Every marriage, every relationship, is fraught with perpetual problems and issues. It’s common that I will counsel a couple for several sessions, they reach their desired goals, and leave with renewed hope and energy for the marriage–then come back several years later still arguing about the same issues.

While each person has changed and gained (or lost) a few pounds and wrinkles, they’re still having the same argument. Perhaps you’ve even seen this in your parent’s marriage, or in your grandparent’s. They fought about the same thing their entire life.

One of the leaders in the field of marriage research, John Gottman, has discovered that the majority of marital conflicts are perpetual in nature. In fact, 69% of all marital problems fall into this category.

Now before this is totally deflating to you, hear me out.

There are many areas in marriage where you’re simply not going to agree. Here’s a few:

  1. One of you wants to have children (or X number of kids), while the other says they’re not ready, or are happy with the current number of kids.
  2. One of you wants sex far more frequently that the other.
  3. You want to raise your children Baptist, while your spouse wants them to be raised Catholic.
  4. Your spouse is lax about housework and rarely does their share until you nag them, which makes them angry.

Problems in marriage are inevitable. The question is — can you remain satisfied in your marriage in spite of the differences? Can your marriage thrive when there are differences between you?

Many people have a fairy tale view of marriage. You and your lover will agree on everything and only argue about what movie to rent on Saturday night.

Despite what many therapists will tell you, you don’t have to resolve your major marital conflicts for your marriage to thrive. ~ John Gottman

Problems in marriage are similar to inevitable physical ailments as you age. Back pain, trick knee, tennis elbow, or arthritic hands await us all.  Bummer.

I play pick-up games of basketball two to three times a week, and have been doing this for the past 11 years. Now, several sprained ankles and a knee surgery later, I feel the effects of playing more and more. I may not love the effects but I still love to play, so I’ve discovered ways to cope with them, and to avoid things that will worsen them.

Marriage is the same. The perpetual problems that come with every relationship will not go away. Some times it gets better, other times it gets worse.

The key — continue to keep working it out. Acknowledge the problems and talk about it. Your love for each other doesn’t have to be overwhelmed by your differences.

In unstable marriages, perpetual problems are likely going to kill the relationship. Instead of coping, the couple gets gridlocked.

You have the same conversation over and over, resolving nothing. You’re spinning your wheels. And since you’re making no progress, you both may feel more frustrated, hurt or rejected. When this happens, the four horsemen of the apocalypse become ever more present, and humor and affection leave the room.

Problems in marriage will happen. How you address these problems is up to you.

As you face future problems, have a discussion about whether it’s one that fits in the perpetual category, or if it’s solvable. Then spend your time and energy working on the ones you can solve.

Shameless plug warning:  I’m beginning a series at Simple Marriage to take this idea even further. If you’re interested in joining us, feel free to subscribe.

What have you discovered that helps you address perpetual problems in marriage?

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