Marriage week may sound cheesier than a Camembert, but the idea of couples taking time to pause and reflect on the state of their relationship is not a bad one.
Although most people think they know what marriage is about, we clearly don’t have it sussed – the UK has one of the highest divorce rates in the EU.
The truth is that marriage takes work - if it was all about routine and comfort at a steady pace, there wouldn’t be quite so many break-ups. But what are the chief causes for trouble in a marriage?
HuffPost UK Lifestyle spoke to three relationship experts and it seems there is only one clear winner: lack of communication.
“It’s the problem I hear the most,” says Christine Northam, counsellor for Relate, who provide counselling support.
Michael Kallenbach, couples counselor and HuffPost UK blogger agrees. “People in relationships often don’t manage to communicate well and this can lead to misunderstandings and assumptions, which are often wrong.”
Very often, Northam says, couples attribute a lot of other problems to this. So they’ll say ‘she doesn’t listen to me, he doesn’t talk to me’ but it’s actually a banner headline for other stuff.
“An example would be a couple who have a young baby and they are rowing a lot saying they can’t communicate. They haven’t realised there is a huge amount of pressure on them – they’ve got a baby, new roles, and need to work out how they co-operate and how they cope with finances. He might play golf and she might do yoga, and they’ve had to give these things up.
“You can express your anger which is projection, but it’s whether you can say how you truly feel, such as ‘I feel sad about not being able to do the things I used to’. The couple might say they can’t communicate but it’s all about the new baby.”
Although it can be about the big stuff (illness, having a new baby, losing your job), Kallenbach believes that very often, conflict arises because of the small stuff.
“It can be things that might seem very small or insignificant, such as emptying the dishwasher or taking out the rubbish to the bins regularly,” he says. “But the small things can add up and become big troublesome issues in a relationship where two people are living together.
“It can be a good idea to sit down with your partner or spouse, say once a week and talk about what’s bothering you and discuss it in a rational and reasonable way. That certainly is a way of communicating rather than brushing it under the carpet, allowing it to fester.”
Aside from communication, relationship expert Caroline Brealey says that money can also be a key issue. One person’s attitude to finances may not have seemed like an issue at the start of your relationship, but as time goes on, it may need to be addressed.
“One of you might be a spender,” she says, “while the other saves or you may resent your partner is bring debts to the table. To overcome these difficulties work together as a team to plan what to do with your income.
“So who is going to pay the bills, how much should you both put into a savings account each month and if there are several things you are saving for, what’s the priority?
“Drawing up a plan is a sensible idea and whilst it might not be the easiest conversation to have, it’s an absolute must. Wherever possible have some money set aside each month which you can both do exactly as you please with and remember, different views on finance isn’t always a bad thing – they can complement one another.”
Infidelity, of course is a big issue – there’s even a site called Illicit Encounters which partners up married people with singletons. But often, infidelity is instigated by an issue, rather than it being the issue itself.
“Sometimes,” says Northam, “it’s about the couple not being able to see what problem is. An example is where couple can’t seem to conceive and is thinking about IVF. The bloke may feel threatened by his masculinity and fertility and might unconciously start to look for someone else to prove to himself that he is okay. But for him to realise it, that would have to be brought out into his consciousness.”
Counselling may be viewed as a last resort to consider if you’re on the brink of divorce, but talking to a third person can help resolves smaller issues before they become big ones.
Brealey says that a big problem (which may not be talked about) is that one half of the couple may feel they are making more effort than the other. That then leads to resentment, which over time can break a relationship.
“For example they may feel their partner has stopped being romantic, or works so hard they never get time alone or prioritises seeing friends over spending one on one time together. Being open and honest is key but practical ways to overcome the issue can be planning date nights ahead of time, by making a conscious effort to do and say those things you did when you first got together but now take for granted like simply having a hug, saying I love you or sharing a special dinner together.”
Above all, it’s remembering that this person is on your side and vice versa. “At certain points in your life together there will be times where one of you is under a lot of pressure or are feeling run down,” says Brealey. “Be supportive, be open and remember that working on a relationship is consistent and something that does require effort from both sides.”
What do you think are the biggest issues in a marriage? Tell us in the comments below…
For help or advice about your relationship visit Relate or call 0300 100 1234.