The 10 rocky moments every relationship faces
A big fight over nothing
There are major issues that couples commonly squabble over — like sex, money, and kids, all of which we’ll get to in a minute — but if you're going through a rough spot over what seems like nothing at all, you're not alone. "Marriage is a lightning rod that absorbs stress from every source — past and present," says psychologist Harriet Lerner, author of "Marriage Rules: A Manual for the Married and the Coupled Up." "When stress gets high enough, even the best couple can look like the most dysfunctional one."
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Lerner notes that just about anything can turn into an epic battle, including something as insignificant as which knife to use to properly cut a tomato. To stop the stressful cycle, take a deep breath and think about whether the knife is really the problem. And if you already blew up, apologize and explain what's actually bothering you before it turns into a bigger issue.
Whether or not you believe money is the root of all evil, there's no denying it's responsible for a big chunk of relationship problems. The tough economic climate doesn't help, but even in the best of times, most couples will go through a rough patch. "My husband and I were ready to get married young, and we're still glad we did, but it was definitely a struggle to adjust to managing our finances as a couple while dealing with student loans and finding jobs," says Chelsea S., 27, of Findlay, OH. "Seriously talking about our biggest goal — to purchase our first home together — made us both more willing to make some sacrifices without resenting the shopping or new car we had to give up. It was still tough, but now that we're settled in, we're glad we saved for our life together."
Truly becoming a part of each other's families
You met the parents, the parents met the parents, and the wedding went smoothly with both sides of the family. Whoa, did you have it easy! But even if you made it through all that, you're not done yet. Lerner says that couples can still expect to struggle with extended-family issues, like how often the grandparents will visit, and what boundaries to set. "If you really want to spend time with someone, maybe you should reconsider marriage and kids because you rarely get to spend time alone with them again," jokes Kelli S., 35, of Glenwood Springs, CO. Minimize issues and maximize quality time by reaching a mutual agreement with your partner on family matters, like deciding where you'll spend the holidays or how long your mom can bunk with you, and presenting a firm, united front to your in-laws.
The early stages of parenting
As blissfully happy as you may be with your new baby, this adjustment period, during which you struggle to figure out who picks up the baby when she cries or finds childcare, is a rough one. "It's amazing and wonderful, but the most difficult experience all at once," says Erin B., 31, of Sunnyvale, CA. "You're sleep-deprived and second-guessing everything you do — and everything your spouse does, too. It can definitely lead to some rocky moments." The good news is you'll eventually get to sleep again — you just need to give yourselves time to figure out how to share the responsibilities. The bad news is it's probably your turn to get up and change a diaper right now.
When your kids start to grow up
Once your children are old enough to talk and maybe even dress themselves, you can both take care of them and manage to get a daily shower. That'll get your relationship back to normal, right? Not so fast! Now come the even harder parenting decisions, those that could really divide you as a couple. "My husband believes in complete honesty with the kids at all times," says Pittsburgh resident Andrea J. "I say we need to keep our kids as innocent as we can, while we can. Needless to say, my six-year-old is now terrified of jail and prisons because my husband decided to tell her all about Alcatraz and the electric chair." You should both be comfortable with what you teach your child, so find a compromise that encompasses both of your values, such as, "We won't lie to the kids, but some details they don’t need to know until they’re older" before you put the little one in the middle of your opposing views.
A sex drought
Whether you're dealing with tough issues outside of your marriage, or simply can't find the spark, most long-term couples find their sex lives ebb and flow. When you're in a time of, "sex, what's that?" dealing with restoring intimacy can be a major struggle, says Lerner. "There was a period I was uninterested in sex, and It made me sad not only because I enjoy sex, but because I missed that feeling of intimacy," remembers New Yorker Claire M., 34.
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"After some frustration, I realized that my antidepressants were the cause, and my doctor helped me reach a solution that worked for my health and my sex life. Now I appreciate sex even more." Whether it’s lack of sleep, health problems, or emotional upheaval, getting to the root of the issue is the first step to getting back an active sex life.
When facing a big decision
Be it whether to accept a new job or when to start trying for another baby, two can be a crowd when it comes to decision-making. Frankly, even less life-changing but still important decisions, like home remodeling, can be a source of stress. "I've hidden from my husband in Home Depot because I was so mad I didn't want to deal with him, and a girlfriend of mine has left the store in tears because of her husband," says Lara S., 31, of Evergreen Park, IL. For big decisions, try making your own pros and cons lists, and then discussing them together. For smaller choices, try to work out a compromise before you're in an overcrowded public setting, or agree to disagree until you get home and can discuss calmly and in private.
An emotional rut
Much like you might get sick of eating even your favorite salad for lunch every day, you may go through the uncomfortable period of just not feeling connected to your partner. As the years pass, kids, jobs, and other commitments take up more of your time, and while you may think your relationship will nonetheless remain strong, it can suffer. The bright side? You can come closer together afterwards. "My husband and I went through a difficult time of avoiding spending time together," says Deb K., 41, of Fremont, OH. "Through counseling, we realized we had to really make an effort to recommit and recharge. Now we make time to consciously be together, even if it's just sitting on the couch, touching and being emotionally connected rather than just being in the same room."
An unpredictable tragedy
You've probably figured out how to deal with little daily stresses by now, but unfortunately, it's also common to get walloped by unpredictable ones — like facing an addiction, an affair, job loss, or chronic illness. Maybe your mother passed away unexpectedly, or your husband was diagnosed with diabetes. Sadly, there's no easy solution when events like this pop up, and they might continue disrupting your lives for some time. It may be frustrating or heartbreaking, but the key is to know you're in good company. "Recognize that rough patches — or rough years — are normal in even the best couple relationships," says Lerner. "That's why taking the long view, and keeping both feet in the marriage when the going gets rough is crucial for making your relationship work."
You're not ready for the early bird special just yet, but your wild-child days seem increasingly far away. Nostalgia for the sweet flirtation of a new relationship or the excitement of your first job might make you feel stagnant in your older, wiser state. "When my daughter was a few months old, I was bickering at my husband for no reason," recalls Amy K., 42, of Indianapolis, IN. "I couldn’t go back to being a carefree 20-something, so I made room for new activities, like starting a book club with my friends. I felt reenergized and happier even when I got home." A little midlife crisis is normal, but it doesn’t have to spur a rough patch in your relationship. Instead, exploring a personal passion can help you bring excitement back into your partnership, and shift a negative or stuck dynamic.