Most healthy relationships include five core elements: open communication, equal power, having your own lives outside of the relationship, trust and honesty, resolving conflict respectfully, and emotional intimacy. When one partner withdraws emotionally or physically from a relationship, a chasm is created that works against open communication, trust and honesty, and (especially) emotional intimacy. This dysfunction can be difficult to understand and leaves the partner who feels left alone confused and unsettled – and pining for an answer.
There are literally endless reasons why a marriage or a long-term relationship can feel difficult, for example, poor conflict navigation, lack of work/life balance, infidelity, and waning intimacy. Studies indicate that stressful life transitions, such as having children, moving to a different home, job loss or change, and major illness or injury, can lead to a decline in how partners feel about their relationship, and this can make maintaining a relationship feel much harder.
Cartoons often depict middle-aged people amid a midlife crisis indulging in out-of-character purchases and activities – red sports cars, motorcycles, skydiving, and dressing like teenagers, with a spouse at their side wondering, “What is going on? Who is this person that I no longer know? Are we heading to divorce court?” Setting those images aside, a midlife crisis involves much more than acting like a person who is twenty+ years younger, and it does not always lead to separation in a marriage.
Work-life balance is not described by a set of percentages that depict how much time a person spends at home and how much time is spent at work. Work-life balance is a goal that depicts a proportion between the demands and needs of an individual’s personal, professional, and family life. When we achieve work-life balance, it becomes a state of counterbalance that is both accountable and flexible, which strengthens family cohesion and relationship happiness. Relationships thrive on both give and take. The balance is never exactly even, but as each partner understands and accepts the give and the take, and flexibility is practiced, the relationship is nourished and is made a priority, even in the seasons when a busy or demanding work life requires extra time away from home. This is a healthy work-life balance.
How do you take off your work hat when you come home and negotiate with your spouse about making important decisions? How can you navigate how to have authority and power and control in the relationship? Who gives power and control? Who gets to make decisions? How do you make those decisions?
You have married your special person and now your life together feels incredibly hard. You may wonder what is wrong with your marriage, “We have not even been married a year yet!” You may be concerned about stirring up more conflict with your spouse, so you avoid approaching the topic. You might not seek advice from others, not even your best friend, because you do not want anyone to think that your marriage is falling apart. If this describes your scenario, know that what you are experiencing is common.