Navigating the Seas of Marriage
Discussing common marriage struggles and empowering solutions
Marriage is a beautiful journey that brings two individuals together, but it can also be filled with challenges. Remember, every marriage is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It’s essential to approach challenges with patience, understanding, and a willingness to work together as a team. Seeking professional help from therapists or marriage counselors can provide valuable guidance and support throughout the journey of overcoming these struggles and strengthening your marriage.
On that note, we’ve gotten in touch with Faith Foo, a professional counselor and Director of ABRI Integrated Mental Health to share her expert insights. Faith is also a mental health Coach, trainer, and author. Here’s what Faith has to say on the topic of common struggles in a marriage and its solutions.
What are some of the most common issues or struggles that couples face in their relationships/ marriages, and why do you think they occur frequently?
Faith Foo: You might be surprised that infidelity is typically not the most important factor contributing to divorce. Divorces occur mostly due to failed relationships. Factors that lead to a failed relationship include stress at work, the daily grind of raising kids, financial stress, communication breakdown, constant fights, and lack of support.
No one walks down the aisle with divorce in mind. We all want a happy and lasting marriage. Statistics have shown that the divorce rate is rising fast worldwide. Alarmingly, 40 to 50 percent of first marriages will end in divorce. Many couples I see are confused about how they could go from being madly in love with each other to purely despising each other.
How did they move from love to hate? Their question often is, “How did it all happen?”
Global research has shown that the number one reason most couples get divorced is growing apart and out of love. Only 18 percent of divorces are due to infidelity, while 44 percent are due to incompatibility or growing apart.
How do communication issues often contribute to marital problems, and what strategies do you recommend for improving communication between partners?
Faith: I have always said this to my couples, what matters is really not what you say, but how you say it. You can say “Thank you” with no effect, or “THANK YOU” loudly, or “thanks” with a hint of sarcasm, or “Thank you” gently with appreciation. Same words, but the key is how we deliver them!
Couples that communicate better, stay together. But, many couples tend to start conversations harshly without even realising it. Psychologist John Gottman has claimed that he can predict with 90 percent accuracy whether a couple will get divorced just by listening to the first three minutes of
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your partner knows what you need or want. Understand that your partner rarely knows what you’re thinking or feeling, much less what you need. You have to express your needs clearly and positively so that your partner can truly understand how you feel and in turn help meet your needs. Many discussions start harshly due to tone of voice, volume, or words used. Therefore, it is important that you start the conversation by communicating your emotions and needs positively.
There is a saying “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” That is easier said than done, right? In fact, this may be the hardest to do in marriage because of the potential to be hurt by those we love.
Talking “at” someone often means you’re trying to be heard. Talking “with” someone, on the other hand, means you are trying to understand each other. Yelling can make things even more complicated. Being yelled at activates the fight, flight, or freeze response and floods the body with stress hormones. When this happens, all nonessential systems shut down, like complex problem-solving abilities.
It’s not that your spouse doesn’t want to understand you. From a biological perspective, as research shows, they literally can’t — at least not until things have calmed down.
“EVERY RELATIONSHIP REQUIRES SOME DEGREE OF FORGIVENESS FROM EVERYONE INVOLVED IN
ORDER TO REMAIN STRONG.“
Money conflicts can create significant tension in a marriage. What advice do you have for couples who struggle with financial disagreements and how can they find common ground?
Faith: Arguments about money hamper many marriages. If you’re committed to a relationship, you and your partner owe each other a calm, honest conversation about each other’s finances, habits,
goals, and anxieties.
Money problems involve discussions in which ego, anxieties about control, and notions of marital roles will have to be checked. When working together, couples can achieve more than singles can.
If debt is an issue, couples can employ various tools and strategies to start paying off debt and get on a better financial footing. Having kids changes everything; Ideally, couples should communicate their expectations and ideas about how to raise and pay for them well before they’re born.
Couples who have trouble talking about money can seek out the help of a financial advisor or planner for unbiased advice.
What role does forgiveness play in healing and restoring a marriage? How can couples effectively work through past hurts and move forward in a healthy way?
Faith: Every relationship requires some degree of forgiveness from everyone involved in order to remain strong. This is because we are all human. Our perceptions and behaviours are flawed, and feeling hurt is inevitable when it comes to being in relationships.
#1 FORGIVENESS IS A WAY TO LET GO AND MOVE ON TO A HAPPIER PLACE
Constantly attributing our present situation to something that happened in the past can end up trapping us in a victim mode. For example, Mary’s husband left her a few years ago and she insists that her current state of unhappiness is because of that.
Then, one day, she comes to the realization that the only person she can rely on to improve her situation is herself. She says, “I have to solve this problem; I have to find a way to heal and to find happiness again in my life.”
With that realization, she discovers again a sense of control over her life and finds the resilience to move on from past hurts.
#2 FORGIVENESS IS NOT A SIGN OF WEAKNESS OR AN ADMISSION OF DEFEAT
The bitter truth is that it is very likely that our forgiveness—or the lack of it—will not impact the life of the person that wronged us. We can be holding on to our anger and hurt, while the other person may be living a happy life instead.
How to begin the forgiveness journey?
>>Acknowledge your anger and hurt.
>>Accept that you cannot change the past.
>>Reflect on the part you played in the hurtful situation.
>>Commit to forgiveness.
Many couples face challenges in maintaining a healthy balance between individuality and togetherness. How can couples strike a balance and nurture their individual interests while maintaining a strong marital bond?
Faith: A healthy relationship is when the couple feels safe to relate deeply to one another. They feel generally secure, which means, they are comfortable with closeness and confidence depending on one another. They are good at seeking support and better at giving it. They feel safe connecting to their partner, easily get over the hurt their partner unavoidably.
Emotional intimacy often diminishes over time in a long-term relationship. How can couples reignite their emotional connection and foster a deep sense of intimacy?
Faith: Here are some tips on building love:
>> Increase positive connections and intimacy in the relationship, along with increasing self-awareness and understanding of your partner.
>> Understand that intimacy means closeness and connectedness and sharing each other’s vulnerabilities – not just sex) set aside time every week to have a couple’s date.
>> Do your part! Don’t focus on your spouse as the source of problems. Even if he/she plays a part in it, you still have a lot of control over what you can do to help the relationship.
>> A healthy relationship requires teamwork. Keep the fun and friendship and make the relationship a safe haven. A healthy relationship is one where each member does their part.
>> You are responsible for your own attitude and your own state of mind. Your actions are derived from how you choose to think about things.
>> Your attitude affects the way you respond. How you see your partner affects how you will respond to them.
Sexual satisfaction and compatibility are important aspects of a relationship. How do you help couples address and improve their sexual intimacy and connection?
Faith: Firstly, sex is an opportunity for couples to bond with one another. Affection helps us feel close
and intimate with one another. Also, sex is pleasurable and fun. However, if either of the partners is feeling stressed or overwhelmed, they should communicate these feelings of stress with each other first. Discussing about how to manage time for sexual intimacy is important as your partner has to be consensual in engaging in sex at that time. It always boils down to their feelings and emotions during sexual engagement. As stress levels are managed well through communication, intimacy becomes natural.
Infidelity is a deeply challenging issue in a relationship. How do you support couples in processing the pain and rebuilding their relationship after an affair has occurred?
Faith: It’s no overstatement that an affair or betrayal can hit like an earthquake. It can shake the very foundation of a relationship. And the pain does not stop there. When this trust is dishonored it creates deep insecurity, fear, and uncertainty about the future of the very relationship that is most important to them.
Many betrayed partners find themselves in an emotional conflict with themselves. They look at their cheating partner and think:
>> I love you, but I hate you.
>> I need you close, but I can’t stand to be in the same room as you.
>> I want you to hold me and tell me everything is going to be OK, but if you did that, I wouldn’t believe you.
Betrayal trauma is so unbelievably painful, the one person betrayed partners need to be able to trust in his moment of crisis can no longer be trusted.
For many couples, the finding of infidelity is often the wake-up call they need to finally address the unresolved relationship issues and emotional needs they have been overlooking for years. Couples report that only after working through the painful aftereffects of infidelity they are able, often for the first time in their relationship, to enjoy the kind of intimate connection they had feared they would never attain. We get stuck in believing that we have no power to change our lives, yet we do.
In therapy, we teach couples how to recognise the deeper emotional dynamics that are happening between them often below the visible surface, and how to emotionally reach for one another in ways that
create safety, connection, and joy.
In your experience, what are some of the underlying factors that contribute to issues such as resentment, anger, or ongoing power struggles within a relationship? How do you address these underlying issues in therapy?
Faith: Codependency breeds anger and resentment. When someone doesn’t do what we want, we feel angry, victimised, unappreciated or uncared for, and powerless. Dependency also leads to fear of confrontation. With poor boundaries and communication skills, we don’t express our needs and feelings.
Resentment in marriage happens due to the couple’s inability to discuss past hurts without stirring up
more anger. Resentment usually begins to build after a betrayal, constant inappropriate behaviors, or bad-mouthing.
Power struggles often manifest as a push to get your way on important matters where ideas or visions may differ. This may involve discounting your partner’s viewpoint or needs, or crossing boundaries they have set.
Some of the best ways to deal with and address these challenges include maintaining open communication, learning how to forgive, and seeking professional counsel.
What’s your opinion on the notion that couples should be able to solve problems themselves?
Faith: Learning how to foster this emotional bond of love is vital to a lasting relationship. In my experience as a counselor, I have noticed that a common mistake couples make is to run away or give up too soon and avoid problems, hoping it will all go away. This running away, giving up, and avoidance behaviour eventually makes things worse.
I have noticed that Asian clients tend to seek help only at the eleventh hour, mainly because we still hold the idea of “Don’t air your dirty laundry in public!” I understand the difficulty they have faced to overcome this belief in order to take this step. Many clients come in because they have exhausted all options and personal means of help.
Nevertheless, every couple is different and so when they choose to seek help it will depend on the nature of the issue they are facing. If a couple is worried about their relationship for whatever reason and feels that they are both unable to reach a conclusion alone, it is likely that they will benefit from couples counseling.
“EMOTIONAL BONDS BRING ABOUT TRUST AND SECURITY, KNOWING YOUR
PARTNER WILL ALWAYS BE THERE FOR YOU NO MATTER WHAT THE CIRCUMSTANCES.”
Lastly, in your opinion, what’s the secret to a healthy marriage?
Faith: Emotional bonds or healthy dependence is the core of romantic love, the most fundamental building block of a lasting relationship. A strong emotional bond allows you to feel confident and safe to share anything with your partner. This bond will help you and your partner develop empathy for one another. Emotional bonds bring about trust and security, knowing your partner will always be there for you no matter what the circumstances. They encourage forgiveness, engagement, and boost
Another piece of advice for couples is, do not wait until you reach rock bottom before trying couples counselling. Many couples use counselling sessions as a way to keep their relationship healthy and to address underlying concerns that may become a conflict in the future. Early help brings early relief. In fact, allowing help is a sign of courage and maturity.
Remember, this is never an instant process. It builds slowly as the marriage continues to grow. In time, the marriage will become strong, and you will take a great deal of joy in what you have created. Understand that there is no ideal man or woman. There is no marriage made in heaven. Both partners must invest love, respect and trust in making a relationship work. Without this ‘investment,’ a harmonious relationship is unattainable.
In addition to providing professional counselling, Faith Foo has also written motivational books for adults and children with relatable anecdotes, real life parallels and more. You can visit www.faithfoocounseling.com for further information.
Reference: Faith, F. (2020). I Love You, I Hate You. What is Wrong with Us? (1st ed.). Faith Foo Counseling