You started out with such great intentions, but today your marriage is floundering. The emotional pain runs deep, and both of you struggle with a sense of bewilderment. How can your relationship be in such turmoil when it started out so strong?
"I encounter many couples who find themselves in this exact place," says Pam Johnson, a licensed clinical social worker. "They think that sex, children, money or who took the garbage out last are the issues creating obstacles in their relationship. In reality, 80 to 95 percent of what couples argue about has its origins in the first 12 years of life."
Research shows that people learn many things about marriage during their early years of life, and they carry these perceptions into adulthood. Johnson says that every child is born with three questions: Am I lovable? Am I worthy? Do I belong?
"We arrive into adulthood with these questions answered," Johnson asserts. "Many people have no idea how much these questions, and what they learned about marriage early on, impact their relationship right now."
Johnson is quick to say that couples who find themselves in what appears to be a hopeless marriage need to slow down and work to gain insight and learn skills through counseling or classes.
"Abuse, addiction, and/or chronic infidelity could make a marriage unviable," Johnson says. "Short of those dire conditions, there is hope."
Having unmet needs is one of the most common struggles for couples. For example, a husband has played golf five Saturdays in a row while his wife is caring for their children. He walks in the door and she says, "I can't believe you played golf again today. All you do is play. Some of us have to take care of the children."
What if, instead of getting defensive, the husband could hear past the blast to the need behind it?
"His wife needs time for herself," Johnson says. "If the husband can hear the need and help address the need, it becomes a win. It doesn't mean 'no golf,' it means figuring out together a way for his wife to have time away, and for him to get in a round of golf.
"One of the greatest keys to moving your marriage from hopeless to hopeful is learning how to communicate. This does not mean talking more effectively. It means listening to hear the need being expressed so you can work on meeting the need. When one spouse attacks and the other gets defensive, both alienate the very person who can help change the situation."
According to Johnson, it's easy for both husbands and wives to get stuck in "attack and blame" mode. Moving to a healthier place in your marriage has everything to do with your attitude when approaching the issue. When you both feel you're on the same team, that a sense of fairness exists and you want the best for each other and your marriage, it is very empowering. People don't walk away from a marriage that's meeting their needs.
If your marriage is in crisis, there are resources to help you get your marriage back on track. Don't throw in the towel on a perfectly good marriage. Ask for help.