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Sabotaged Romance

Keep the "happily ever after" from fizzling.

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There’s a fantasy that when you’re married or committed, romance rocks and happiness abounds. Then there’s the reality that the majority of couples struggle at some point.

Yes, love settles in, and occasional resentments, buried emotions, and unresolved issues arise—money, chores, extended family, intimacy, and sex, as well as unkind words about any on the list.1

When certain topics and behaviors aren’t addressed, they multiply, bankrupt the spirit and possibly the bank account if a relationship doesn’t survive.

From sitting with couples for years and writing about hidden emotion, here are questions to ask yourselves and solutions to self-correct:

Money: Outside of filing taxes, when did you last discuss income, expenses, savings, overspending, goals, and financial planning?

Does one party manage these things more, or in some cases control them? Have you shared access or information with your spouse in case of emergency or incapacity? No one likes to think of this, but life can change in an instant.

Does your partner enjoy his/her job? What are the steps either of you must take to build a satisfying career, one that compensates for the daily grind?

Solutions: Talk as if it's a business meeting when you’re relaxed and undistracted, with financial data in hand. Listen to each other’s dreams. Soft start discussions about degree attainment, training, improved resumes, or a job search.

Enlist professionals if you face debt or decisions that could land you in it. Use the cognitive-behavioral cost-benefit analysis technique to determine a path.

Chores: Which of you frequently directs the other? Who over-functions for whom? Do you notice tasks and both pitch in without request?

Solutions: Many couples agree on chores, but do them differently. The more exacting party can take on the task to be done just so. Everyone’s happier. When one has a particular strength, turn over that job, but also show flexibility and patience as someone learns a new skill.

Extended Family: Which partner encourages family cohesion and closeness, and who picks the path of distance? Who lobs negatives about whose family?

When disagreements arise, how do you communicate? Calmly? Thoughtfully? Might one have more tolerance? Anger and reactivity?

Solutions: One’s own family may feel more familiar and safe, while a new one is like green grass on the other side. Navigating in-law relationships takes work and time, yet has its rewards.

When people face stress, they often pick the force of closeness or distance. Which do you favor?

Negativity, stemming from a frustrated, anxious, or angry place, easily becomes self-fulfilling. The disgruntled one who finds fault, confirms his/her bias, escapes change and controls the outcome. Distance isn’t the answer, nor is too much closeness, sometimes deemed fusion (enmeshment).2

Intimacy and Sex: When was the last time you shared genuine emotion with your partner? Listened without preparing what you’d say next? Shared affection, even after a heated row?

Ever wonder why the sizzle has escaped sex? News flash: It happens, a lot more than couples realize. It can be rekindled, differently perhaps, but not without emotional intimacy and communication skills at the core. John Gottman calls this charting your sexual love maps.3

Solutions: A couple’s sex life may be a barometer of their relationship as a whole. How effectively couples communicate says a lot about how they treat each other in and out of the bedroom.

Conflict exists within all relationships, but how partners speak and resolve it shows their commitment to growth and maturity, as well as their ability to become vulnerable. Without vulnerability, a trusting and mutually satisfying sexual relationship is harder to achieve. Name-calling, nagging, and negativity build up to such an extent that the noise is hard to tune down at arousal. Female brains require that extra neurological step.4

In all relationships, the more that positive sentiments override negative ones, the more a connection occurs. Speak from the heart with I-messages rather than put a partner on the defensive (with words like you or why). Use the EAR checklist (empathy, assertiveness, respect) as your guide.5

Communicate deeply and well. Start difficult conversations as softly as you can.

Last point: Tidy your frustrations, because if they sit between the two of you, no amount of candles, candy, or flowers can cover what clean up can to promote sweet nothings, intimacy, and then some.6

Copyright @ 2020 by Loriann Oberlin. All rights reserved.


1. T. Murphy and L. Oberlin, Overcoming Passive-Aggression: How to Stop Hidden Anger from Spoiling Your Relationships, Career and Happiness (Boston: DaCapo Press, 2016)

2. R. Gilbert, Extraordinary Relationships: A New Way of Thinking about Human Interactions, 2nd Edition (Lake Frederick, VA: Leading Systems Press, 2017)

3. J. Gottman and N. Silver, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (New York: Harmony Books, 2015)

4. L. Brizendine, The Female Brain (New York: Morgan Road Books, 2007)

5. D. Burns, Feeling Good Together: The Secret to Making Troubled Relationships Work (New York: Broadway Books, 2008)

6. T. Murphy and L. Oberlin, Overcoming Passive-Aggression: How to Stop Hidden Anger from Spoiling Your Relationships, Career and Happiness (Boston: DaCapo Press, 2016)