It is not uncommon to hear from couples who have been together for a long time that marriage is hard work. In most cases, this statement about marriage is very true.
Not only do married couples go through individual changes as time goes by, but they also have to deal with changes that life throws at them on a regular basis. Sometimes it is the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, a dear friend that recently moved far away. Other times different levels of career adjustments happen with financial implications that can put not only the individual but also the couple relationship under pressure. In trying to deal with all these changes, especially when several changes happen all at the same time, conflict and misunderstandings become a pattern in the relationship and communication breaks down. For many, those deep feelings of strong emotional bonds of love from years ago are now experienced as a distant memory.
When a couple criticizes each other as they respond differently to change it is inevitable that negative feelings will start to set in and “open communication” becomes harder and harder. We all have our own ways of dealing with criticism and avoiding getting hurt even more. It is important to note that how we communicate does play a role but trying to focus on communication alone will not help us solve the real problem. Perhaps in younger couples who have been married for only a few years, a strong primary focus on communication can be very helpful. It is true that some of us come out of family systems where we learned to communicate around “family matters” more effectively than others. However, in cases where long-standing emotional wounds and negativity have become part of the couple relationship, those feelings have to be dealt with in order to make progress. This is where the tricky part of effective couple therapy comes in.
The first reality is that the process of unpacking feelings that so often spark backlash is a delicate process that requires a safe environment where both partners become less defensive and/or reactive. This takes time. More time than most think. Secondly, if the couple is courageous enough to face each other’s feelings, the process to be open and vulnerable to change is not automatic. Individual factors play a big role when it comes to things like forgiveness, becoming less defensive and more open to change and understanding. If this process already seems like a mountain too high, remember one thing: in the midst of all the bad, there are also a lot of good.
Every negative feeling actually contains a wish for something good. Perhaps years of resentment has a deeper meaning of a longing for a loving connection that was lost somewhere along the way. Why the resentment in the first place? Partners often feel so hurt that they are not even aware of the deeper wish they have because being vulnerable is running the risk of being hurt even more, or, it is as if they have given up hope. But listen not to only the spoken words, but the meaning behind those words can reveal something special to ignite the journey back to the love once experienced.