Every relationship is unique, but most relationship problems are pretty much the same. Couples therapists tend to see the same issues crop up again and again and again, which is actually good news for you. Why? Because the pros know a handful of smart solutions that more often than not nip the issue in the bud.
“Most conflicts tend to be caused by a breakdown in communication, says Ginnie Love, PhD, a psychotherapist in private practice in South Florida. “When couples share their feelings with each another, they come to a deeper level of intimacy, and as a result, they avoid blame and finger pointing during disagreements.” Ready to get the love back without landing on a counselor’s couch? Here are the top 5 relationship issues that therapists see—and how to fix them fast. (Lose up to 15 pounds in just 30 days with this revolutionary superfood plan from the publisher of Prevention!)
1. My partner doesn’t understand or listen to me
Fix it: Force yourselves to talk. Like really make yourselves. Make an actual daily check-in appointment with each other to discuss both your feelings and the business of running your life together, says Marni Kinrys, a relationship coach in Los Angeles, founder of The Wing Girl Method and author of ebook That’s Not How Men Work. During these sessions catch up with each other about what’s going on in your lives, and be sure to circle back to loose ends. “For example, if your partner sent you an email about weekend plans and you didn’t respond, make sure that you say something like ‘I got your email, I working on it and this is where I’m at,'” says Kinrys.
While you chat, use reflective listening—repeating what your partner said to you back to them. “It’s amazing how much miscommunication comes from our misinterpretation of what the other person has said along with us having not truly listened,” says Love. Instead of focusing and listening to our partners intently, we often are preparing our reply in our heads which leads to lost messaging. Finally, set up some easy-to-remember ground rules: No phones or tablets to distract you, no interrupting and no yelling (meet in public if you can’t help but raise your voices).
2. We’re not on the same page when it comes to money
Fix it: Get to the root of your beliefs. Different money personalities—spenders and savers—often end up together—but also often end up arguing a lot about their finances. “When you and your partner hold different views about money, you have to take the time to explain to each other why you approach your finances the way you do,” says Kinrys. And don’t wait to bring it up in the heat of another argument. Make a money date where you discuss not only setting up goals, a budget, and lifestyle expectations, but your feelings surrounding money. “Be up front—maybe your family was penny pinchers and that’s why you’re so tight with cash,” says Kinrys. “Listen to your partner’s point of view and try to meet in the middle.”
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3. We always argue about household chores
Fix it: Start thanking each other. “Fighting about who pays the bills, cleans, does lawn work or laundry, is more about feeling appreciated and getting credit than doing the actual task,” says Melissa Cohen, LCSW, a couples counselor in private practice in Westfield, New Jersey. It’s easy to feel like nothing you do is ever good enough if you don’t get any credit. “We see what we do but don’t always see what our partner does,” says Cohen.
To get past the “I-do-more-than-you” argument, start by creating a culture of appreciation for what your spouse does, rather than focusing on what they don’t. “Say thank you for every little thing your partner does and ask him to return the favor,” says Cohen. Then, take the time to write down everything that makes your house function—how to clean the kitchen, who’s in charge of buying gifts, remembering birthdays, getting the tires rotated on your car. Identify a lead and a support for each role so that there are no misunderstandings. “The primary person should be the person who is more particular about the job,” says Cohen. (For example, if you’re great with money and your spouse isn’t, then you should pay bills.) This will prevent micromanaging of tasks—which can only lead to more arguing.
4. Our sex life isn’t what it used to be
Fix: Get connected emotionally again. How to do that? By having deep, meaningful discussions with you partner. Kinrys points to one study that found that asking and answering a series of intimate questions (think: How do you think you’re going to die? How do you view the role of mother in a household?) leads to increased intimacy. Once you’re feeling more connected, start having sex by planning sex dates—before-work quickies or lazy Sunday afternoons when the kids are at soccer practice—that happen separately from regular date nights (where you are often so tired from your date that you just go straight to sleep). And before you poo-poo the idea of planned sex as boring consider this: “When sex is on the calendar, it builds anticipation, which can actually make it more enjoyable,” says Kinrys.
5. We never spend time together
Fix it: Don’t feel guilty about putting each other first. One of the most difficult parts of marriage is staying connected for the long-term. “It’s so easy to lose each other in the chaos of life,” says Cohen, who points out that many people prioritize everything else—kids, work, friends—over their relationship. “We can over-focus on work, kids, the house, and legitimize that the kids and work come first,” says Cohen. But in the end, you lose the connection with your partner.
Above all else, you and your partner must realize that without the foundation that is your union, there isn’t any of the other stuff. And without a good foundation, it will all eventually crumble. “Your relationship is what supports the kids, the work, the house, the friends, the life,” says Cohen. So dedicate sacred time for each other and again—without any digital devices to distract you. “Whether it’s an hour spent watching a favorite TV show together or a night out on the town, you can really show your commitment to each other by simply being present and available to your life partner,” says Cohen.