Why don’t some marital problems change?

Having been a marital therapist and psychologist for many years, I often wonder at the amazing ability some couples have to NOT change. These couples are often intelligent, reasonable people in other areas of their life, but nonetheless become gridlocked with each other around certain marital issues. Issues in this category are called “perpetual” issues by marital researchers; all couples have them, but not all couples fight or conflict over them.

Some couples find ways to either solve the problem or find ways to live with each other around it. What about the other couples? The ones that get stuck? Why don’t they  do what they know they should do to avoid conflict around the issues that get them into trouble? The simple answer is that they often times do not want to. Change requires both skills to change and sufficient motivation to do so. Stuck couples  are often locked into ways of thinking that prevents them from moving out of conflict into resolution.

self talk

Some common thought patterns that prevent change:

  • I don’t really want to get closer to my partner. I just want to complain about my partner and keep them at a distance.
  • I like the role of victim.
  • I enjoy feeling superior and looking down on my partner.
  • I like feeling angry and bitter.
  • Our problems are all your fault, so why should I have to change?
  • I’m right and you are wrong.
  • You’re such a stubborn, self-centered jerk that nothing could possibly work. Why should I bother to try?

Do any of these thought patterns look familiar to you? Can you identify with any of them? Seems to me that couples who really want to improve things will work at changing these and other beliefs that prevent the change from occurring.  Often a special kind of therapist called a “cognitive-behavior therapist” can help you identify and change these and other thought patterns.

For self-help, I would also recommend a book called “The Feeling Good Handbook” by Dr. David Burns.This book is full of practical, helpful suggestions to improve your life and your marriage.

In summary, it has been my experience that many couples could improve their marriage, if they really wanted to and they were willing to do the necessary work to do so. Looking more deeply at the roots of the resistance to change on either your part or your partner’s part can go a long way helping things along.