HOW DO UNMET WANTS AND NEEDS BECOME MARITAL ISSUES AND PROBLEMS
At the start of a relationship, we make great sacrifices to be with each other and to demonstrate our willingness to prioritize our relationship with the person we want to be with. How we treat each other during this period – our interactions with each other – sets the expectations for how marriage will be. If the start of our relationship is rocky, we may hope being married will somehow change that. But rockiness is likely to increase and satisfaction is likely to decrease as the realities of life distract us, require our attention and time, and become competing relationships. This is the time when we are at risk for becoming physically and emotionally disconnected. Distracted and disconnected, we don’t sufficiently attend to each others’ needs, and we are prone to dwelling on thoughts of our own unmet needs. When our own needs don’t get met, we don’t put much effort, if any at all, into meeting our spouse’s needs. We become unhappy, and are prone to blaming the other spouse for it. In this mindset, we begin to entertain the thought that we married the wrong person, and begin to think increasingly negatively about our spouse and our marriage relationship. Consequently, we think and act according to the negatives we think about, and that we so easily and readily find. All of this negative thinking prevents us from interacting the way we did when our relationship began, or correcting it if it wasn’t good to begin with. When happens repeatedly, we create negative history in increasing amounts, the marriage becomes unsatisfying, and spouses are distressed.
SAMENESS NOT REQUIRED
Needs are very personal and individual. Both spouses share some common needs, but most often, there are some that are very different. Similarities and differences often attract us to a spouse, but those same similarities and differences may, over time, be the source of irritation, not continued attraction. But sameness of wants and needs is not a requirement for a satisfying and happy marriage. Daniel B. Wile, Ph.D., a respected author, lecturer, and therapist in Oakland, California, advocates for a collaborative approach to marriage. He wrote, “When you choose a partner, you’re choosing a particular set of problems. And if you choose a different partner, you’re choosing a different set of problems.” In essence, Wile is saying, “Choose a partner you like, and that you’re willing to learn how to solve problems with.” When problem solving becomes like being in a squirrel cage, there is usually an underlying unmet need or want that is making it very difficult if not impossible to talk to and understand each other. The ideal marriage is really one in which spouses work hard to understand each others’ differences, accept those differences, and make sincere and concerted effort to prioritize the needs of the marriage relationship over individual needs. The ideal marriage is not problem free, but it doesn’t feel like a competition to be heard and understood when trying to solve problems together.
Below is a list of common marital issues and problems. If these or any others are creating difficulty for you in your marriage, I can help.
Spouses so often try to change the other in the name of helpfulness. The truth is the only person you can change is you. Changing your response may be just what the relationship needs for the other person to change
Talking vs Communicating
Telling our partner may not be the same thing as communicating with our partner. Complaint, criticism, contempt, stonewalling, having to be right, and responding as a victim to our partner all lead to problems of misunderstanding and conflict. To express ourselves with assertiveness, from our beliefs and feelings and not from the complaint or criticism, and to accept the views and needs of our partner opens the door to real communication, understanding, closeness, and the ability to solve problems.
Couples who are feeling so busy and stressed by the push and pull of life’s demands that they fail to give sufficient time to their marriage are likely to be unhappy with the marriage. In a calm and honest way, couples can reconnect by examining and assessing what they are doing and why, share what is important to both of them, determine what they need to do to protect their marriage with better choices, and reach a unified decision about how to rearrange their lives.
Intimacy is one of top three marital complaints. Modern couples —especially those with children — face constraints of time , desire, and opportunity when it comes to sexual intimacy. The effort required dampens the desire. But sexual intimacy is just part of the intimacy problem. When intimacy is lacking, spouses really do suffer.
Change of Focus
This most often occurs with the birth of children, a job, or hobbies. When focus changes, couples report lack of intimacy, living like roommates.
Emotional affairs are about an intimate relationship with someone outside the marriage, with or without sex. Learning to trust and to be emotionally vulnerable to your spouse or partner after he or she has had an emotional affair can be incredibly difficult. Communicating with your spouse or partner about your needs may inoculate you from choosing to cross into emotional affair territory. If you’re the other spouse, listen to what your spouse says is important to him or her, and respond supportively.
Spending habits are not usually the same, nor are saving and the way bills get paid. When couples fail to discuss, compromise, and agree to a plan or budget, the disagreements turn into arguments that often turn into fights. It is not unusual when it gets to this point for spouses to withdraw from each other, resent each other, and engage in passive-aggressive behavior.
Inability or Unwillingness to Forgive
Both partners bring their own “stuff” to a marriage. This “stuff”, both good and bad, becomes the focus of disagreement and conflict. In conflict we seldom listen, hear, and resolve. So we create more “stuff”. We have to learn and be willing to forgive each other for offenses that come from our “stuff”, whether individually acquired or relationally created.
Lack of Appreciation
If you feel valued, appreciated, and cared for, you can accept a lot of imperfection. You will be more understanding of the faults and failings of your spouse. Lack of appreciation is one of the root influences in infidelity. When appreciation is high, however, conflict is low and confidence and satisfaction in the relationship is high. When couples are high on the appreciation scale, they accept so much more disappointment than they otherwise do.
Whatever you are interacting with is a relationship you are involved in. Texting, internet surfing, constant use of smartphones, and gaming are very often viewed by non-participating spouses as extra-marital relationships. Most often, these spouses will first complain, but if the participating spouse views this complaining as nagging, and is not responsive to the inherent message that the complaining spouse is not feeling valued and appreciated, arguing and fighting ensue, followed by mutual resentment. The end result is emotional withdrawal from each other. Sitting next to each other while doing separate internet and smartphone activities will not replace the closeness and connection that comes from non-virtual activity together.
Responsibility and Chore Sharing
When living alone, an individual grows accustomed to prioritizing and doing what is important to them when it is important to them, and how they do it. This creates “stuff” for a relationship when two people bring their differences in prioritizing and habit to a marriage.
How we choose to parent our own children comes largely from what we believe about being a parent. What we believe is based on our values, habits, and routines we experienced during our own childhood. We may embrace some of it, and reject some of it. This creates “stuff” for a parental relationship when two people bring different expectations and priorities to the parenting role in a relationship.