Every couple has their perpetual problems. These are the problems that you fight and argue about, but nothing seems to change. You plead your case, you hear their side of it, you may even reach some kind of agreement or compromise, and then, before too long, you are arguing about it all over again. Perpetual.
Early in your marriage, you may argue and disagree about a number of things. I mean, you should. You’re still figuring each other out and navigating what it’s like to live together. Your expectations and dreams are confronted with reality and those things never line up completely.
In our first year, we argued about Tony leaving wet towels on the bed or which of my piles of clothes were clean and which were dirty and why I never put the dirty ones in the hamper… What if I can get one more wear out of those jeans before I do laundry? Little things, no biggie… That is what that first year is about – discovery. We didn’t know then that some of the things we argued and disagreed about, some of the things that hurt, would become the things that we still can’t come to terms with eight years into our marriage.
On our 8th Anniversary date, over tapas, we discussed our perpetual problem.
Now… before we go on… I want to give a disclaimer. As much as I value being transparent and sharing our lives here at #staymarried, I also value keeping private things private. In this case, I’m not going to share the details of our perpetual problem and that’s on purpose.
For one thing, I don’t think you need to know the details of our issues to relate the concepts of navigating perpetual problems in your own relationships. For another, we are still working through ours. We believe it’s important to protect our relationship especially when it feels vulnerable, and that means being protective of things we haven’t even come close to ironing out. I hope you will all be protective of your own relationships and avoid airing your own dirty laundry on the internet. Nothing good can come of it.
The drive between dropping off our girls and arriving at dinner was admittedly awkward. Usually we are giddy on date nights, but not this time. The night before we’d had a fight about our perpetual problem. One of the ways you know it’s perpetual is that, even when the fight ends, even if you kiss and hug and go on about your day, the problem itself lingers in the air. You both know it’s there. I don’t know what Tony was thinking at this point, but I can tell you I wondered if we were just going to try to move on or if we were going to talk about it again. It’s hard to know if bringing up the same issue over and over can really do anybody any good.
We held hands and took some silly selfies on the way into dinner.
8th Anniversary Selfie, Take 3 #staymarried A photo posted by Michelle Peterson #staymarried (@mchellepeterson) on
We were excited about the menu and about not having to buckle anyone into a highchair or think about what the kids would eat first. Before long, tiny beef skewers and drinks were set in front of us and as we looked across the table to see each other’s faces, it was clear to both of us that we weren’t going to take this date as a chance to ignore something that felt so important to both of us.
We didn’t fight. We did rehash the previous night’s fight, tried our best to listen to each other’s perspective, I cried, he held my hand and told me he loved me. We still had no real resolution.
We decided we would not reach a resolution without some serious help. We decided to find a counselor.
Relationships Are Complicated
Relationships are complicated. They are complicated because we don’t always know how to express how we feel or even where our feelings are coming from.
That is to say, as much as we can, we should endeavor to increase our awareness of ourselves, to find out what it is that truly drives and motivates us, and then learn to describe those things to the person we want to be in a relationship with. We must be able to tell our own story if we have any hope of ever being understood by anyone else.
This is why counseling and therapy are so incredibly useful. In what other contexts of your life will you have the opportunity to be introspective and also have a witness while you verbally process all that you discover? In what other setting can you be safely guided away from the lies you have always believed about yourself?
Relationships are complicated, but when we can look both inward at ourselves and outward at the way we impact others, we can get better at living with and loving those around us.
What Good is Sitting and Talking?
As we drove home from our first appointment with the therapist, we digested together what was said.
“I don’t know,” Tony said to me, “I guess I thought there would be more to it than just sitting and talking…”
I’ve been in and out of counseling for years, but this was my husband’s very first experience sitting on a therapist’s couch.
“I mean, if I knew the problem and how to solve it, I would just do that. Isn’t there something else she can do? I’ve heard of this light therapy, or like hypnosis. I’m just not sure that sitting and talking is going to be all that helpful.”
I’ll admit, I laughed a little. I just love him so much! I pointed out that, in the hour we were there together, he shared two huge things with her that I had never heard him say before in all the years I’ve known him. He said things that gave me a little insight into our struggle, things that helped me understand him just a little bit more. He agreed, and as our therapist recommended, he attended the next appointment on his own.
Happy Marriages Experience Gridlock
It may be difficult to believe, but people in happy and healthy marriages experience perpetual problems and still find ways to love and honor each other. One key is to discover if your problem is solvable or if you’ve reached what Dr. John Gottman refers to as “gridlock.” You know you’re gridlocked if you have done your best to speak to each other, to listen well, to be kind and respectful about the issue, and you find that the issue remains. This is where Tony and I are.
In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Gottman says,
“To navigate your way out of gridlock, you have to first understand its cause. Whether the issue is momentous, like which of your religions to pass on to your children, or ridiculous, like which way to fold dinner napkins, gridlock is a sign that you have dreams for your life that aren’t being addressed or respected by each other.”
Discovering each other’s dreams, finding out what you are each really hoping for, is the key to working through a perpetual problem. The problem itself may never be fully solved. You may never be able to wrap it up in a nice little bow. A solution isn’t really the goal. The goal, when dealing with these larger issues, is to better understand each other. Digging in to understand each other’s hopes and dreams is the beginning of that.
Gottman says, “Happy couples understand that helping each other realize their dreams is one of the goals of marriage.”
Make Understanding Your Goal
It would be amazing for both of us if we could come to a solution for our perpetual problem. But, we both acknowledge that we may not. At this point, we are on a journey with the help of our new therapist toward better understanding. I am learning more about my husband, he is learning more about me. Little by little, with each session, it seems that the tension and pressure we were both feeling before is being released. It no longer seems like a hazy fog over our marriage that we are both hoping will just go away. Because we are actively pursuing each other through counseling, the haze is dissipating, our communication is becoming clearer, our love for each other is growing.
We have a good marriage. Just because our marriage is good, that doesn’t mean it’s not hard. When our marriage is hard, that doesn’t mean it’s not still good.
Some of the problems in your marriage are here to stay. Some people discover after divorce that, while they are no longer dealing with the same perpetual problems, they are now dealing with new ones. The trick is not always in how to solve your perpetual problems, but in learning how to live with them, how to honor and respect each other’s dreams, and how to grow in understanding so that you can, with grace and joy, #staymarried.
The #staymarried blog was created to offer hope, stories, and resources for couples who want to stay married.
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Interested in more posts like this? You might like…
♥ Does Marriage Really Have to be Hard Work?
♥ “We Need To Talk.” 4 Tips to Facing Impossible Decisions
♥ How to Find a Great Therapist
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