If you’re reading this article, there’s a pretty good chance you think your marriage is in trouble. You probably got here by Googling something like “relationship issues” or “unhappy marriage” or “Wedding problems.” That’s a tough Google.
On the other hand, you’ve taken an important step towards bettering your marriage, or at least yourself, by trying to determine whether or not your relationship is really in bad shape.
Nearly every issue in a marriage—especially those that lead to separation or divorce—can be boiled down to two basic issues: a lack of communication and/or the mismanagement of expectations between both parties. So probably the first and best advice we can give is to stop Googling “Is my marriage on the rocks” and instead ask your spouse what they think.
It’s cliche to say a successful marriage takes work, but the truth is most cliches are built around a nugget of truth. Talking with your spouse about smaller problems before they become existential threats to your marriage can be difficult. But tackling issues together is what you agreed to do when you got hitched.
Ask any married couple, whether they’ve been together for 50 years or 50 days, and they’re likely to tell you it hasn’t always been easy. But that doesn’t mean it’s supposed to be a struggle every hour of every day.
If you fear you and your spouse are having problems that extend beyond typical marital strife, that you’ve wandered into the realm of intractable issues that jeopardize your marriage, you should consider all your options—the first of which should, again, be talking to your spouse.
How do you know if you’ve crossed the line into marriage-killing territory? The following are the most commonly cited issues among couples who have filed for divorce.
The Causes Of Marriage Problems
Cheating is the number one cause for divorce in America, and it’s fairly easy to understand why. When one party steps out on the other it’s a betrayal of trust, one that fundamentally alters the foundation of a marriage. Beyond the cheating itself, an affair is typically a harbinger of other problems within the partnership.
Why do married people cheat? Common reasons for infidelity include:
- wanting to try something new;
- wanting to feel loved or desired;
- wanting to punish your partner;
- wanting to get out of your marriage (i.e., you hope the affair will ultimately lead to divorce.)
- While some spouses can forgive an affair, very few forget, which inevitably leads to more problems down the line. If you or your spouse have cheated, or are considering an affair, try to get to the root reason why. Not “because this new person is too hot too resist,” but what about your marriage is not working and making you stray in the first place. Addressing those issues with each other (and probably with a marital counsellor) is an important but necessary step in order to keep the marriage alive.
Whether or not you view addiction as a disease, it’s undeniably a cancer on a successful marriage. An unhealthy relationship with alcohol, drugs, pornography or gambling grows to negatively impact the vital aspects of a partnership—trust, security, the desire to be first in someone else’s life.
If your partner knows you have issues with addiction, it’s important to be honest with each other about how you plan to deal with it. If you fear that you or your partner have undiagnosed issues, find a marriage counselor to talk through them together.
Unsure of the warning signs? This list can be a helpful guide. It’s possible your idea of a drinking (or other) problem isn’t the same as that of your spouse. Getting on the same page about how many drinks (or hits from your vape) per week is too many is a great way to ensure you’re both engaging in healthy behavior, and also establishes a metric for measuring that behavior within your marriage. If you or your spouse refuse to seek treatment for addiction issues, it may be time to determine which is more important—the bonds of marriage or the pull of vice.
A marriage is many things, among them (at least in the eyes of the government) a small-scale financial partnership. As such, many failed marriages can be traced back to issues surrounding money. There’s not enough of it, or there’s the perception by one party that the other spends it in ways that are frivolous (as in “we don’t have money for groceries because I bought us a SPEEDBOAT!”)
While it’s easy to assume the solution to money problems is to find a way to make more cash, the root cause of most financial disagreements is a lack of communication. You need to be in the same boat (but not the speedboat) in your approach to money, and know what your goals are in terms of saving and spending. A frank conversation about budgets as well as regular check-ins with your bank statements are both vital to a healthy relationship.
If one or both of you are out of work, you should adjust your budgets and spending accordingly. If one or both of you are spending your money on things outside the goals you’ve set together, it may be time to determine if those goals are still important to you. If you each have your own goals, and can’t work out how to combine them, you can either remain together while pursuing them separately, or you could end your financial partnership altogether.
Plenty of sitcoms have been built around the character of the nagging mother-in-law, or the outrageous father inherited by the straight-laced son-in-law. While these archetypes are often played for laughs, when you and your spouse’s family don’t get along it can create a real strain on your marriage.
There aren’t easy solutions here, but it’s important to remember that whatever your problems with your in-laws are, what they aren’t is a problem with your spouse. Communication, once again, becomes key to addressing these struggles. Talk to your spouse about the issues being brought into your marriage by your extended family. If they seem open to helping you solve them, that’s great news. If instead they (or you) constantly side with the family member in question, it might be time to assess how much longer you both intend to have in-laws.
As we grow older our interests, tastes and habits grow and change along with us. Many couples cite the feeling that “We’re just different people now” as a leading cause for separation. One one or both of them changed so much over the course of their marriage that the person they became could no longer stand to be with the person their former self once loved.
One of the keys to a successful marriage is to ensure that while you both grow as people that you work at growing together as well. This requires active listening, compromise and trying new things. Revelling in the growth of your partner can be one of the most joyous elements of a marriage that lasts. If your desire is for them to stay exactly as they are, or vice versa, chances are you’ll both end up disappointed. If you fear your spouse is engaging in behavior that’s turning them into a person you no longer want to be with, the most important thing you can do for the sake of your marriage is to tell them.
The Solutions To Marital Problems
Communication issues are often at the heart of problems within a marriage. Talking about a problem is typically the first step towards solving it. If you feel like something’s missing in your marriage, whether it’s emotional and physical intimacy or simply that spark you had when first got together, talk about it. It’s not the typical guy thing to do, we admit, but a discussion might be all you need to get things back on track.
But it also might lead to deeper conversations about more complex problems, some of which might require you to bring in a third party to help manage emotions and expectations. A marriage counsellor can act as an impartial mediator, helping each of you recognize how your actions are impacting one another while offering advice on how to navigate future issues together.
Most insurance plans cover some form of psychological counselling, and there are plenty of resources available (including ZocDoc, your insurance website or sites such as BetterHelp, which offers access to online counselling). Both you and your spouse need to buy in to the idea that you need help with bettering your marriage. If one of you refuses, it’s worth asking whether you’re truly committed to fixing what one of you views as a problem. If the truth is that the marriage itself is beyond repair, it’s time to consider your other options.
You can seek an annulment (effectively a court statement declaring that your marriage was never valid) in only a few circumstances, some of which vary by state. Generally speaking though, an annulment is in play when the marriage is incestuous, the result of force or fraud, or when one or both of the parties involved was underage, under the influence or under another marital contract at the time of the ceremony. If you think this applies to you, you can seek an annulment with the help of an attorney in your state.
While it’s good for a couple considering ending their marriage to take some time apart before pulling the trigger, there’s a difference between her spending the weekend at her parents’ place and engaging in a legal separation.
The biggest difference between a divorce and a legal separation is that a divorce ends the marriage, freeing you up to marry again, while a separation maintains some of the contractually connective tissue of your marriage, allowing you to live your lives apart while still gaining some of the benefits of your previous arrangement.
For example, if you or your spouse are entitled to Social Security or pension payments following the other’s death, under a legal separation those payments would remain intact. Some couples determine legal separation is their only option for religious reasons, as divorces aren’t recognized by certain faiths.
If you file for divorce, you will likely have the choice to file either a no-fault or fault-based divorce. They are as they sound. A no-fault divorce is one wherein both parties agree that the marriage was untenable, but neither party was at fault. A fault-based divorce is the opposite—someone is to blame. A fault-based divorce is usually sought when the one filing wants to avoid a waiting period or to influence a court’s opinion on issues like child custody and division of property.
But if you’ve made it this far and are still considering the choice between a divorce and a legal separation, your best course of action is to consult with an attorney in your area who can walk you through the pros and cons of either decision, as well as the particular quirks of ending a marriage in your state (for example, some states require a legal separation before you can file for divorce).
And start saving. Divorces, particularly contested ones, aren’t cheap. But in the end, if you’ve exercised all the other options, you may determine it’s still better, and cheaper, than the alternative: living in a marriage that’s no longer bringing you any joy.
Once, the two of you may have fallen headlong in love. But if that love has passed, don’t fall headlong out of your marriage. Take your time, talk openly, and end things with your eyes open.