important to keep in mind that we are not looking for our relationships to be perfect.  What we should be looking for according to Dr. John Gottman, is the “good enough relationship.”  Things will never be perfect. Let me say that again. THINGS WILL NEVER BE PERFECT.  Too often, many couples mistake “good” relationships as those where 100% of their needs are met 100% of the time.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Couples I have encountered as a therapist also have shared in the belief that they must have the same hobbies, personalities and commonalities with their partner for their relationship to succeed.  Wrong again.  Having commonalities is great and having differences is equally as great.  What matters is how you come to know and support one another.  It requires making a conscious choice every day to love your spouse or partner.  Further, it is making a conscious effort to create, identify, and accept bids of connection.  Relationships take a lot of time, effort, and commitment.  Each day we need to make the decision to be our best selves to those who are significant in our lives.  “Small things often” is the Gottman motto.  Do small things with great love and you will find yourself in a much happier and secure relationship.