In my last post, I discussed how to recognize when your marriage needs help. That was a great first step! But what happens after you realize there is a problem in the relationship? How do you know if it is a serious issue that requires professional help or if it can be resolved between you and your partner?
In my experience as a therapist, I have found that couples often know when something is wrong in their relationship. They can tell, even if they can’t fully articulate it, that things aren’t quite the same as they used to be. This is why recognizing a problem is often the hardest part of resolving issues in your marriage.
Once you’ve identified that there is a problem in your marriage, it’s time to determine the severity of that issue. The quickest way to do this is by brainstorming all the problems in your relationship and evaluating which are the most significant.
Just like you would need a doctor to diagnose your illness before prescribing medication, I believe it is important for couples to identify what exactly needs help in their relationship. Once you have a better understanding of where to focus your attention, you can identify the best way to resolve those issues.
It’s important not to underestimate how real certain problems are just because they’re not top priority. This is an all too common mistake that leads couples down the wrong path or keeps them stuck in ineffective patterns with their partner. I have seen clients who only focused on one problem in their marriage, or even just a part of that problem, and ended up exacerbating the issue until it became a much bigger deal.
In order to avoid this mistake, I recommend going through your list of problems and rating each one from 1-10 based on how relevant they are to your marriage. When evaluating each issue, ask yourself if the problem is significant enough to your marriage that it deserves attention and effort from both partners. Of course, it’s understandable that not every fight or disagreement requires the same level of concern.
In general, issues that have a greater impact on your relationship will rate higher than those with less influence. If an issue is something that your partner repeatedly does or says, then it’s probably a major problem.
Here are some examples of issues that might fall into these categories:
Large Problems (8 and above): Infidelity/Cheating Substance Abuse Emotional Neglect Physical Abuse Financial Difficulties Verbal or Emotional Abuse Lying Trust Issues
Medium Problems (4-7): Communication Difficulties Lack of Respect, Civility, or Kindness Jealousy and Possessiveness Conflict Resolution Problems Too Much Distance in the Relationship
Smaller Problems (1-3): Disinterest in Sex Little to No Intimacy Occasional Argument or Disagreement Overeating or Under-eating Incompatibility/Lack of Common Interests
Once you have a rating for each issue, add up the total and use that number to evaluate your overall relationship. If the score is between 4 and 10, then you have some work ahead of you and it is best to seek professional help. If your score is below 4, then it may be time to reevaluate the health of your relationship because that total indicates that there are some serious issues in need of attention.
While this system can give you a good idea of where to focus your efforts, I don’t think it should be considered a “report card” of your marriage. Instead, I would recommend using it as a tool to help you determine the best approach for resolving each issue.
In my experience, having a shared list like this with your partner is often beneficial. Try creating your own list and then compare them together at the end to get an even better sense of where to concentrate your efforts.
If you find that there are a lot of issues on the list, it may be helpful to break them down even further and focus on one small problem at a time. I’ve found that sometimes couples struggle with having too many things to work on which can lead to feeling overwhelmed or burnt out. Once you have a good idea of what you need to address, it’s much easier to determine the best course of action.