Every marriage is unique. Sometimes the problems that surface in marriage are related to specific life experiences and perspectives that each spouse brings into the relationship. However, regardless of our individual experiences, there are common problems that we see come up frequently in the marriage counseling setting. This is our first article in a series on common marital challenges that come up in couples counseling.
Let’s start with the root. Where do marital problems normally stem from? The root cause of marriage problems is often related to the reality that someone so close to us (our spouse) has caused us great pain. The pain we experience in a marriage often feels worse than pain we may experience elsewhere. Why is that?
Why do the people closest to us hurt us the most?
We’re wired for relationships. We are not meant to live life alone. We are created to be in community with family members, with friends, and for those who are married – with spouses. When the harmony in one of those relationships is disrupted, we feel a tension there – and that’s a normal feeling. The people closest to us hurt us the most because that hurt we feel goes against what we’re wired for.
We have higher expectations for people close to us. The people we feel close to know more about us. They know our personalities. They know what we like and what we don’t like. They know how we like to operate, more so than people we aren’t close to. We expect people who know us well to be more understanding and sensitive to our uniqueness. We also have our own expectations of friends, family members, and spouses when it comes to what they do, how they act, what they should (or shouldn’t) say, etc. Not only do we have higher expectations for people close to us, but we also have more expectations of them than we do a stranger. Unmet expectations cause us to feel hurt. The more expectations we have of someone, the higher the likelihood is that they may fail to meet that expectation.
Being close in proximity means more opportunities for hurt. Though this may seem obvious, it’s very true! The more time we spend with someone, the higher the likelihood is that we will experience both good moments and hurtful moments with that person. And, unlike more distant relationships, you may experience the same hurtful experience on multiple occasions, which introduces triggers and reinforces or deepens the hurt we feel.
The Bottom Line: It is normal to feel hurt by someone you have high expectations for, who is in close proximity to you on a daily basis.
The good news is…
Marriage & Couples Counseling can help your hurting relationship.
If both you and your spouse are up for the challenge, there is hope for your relationship! There are empirically validated counseling approaches to help couples work through hurt and find more joy together. Hurt does not have to stay an “open wound.” Whether it’s hurtful words that were spoken, conflicts that escalated, or the discovery of secrets or betrayal, it is possible to heal from that hurt with the appropriate help, the right tools, and an open mindset.
Counseling helps couples learn to respond differently to one another.
How do we respond when we’re hurt by loved ones? We typically react instinctively to the pain we feel.
Couples counseling helps you communicate in different ways, on different levels, so that you can work through to the root of the problems, as well as learn to better handle the situation in the future. Learning how to handle future problems differently is going to keep you from reintroducing the same hurt over and over, which helps the healing process and improves your marriage.
Remind yourself of the truths above — this is the person who matters most! As Sue Johnson says, “Our deepest instinct all through life is to seek out and stay close to a few precious loved ones.” We are wired for relationships, and these desires ultimately take root in our family relationships. Yet, because families consist of the people we care for the most, the family system frequently becomes the context for our greatest pains and emotional struggles. When we keep this in mind and have the appropriate perspective, we’re better able to respond differently to one another and keep in mind the importance of preserving and nurturing this relationship.
Don’t let pain or hurt overtake your marriage.
We may encounter married couples in our lives that make marriage look easy. However, no marriage is perfect and many of the strongest marriages have faced deep challenges. Strong marriages don’t happen by accident, and it requires work from both the husband and wife to keep your marriage from being defined by hurt, pain, or the day to day challenges of being in relationships. Here are some steps you can take:
- First, focus on yourself. What’s in your control? How can you improve your relationship, independent of your spouse? It only takes one person to begin the process of change.
- Read to grow your understanding of an effective marriage. Consider Sue Johnson’s Hold Me Tight or Created For Connection, John Gottman’s Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, or Tim & Kathy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage.
- Take this quiz, based on Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples, to assess the strength of your relationship.
- Learn more about our own process of Couples Counseling at Wellspring.
- Read the next article on The Blame Game in this “Common Problems Addressed In Counseling” series.
Your marriage doesn’t have to be in shambles for couples counseling to be helpful for you. Working on effective communication, handling conflict, processing pain and hurt from the past, and better understanding your role and responsibilities in marriage can take your marriage to the next level. If you’re interested in couples counseling at our Greenville, SC counseling clinic, contact us at 864-214-2084 for more information.