Only the most sainted of us have never gritted our teeth or mumbled under our breath over a hated habit, or lost our temper about an issue on which it seems we’ll never agree.
But you can put the brakes on those little annoyances before the situation turns into all-out war, especially as figures show that 50 per cent of separated people said they felt there were things they could have done to prevent their break-up, and they wished they’d done more.
It is possible to foolproof your marriage, says Barbara Bloomfield, Relate counsellor and author of The Relate Guide to Finding Love (Vermilion, £10.99). Here, she highlights the four main reasons why marriages break down – and how you can take measures to guard against them in the future.
While differences in sexual desire are a common reason why people seek professional help, problems in the bedroom can often be masking another issue that can be far more easily fixed.
A mismatched libido is usually exposed after the honeymoon period, when couples have been together for about a year. Typically, the man wants sex six or seven times a week while the woman thinks two or three times is enough. But all too often the problem isn’t actually about sex but warmth – the little cuddles and kisses that feed that affection – which can easily be forgotten. Men show affection by having sex and women want sex after being shown affection, so couples need to come to a compromise. Create an environment where you’re likely to have a good time, such as having a bedroom that is enticing and, if you can, plan a romantic overnight break, especially if you have children, as being away from home can make all the difference. Step around the barrier you’ve built to show you really care.
Endless bickering is a common reason for couples seeking relationship therapy. How can you stop yourself falling into the tit-for-tat trap?
Arguing can be a good thing, because it shows people care. The problem is when it’s unproductive and unresolved. Deep down, every row stems from the same question, ‘Do you love me enough?’ Even if it’s over something as trivial as washing up, what’s really being asked is, ‘Do you love me enough to do the washing up?’ What keeps an argument healthy is resolution, so you both need to be able to listen to each other. Say things like, ‘So let me get this right, you think this…’ and try to see your partner’s point of view. Be prepared to be flexible. If either you or your partner are finding it hard to listen, that’s when you should seek counselling. If we learn to listen, the bickering will turn into a deeper connection.
In today’s world of increasingly complicated families, the numbers of couples arriving at Relate at their wits’ end because their children don’t get on with their new partner or their step-siblings have soared.
Leave some time after a break-up before introducing children to a new partner. Do it gradually so they have time to get used to the idea, and have the first meeting in a neutral place – such as the children’s favourite café. But if problems have already started, holding regular family meetings can ease tensions. Many people avoid doing so because they’re scared of what the children might say, but it’s important to give them a voice. A break-up often leaves children feeling powerless; giving them some of that power back can hopefully break the cycle. Even if you tell them that they need to accept the situation, by letting them feel like they can speak out can work wonders.
It’s the ultimate betrayal and probably the most difficult problem to overcome, but affairs needn’t always signal the end of your relationship.
Affairs can actually be a positive (if painful) thing if they’re like a flag being waved at a troubled relationship. The person being unfaithful obviously still wants the relationship or they would have left, but the affair is a sign that they want it to be different. People assume that affairs are all about sex, but they’re about excitement and novelty. The daily routine of married life can be boring, especially if you have children, and the excitement of an affair can seem appealing. What it is showing is that the person still has some energy for their relationship, if they can get the spark back and make it interesting again. It’s never easy for the person who has been cheated on, but at some point they need to stop and think about their contribution and what they could’ve done differently. Perhaps they could have shown more affection, or have been there for the other person a bit more. The most important thing in a marriage is communication. Make time for talking, whether it’s a regular date night, or an evening walk, and do things together around the home to keep the marriage fresh.