Recently, I spent a glorious day shopping, indulging in sinfully tasty treats and watching one of the best movies I’ve seen in years. The film was about a couple that had been married for over a decade. It was a well-told story that revolved around their disintegrating relationship. The love was still there but it was buried underneath mountains of bickering, sneers, nasty remarks, and long stretches of silence. I was enthralled with the performances, the beautiful scenery, the sharp direction; but mostly I was taken with the realistic portrayal of a long-lasting relationship. Yes, ten years is long-lasting in my book.

The movie got me thinking about how relationships go astray and what can be done when all hope seems lost. I knew PlumbTalk Women readers would find this topic valuable, so I sought the wisdom of a woman who is an expert in the field of dating, marriage, and family. Dr. A’ndrea Wilson is the bestselling author of Wife 101, Husband 101 and Couples 101. Her new book, Singles 101, comes out July 1, 2014. Dr. Wilson advises us to not be fooled by the titles. Her books are for everyone.

How Men and Women Communicate Differently

We all know that men and women are wired differently, but how does this affect relationships? Dr. Wilson says that men don’t talk as much as women – they ponder things and take more time to process information. Women tend to verbalize all of their thoughts and feelings, where men tend to be stoic, fearing that showing too much emotion will emasculate them.

Ultimately, the way we communicate with the opposite sex can create conflict in our relationships. Men are not going to ask for help. They internalize their feelings because their pride is on the line. Women tend to take the reverse approach.

Comedian Rodney Dangerfield once said, “I haven’t spoken to my wife in years. I didn’t want to interrupt her.”

Yes, says Dr. Wilson, sometimes women can talk too much; but more importantly they can talk in the wrong way. They enter into a discussion with negative energy or frustration, and that immediately sets the wrong tone.

Couples need to be able to talk about things with the goal of really finding solutions. Dr. Wilson suggests couples come to a place of agreement with something that can be acted upon. Have a sense of collaboration. Women should be patient, knowing that men will take time to digest things. Also, know when to talk to your man; during the football game may not be the best time.

Timetables

Some relationships suffer from different desires depending on what stages of life the partners are in. This is even the case for two people who are roughly the same age.

Dr. Wilson describes women as being born with a biological clock ticking in their heads. It might as well be a high-pitched dog whistle to men’s ears because they can reproduce their whole lives – but women can’t. Because of this subconscious pressure, women want to get married sooner so they can start families. Men think more about becoming financially stable in their youth, so they’re not thinking about making babies yet. This is the type of thing that may not be discovered until you’ve fallen in love or moved in together. Knowing where the other person’s head is at is a great start to any relationship.

Common Challenges

Being on the same wavelength when it comes to your wants and desires is just the beginning. I asked Dr. Wilson what the most common problems are in wobbly relationships. She responded with three thought provoking points.

Expectations: “One of the things that I found that could be very devastating in a relationship is expectations,” Dr. Wilson says. When expectations aren’t met, somebody is disappointed. Just imagine getting a promotion and thinking of sharing this great news with your husband. You expect him to do cartwheels across the floor with you. Instead, you walk in the door, excitedly share the news, and he softly expresses his congratulations with a light tap on your head and a smile. You feel like you’ve just been given a generic greeting card. “That’s it?” you ask. He didn’t meet your expectations so now you’re upset. This could lead to an argument.

Roles: Gender roles have become blurred. People enter into relationships without really knowing what their place is; and as the union forges on, these roles can become even fuzzier. This can lead to breakdowns in the relationship.

Inability to Forgive: Not being able to forgive is like slowly pouring acid over your relationship. Eventually it will decay, and neither one of you will be able to remain in the union. A relationship cannot grow where forgiveness does not exist.

Dealing with the Problems

Every relationship has its challenges, but when we change our perspectives, it becomes clear that challenges are actually opportunities. Overcoming relationship hurdles can strengthen the bond two people share. Dr. Wilson also shed light on how to best approach such trouble and, in effect, grow a stronger relationship.

Get Rid of Expectations: Dr. Wilson states that getting rid of expectations is a step-by-step process. You have to constantly remind yourself that you don’t need to have expectations for the other person. These are just falsities you’ve dreamed up. Also, ask yourself if they’ve actually done something wrong, or if it’s more about how you wanted them to act. Just accepting them for who they are, as cliché as it sounds, will go a long way to healing a rift.

Roles: Dr. Wilson suggests having conversations about what each person’s role is in the relationship. Again, it’s about communicating. Knowing the other person’s values and how they see themselves in the world is going to empower both of you and will strengthen your bond.

Forgive: You have to find a way to get past whatever the problem is. Sometimes you have to keep forgiving because forgetting is really hard! If you can’t kick sand over the past, you’ll be in trouble.

Strengthen Your Bond

We’re proactive about attending to our physical health, but when it comes to our relationships, we can easily become lax. At the first sign of trouble, talk it out. Don’t let things simmer. Pick up on cues, as subtle as they may be.

Dr. Wilson suggests making every effort to have fun together, even if that means just watching a funny movie together. Laughing together really can do wonders, she says. Something else that could help any relationship is seeking adventure together. Maybe neither one of you has been to Las Vegas. Experience it for the first time together.

If you feel like you have to do your research first, Dr. Wilson suggests reading self-help books such as “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman. Or speak with other couples who have been through similar rough patches. But be careful from whom you seek advice because those individuals may be coming from dark, bitter places.

You may feel more comfortable interacting with others at a seminar, a workshop, or even a retreat. If your situation is dire and you need an intermediary, then seek out a counselor.

A Perfect Relationship Does Not Exist

We must remember that all relationships have challenging moments. According to Dr. Wilson, “Good and healthy relationships are a byproduct of hard work and perseverance.”

Don’t try to change your partner. “The only person you can change is you,” Dr. Wilson reminds us. Basically that means to work on you first. Maybe your effort will encourage your partner to do the same.

The more prepared you are entering into a relationship, the better chance you’ll have of lasting love and happiness. You may even get past the ten-year mark with minimal problems. Now that would be a sweet story worth telling.

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