5 Complex Issues Faced in Marriage

April 15, 2023
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All couples will deal with problems in their relationship, but some issues are harder to fix than others. There are “hard reasons” and “soft reasons” for considering a breakup or divorce 1, The hard reasons include things like adultery, addiction, and abuse (commonly referenced as “The 3 A’s”). Soft reasons include things like “falling out of love,” “growing apart,” feeling ignored or lonely in one’s marriage, differing interests or values, or problems with in-laws, finances, or parenting. While these issues are categorized as “soft,” research shows that these issues are more often cited as reasons people seek divorce than the harder issues mentioned previously 1. So, while soft, they are still complex and potentially difficult if not addressed properly. 


When a couple is working through an affair, the path to recovery can be a long and bumpy ride. In couples therapy, partners have to wade through the affair’s aftermath, try to clarify how and why it happened, and then deepen trust and connection to move through and past the adultery. The initial aftermath of an affair can take months to work through, especially if there isn’t full transparency in the initial disclosure or discovery of the adultery. Navigating the betrayal takes time, patience, and a deep understanding of why it’s worth reconciling versus just calling it quits. Many couples are able to successfully recover fully from infidelity, though, and come out stronger for it because of the work they put into the relationship. 


When one or both partners is combating a substance or behavioral addiction, treating the addiction likely has to happen before any real relationship work can be done. This is partly because a true addiction typically negatively affects a marriage or relationship, disrupts trust, and creates codependency in couples. Also, addiction tends to cause relationship damage more quickly than couples therapy or daily relationship maintenance can keep up with, and the focus of couples therapy will likely be shifted to treating the addiction rather than getting to the root of relationship issues. A couples therapist can point you in the right direction for treatment, but will likely urge a couple dealing with an addiction to seek formal addiction treatment before or concurrent with the couples counseling process. 


Abuse in a relationship can be the most difficult issue to work through, especially chronic abuse (versus situational, one-off encounters). Whether emotional, psychological, physical, sexual, or financial abuse (or all of the above), abuse is rooted in control that is poisonous to autonomy-supportive, safe, and intimate relationships. The most problematic aspect of abuse is that, often, the abuser is resistant to change or self-reflection and routinely frames all of the relationship issues as “my partner’s fault” with accusatory blame and shame-inducing language. Without earnest self-reflection, abusive partners cannot change, and a relationship cannot become healthier with abuse infecting a couple’s dynamic. Your couples or individual therapist can help you sort through emotional and physical safety concerns, unpack power and control dynamics, and deliberate the hard question of whether the relationship is worth sticking around for. If it does not seem like an abusive partner is open to self-work and genuinely intent on changing their patterns, a therapist might advise partners about the risks to themselves and their children of staying. 

Growing Apart 

While growing apart from one another or losing connection is considered a “soft reason” for a breakup or divorce, it does not mean it is easier or quicker to fix. Often, couples come in because they grew apart or are entrenched in deep-seated relationship patterns that can be hard to break. Growing apart can lead to more resentment that can sometimes take professional help to untangle. After resentment has set in, a couples therapist will work with you to help you get clear on what needs to change and how to re-set. Couples therapy can help couples identify the more subtle, but significant ways that connection fell to the wayside and introduce tools to get things back on track. 

Festering Resentment 

Resentment that is left unaddressed has a tendency to grow. Resentment often goes hand-in-hand with assuming the worst about one’s partner, feeling victimized in the relationship, losing patience, and sometimes, feeling hopeless about the relationship. In that case, they might stop doing little things like saying “thank you” or giving a hug when they get home from work – and when these little things stop happening, it can make a huge dent in a couple’s intimacy bank account. Resentment often builds up around fairness regarding household duties, in-laws, and sex. These are topics that a qualified couples counselor can help couples navigate effectively through communication tools and deconstruct the underlying root causes of resentment for each partner. As sources of resentment get addressed directly and appropriately, partners are able to feel closer, more deeply understood, and more hopeful about their future with each other. 

Are These Reasons Worth Leaving?

Because every couple is different, as well as each partner’s willingness to change, there’s no clear answer as to whether the relationship is worth staying or leaving. The exception, though, is relationships where abuse is taking place; leaving a relationship with ongoing abuse is likely the best option. Through couples counseling, your therapist can carve out a safe space to talk about the pain and impact of any of these issues, mitigate further damage to the relationship, and get to the root of why these complex issues exist in the first place. While these issues are layered and difficult, with professional help, many couples can heal and experience a more satisfying relationship before these issues set in, as the relationship gets reprioritized and partners learn new tools. 


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