When a relationship is brand new, loving your partner comes easy. You’re still hyper curious about each other and growing as a couple every day. But eventually, you’re bound to encounter some roadblocks that will test your love.
Below, marriage therapists share seven major challenges every couple faces and how to navigate them.
1. You learn your partner can’t really be your everything.
We expect a lot from our partners: They should be our soulmates, our BFFs, our sounding boards, our financial and career advisers, our sexual partners and our parenting partners. The truth is, though, it’s nearly impossible for any human being to meet all of those demands, said St. Louis-based therapist Angela Skurtu.
“Those needs can be addressed by a variety of people, including yourself,” she said. “For instance, if you’re an extrovert married to an introvert, chances are you may need to have a few extra friends to hang out with other than your spouse. That doesn’t mean you can’t go out with each other as well. It just means that you have to find another way to meet your need for extroversion.”
2. Your phone will come between you and your partner.
When you first started dating, your phone was a welcome middleman in your relationship: You’d text each other through the night and send cute heart-eyed emojis throughout the day. But the longer you’re together, the more likely it is that your smart phone will get in the way of your connection as a couple, said Andrea Wachter, a psychotherapist based in Northern California.
“It’s so easy in our fast-paced, plugged-in culture to lose touch with the connection we once had in those early days of dating,” Wachter told us.
To prove to your partner that face time with them in real life is more important than screen time, surprise them one night by putting your phone away and telling them you want to have an actual device-free conversation.
“Truly focus on what they have to say,” Wachter said. “Remind yourself that if it’s important enough for them to share it with you, it deserves your undivided attention.”
3. The sex isn’t always going to be hot.
Prepare yourself for some lackluster sex at some point: From changes in sexual desire to disconnected schedules and just being too damn busy, action in the bedroom is bound to get put on the back burner eventually. To get past a breakdown in intimacy, Wachter says couples need to prioritize simply touching each other, even if it doesn’t culminate in having sex.
“Lack of intimacy is often a result of deeper issues,” she said. “Couples need to let go of sex as the ultimate goal and start simpler, with hand holding, kissing or a massage. The more you treat each other like friends who take the time to to know one another in all ways, the more likely you are to rekindle the spark of love and intimacy.”
4. You’re not going to meet all your #relationshipgoals.
You likely entered into the relationship with long-held ideas about what it means to be in love: You thought you’d never spend more than three nights apart, just like your parents, or you hoped you’d learn each other’s love language and truly act according to them.
While relationship goals are great, the truth is, some of your expectations will probably never be met, said Laurel Steinberg, a sex and relationship therapist and adjunct professor of psychology at Columbia University.
Look on the bright side, though: Some of your expectations will likely be exceeded. “You just need to keep your expectations as ‘wants’ and not ‘needs,'” Steinberg suggested.
5. Your partner won’t let go of their bad habits.
It drove you nuts the first time she stayed over and left globs of hair in the shower drain. In an ideal world, you’d politely mention it once or twice and she’d soon enough change her ways — but you’re not living in that ideal world. Loving your S.O. means accepting their bad habits, said Stephanie Buehler, a psychologist and sex therapist in Southern California. She used an example from her own marriage to illustrate her point:
My husband of 30 years frequently eats a banana in the morning and then leaves the peel in the sink. It doesn’t matter that he trained me to put my used, wet tea bags in the trash instead of the sink because my habit drove him nuts — he still does it with the peel. This is where love comes in handy, as well as compassion. It must be difficult for my husband to remember to put his peel down the disposal or into the trash. I have compassion for him. I love him. Therefore, I continue to remind him, but I also just deal with his banana peel for him. That’s marriage right there.
6. Money will come between you and your spouse.
The Beatles were wrong when they claimed “all you need is love.” You also need the ability to navigate some truly rocky financial waters together, said Amanda Deverich, a marriage and family therapist based in Williamsburg, Virginia.
“From what I’ve seen, financial stress is a leading cause of depression in men and depression often causes partners to withdraw and makes it more difficult for couples to solve problems,” she said.
To offset money-related stressors, band together as a team to tackle problems as they come, said Deverich. “If you don’t, one partner will become responsible for the money and that will create a lopsided dynamic that causes resentment and distance.”
7. Monogamy will prove to be a challenge.
Staying faithful is hard work. You’re inevitably going to be attracted to other people, you’ll wonder if you made the right choice in settling for just one partner, and it’s quite likely that one or even both of you will be tempted to have an emotional or physical affair. Infidelity is more common than you’d think, said Buehler.
The important thing to remember is that while staying monogamous is hard, it’s totally worth the effort — if you both want it.
“You have to have an open conversation about monogamy because it is restrictive and probably unnatural,” said Buehler. “But going to work in a car every morning is unnatural, too — we still do it, though, because like monogamy, it has benefits.”
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