If there is one thing I’ve learned from my personal experience and from my years of counseling individuals and couples, it’s that relationships are complicated. That’s no surprise. People are complicated. In fact, Facebook has relationship category called “It’s complicated.” The It’s complicated category could mean one or more of several different things, but I’ll save that for your imagination and another post.
In the meantime, I wanted to work through some of the incongruities that take the oneness out of being one with another. I like the word incongruous. It’s akin to words like disagreement (so common), incompatibility, unhappy even.
While incongruity and harmony are sure to go their separate ways, the two people in the relationship examples below don’t have to. We can (and often do!) change our minds.
What’s getting couples off track …
1. Lack of shared priorities
One person wants to spend time together connecting, talking and sharing activities like hiking or going to concerts. Meanwhile, the other person just wants them around to be there while they live their life by themselves. Maybe they love to read, go out with their friends only, or do other self-only activities like play crossword puzzles. This can feel incredibly rejecting and frustrating.
2. Undiagnosed issues like Adult ADD
Few people are more frustrated than the spouses I have met whose partners have addictions, mental illnesses or undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). This means their spouse can appear extremely smart and hyper-focused at times, but then they can seem thoughtless, forgetful, have trouble completing tasks, and screw up a lot. Their inattention and procrastination can feel frustrating and infuriating because it can seem passive-aggressive or intentional. Except that adult ADD is a mental condition that highly impacts one’s ability to function.
People with Adult ADD appear to be fine, especially if they are super smart, so it is often undiagnosed. I like the book Driven To Distraction as it explains this issue thoroughly and addresses issues for spouses of those with ADD.
3. Money troubles
Money has tremendous power. Therefore, it will have tremendous power in your relationship. I have seen a lot of couples where one person gets the other person into trouble financially. For example, they stop paying the mortgage, or they rack up credit card bills without the other person knowing. If your partner has “issues” with money, you need to be wise about what is shared and what isn’t.
Try to be creative in your partnership and set up your finances in a way that accurately reflects your individual strengths. Spread the power around so not one person has all of it. I have a girlfriend who has been happily married for years. She is the breadwinner, pays the mortgage and all of the bills. She says she keeps all her money separate though because, “What if he runs off with someone? No way is he taking my hard-earned cash!” It happens. My friend told me her brother’s wife just cleared out their accounts, let the house drop and ran off. He’s starting over financially. Men and women alike are going through difficulties.
4. Lying and deceitful behavior
Bad. Bad. Bad. Once a partner lies or deceives, this is incredibly damaging to the relationship. Interestingly, the person who lies has difficulty comprehending why it is so arduous to get the trust back after its been lost. They stand there saying, “Haven’t I shown you I am trustworthy over the past week?”
Often in the couples counseling that I do, I see one partner’s expectations for trusting again to be inaccurate. It is usually way too soon for them to expect their partner to trust them again. Consistent truth over and over, plus time, are the only things that will engender trusting feelings again from a spouse or partner who has been burned—but sometimes that isn’t enough either. If there is an undiagnosed addiction like alcohol or sex, this issue will come up again and again.
5. Inaccurate division of labor
This is particularly a big issue in parenting. Exhausted people who are tired of doing too much can quickly start a spreadsheet in their heads about what is fair and who isn’t holding up his or her end of the deal. Next comes anger and resentment. Help each other out.
6. Sex imbalance
Speaking of spreadsheets? Did any of you hear about the guy who did the spreadsheet on his wife’s sexual overture refusals?
His wife apparently turned him down so often for sex that he kept a record of when and the reasons she gave. Then he put it on The Internet for all to see. Funny for the reader but a horrible thing to do if you want any type of marital resurrection in the bedroom. Good luck with that turn-on approach!
The reality is that I often meet couples that are imbalanced in one way or another with sex. One wants it every week, the other could wait a month. Another could be happy with every day while the spouse is an “I am too tired” kinda person. This inequality could be for all kinds of reasons: hormonal issues, resentment or just unequal sexual desire levels. This can be quite difficult and physiologically frustrating for a couple when one of them isn’t getting their carnal/sensual needs met.
Resolving your relationship issues
If you are feeling out of balance and unsatisfied; like you’re sitting on the sidelines of a great relationship; or your partner’s words and actions aren’t adding up, there is often learning to be done in resolving the issues. In addition, if you have a partner who isn’t willing to resolve these issues with you, there is great learning to be done within yourself and with your life.
Be compassionate with yourself while you work through this difficult stuff. Share some of your experiences, how your perspective changed and what helped when you were resentful, frustrated or you got burned. What kind of changes did you make?
Homework: If it’s been five years since a divorce or break-up, reflect on how you’re doing now, what has changed, and what has stayed the same. How does life feel or your relationship work now compared to back then … are you happier or still unsatisfied?