You started out with such great intentions, but today your marriage is floundering. The emotional pain runs deep, and both of you struggle with a sense of bewilderment, wondering how your relationship could be in such turmoil when you started out so strong.
"I encounter many couples who find themselves in this exact place," says Pam Johnson, a licensed clinical social worker. "They think that sex, children, money or who took the garbage out last are the issues creating obstacles in their relationship. In reality, 80 to 95 percent of what couples argue about has its origins in the first 12 years of life."
According to Johnson, research shows that, during the early years of one's life, people learn many things about marriage, and these perceptions are carried into adulthood. Every child is born with three questions: Am I lovable? Am I worthy? Do I belong?
"We arrive into adulthood with these questions answered," says Johnson. "Many people have no idea how much these questions, and what they were taught about marriage early on, impact their relationship right now."
Johnson is quick to say that couples who find themselves in what appears to be a hopeless marriage need to slow down and work to gain insight and learn skills through counseling or classes.
"Abuse, addiction, and/or chronic infidelity could make a marriage unviable," says Johnson. "Short of those dire conditions, there is hope."
Having unmet needs is one of the most common struggles for couples. For example, a husband has played golf five Saturdays in a row while his wife is caring for their children. He walks in the door and she says, "I can't believe you played golf again today. All you do is play. Some of us have to take care of the children."
What if, instead of getting defensive from the attack, the husband could hear past the blast to the need being expressed?
"His wife needs time for herself," says Johnson. "If the husband can hear the need and help address the need, it becomes a win. It doesn't mean no golf, it means figuring out together a way for his wife to have time away, and for him to get in a round of golf.
"One of the greatest keys to moving your marriage from hopeless to hopeful is learning how to communicate. This does not mean how to talk more effectively. It means listening to hear the need being expressed so you can work on getting the needs met. When one spouse attacks and the other gets defensive, both have just alienated the very person who can help change the situation."
According to Johnson, both husbands and wives can easily get caught up in the "attack and blame" mode. Moving to a healthier place in your marriage has everything to do with the attitude in which you approach the issue. When both parties come from a perspective that they are on the same team, that a sense of fairness exists and they want the best for each other and their marriage, it is very empowering. People don't walk away from a marriage where their needs are being met.
If your marriage is in crisis, there are resources to help you get your marriage back on track. Don't throw in the towel on a perfectly good marriage. Ask for help.
Julie Baumgardner is the president and CEO of First Things First. Contacted her at firstname.lastname@example.org.