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Marital Problems

STRONG AND RESILIENT OR WEAK AND FRAGILE(or somewhere in between)

Marital Fitness:

How does our relationship rate?

Listed below are several items that affect the strength of a marriage. Choose the answer that best applies to you and your partner.

A - always F - frequently O - occasionally N - never

A F O N Question
1. You and your partner disagree on how you manage your finances.
2. Your sexual relations are unsatisfying for one or both of you.
3. You show little affection toward one another.
4. Your goals and values greatly differ from your spouse's.
5. You or your spouse make major decisions independently from one another.
6. You disagree on how household tasks are handled.
7. You do not engage in joint leisure activities.
8. You or your mate leave the house after a fight.
9. You do not confide in your mate.
10. You and your partner quarrel and wait for things to "blow over."
11. You do not laugh together.
12. You come up with very little when you ask yourself, "What strengths are holding us together?"
13. You feel the need to control your spouse/or you feel your spouse is controlling.
14. You blame your partner.
15. You criticize your partner's personality.
16. You insult, mock, or use sarcasm.


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Common problems that lead to marital fatigue:

  1. Poor conflict management:

    • Allowing conflict to escalate
    • Looking only at the negative (or the perceived negative)
    • Invalidation of one another's feelings
    • Withdrawing and avoiding
    • Unwillingness to compromise
  2. Not making time to nurture the marriage:

    • Becoming too busy with school, children, church callings
    • Locked into your own personal routines
    • Keeping outside interests separate from one another
  3. Power differential:

    • Buying into gender stereotypes
    • Misuse of priesthood responsibility to manipulate and control
    • Money as a way to manipulate and control
  4. Inability or unwillingness to handle differences in expectation following are some common trouble areas:

    • Money management
    • Sexuality
    • Handling family traditions, holidays, special occasions
    • Disciplining children
    • Household cleanliness
    • Relating to parents and in-laws
    • Religious practice

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Four signs of marital atrophy:

In John Gottman's, book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail (1994), he presents conclusions from studies of more than 2,000 couples over two decades. Overall, he summarizes four ways of interacting which can quickly erode positive feelings and mutual respect. Following are these four styles listed from least to most destructive:

  1. Criticism

    • Attacking ones character and personality with blame
    • Making global accusations rather than specific complaints
  2. Contempt

    • Intent to insult and abuse your partner psychologically
    • Includes name calling, hostile humor, mockery, and body language (e.g., sneering, rolling eyes).
  3. Defensiveness

    • Denying responsibility
    • Making excuses
    • Cross-complaining
    • Yes-butting
    • Whining
    • Negative body language (e.g., arms folded across chest, hands touch neck)
  4. Stonewalling

    • One partner does not react to the other
    • Ignores
    • Leaves the room
    • Responds by sarcastically saying, "whatever", or "you're right" as a way to get the other person off his/her back

A healthy, lasting marriage draws from abundant wells of positivity as well as a sense of mutual understanding on effective styles of interacting. The following are four strategies for breaking negative cycles in relationships. These four techniques are not merely recommendations but practical enough to be used everyday.

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Four ways to strengthen your marriage:

(according to John Gottman)

  1. Learn to calm down during disagreements

    • Take time to get your heart rate down
    • Replace distress-maintaining thoughts with soothing and validating thoughts
    • Many marital therapists recommend taking a time out. Here's a suggestion for time out:

      • Come up with a signal to let your spouse know you need a time out (e.g., time-out signal)
      • You and your spouse need to then separate and go to predetermined areas to calm down (e.g., husband in the family room, wife in the bedroom)
      • Have a well thought-out plan to calm yourself down (e.g., relaxation technique; validating thoughts)
      • After spending the agreed amount of time (determined ahead of time) to calm down, get back together in a predetermined location to problem-solve or discuss the issue at hand
  2. Speak Non-defensively

    • Remove the blame from your comments
    • Say how you feel
    • Don't criticize your partner's personality
    • Don't insult, mock, or use sarcasm
    • Be direct
    • Stick with one situation or topic
    • Don't try to analyze your partner's personality
    • Don't mind read
    • Be specific with your complaint - "X,Y, Z" statement: "When you did (or didn't do) X in situation Y, I felt Z."
    • Avoid the following:

      • Denying responsibility
      • Making excuses
      • Using phrases like "yes, but..."
      • Whining
      • Reacting to negative mind reading
      • Cross-complaining
      • Using the "rubber man" or "rubber woman" ploy ("Oh yeah, you do that to me too...")
      • Falling back on the repeating-yourself syndrome
  3. Validate Your Partner. Males, in particular, need to work toward understanding their partner's feelings rather than merely offering practical solutions. Validation is simply putting yourself in your partner's shoes and imagining his or her emotional state.Ways to add validation to your discussion:

    • Take responsibility by acknowledging how you might have contributed to the conflict
    • Apologize
    • Compliment by honestly praising your spouse for handling a situation well
    • At the very least, acknowledge your partner's viewpoint
  4. Over learn. Practice, practice, practice. Start by discussing some innocuous topic like what you want for dinner or which video to rent. It is important to practice even if you do not feel like it. The idea is to over learn communication skills so you can draw upon them when you are physiologically aroused in an argument.

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Recommended Books

  • Gottman, J.M. (1994). Why Marriages Succeed Or Fail. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
  • Gottman, J.M. (1999). The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work. New York, NY: Crown Publishers.
  • Stanley, S., Trathen, D., McCain S., and Bryan, M. (1998). A Lasting Promise: A Christian
  • Guide To Fighting For Your Marriage. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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When to seek professional help

If you detect that your relationship is suffering, ­seek help. Don't make the mistake of waiting to get professional help as a last resort. Many times, couples delay counseling until a miracle is needed to save the marriage (sometimes miracles happen, but not often). It is much easier to change negative patterns of interacting when you and your partner still feel a flame in your relationship. Waiting to address serious problems when the relationship has been reduced to an occasional spark may take extraordinary means to revive feelings of love and mutual understanding. Even when the flame is almost completely doused, there may still be hope.

The Counseling and Career Center offers marital, individual, and group counseling to help with these issues. For more information, call the Counseling and Career Center at 422-3035.

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