When marriage gets hard, keep an eye out for these possible causes.
To some extent, we’re all aware of the external circumstances that can affect a couple’s relationship. Such circumstances do not depend on us. But if we’re aware of them, it helps us to face the resulting situations in a constructive way, no matter how complicated they may be. However, there are also factors within the couple that can lead to a marriage crisis, and we need to be aware of them, too.
Those of us who work with couples in difficulty are witnesses of how often these problems are caused by the spouses’ temperament and character, and how they relate to themselves and others.
Pope Francis says in his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia:
236. Then there are those personal crises that affect the life of couples, often involving finances, problems in the workplace, emotional, social and spiritual difficulties. Unexpected situations present themselves, disrupting family life and requiring a process of forgiveness and reconciliation.
In resolving sincerely to forgive the other, each has to ask quietly and humbly if he or she has not somehow created the conditions that led to the other’s mistakes. Some families break up when spouses engage in mutual recrimination, but “experience shows that with proper assistance and acts of reconciliation, through grace, a great percentage of troubled marriages find a solution in a satisfying manner. To know how to forgive and to feel forgiven is a basic experience in family life.” (Relatio Synodi 2014, 44)
“The arduous art of reconciliation, which requires the support of grace, needs the generous cooperation of relatives and friends, and sometimes even outside help and professional assistance.” (Relatio Finalis 2015, 81)
If we were to enumerate each one of these causes, there would be as many as there are people on earth, because each person is a world unto himself. If we add to that the union of two people, each marriage is a world times two.
Therefore, I’m going to try to list in a summarized way the causes of internal crises that I see most often in my counseling work when helping couples or marriages who are in difficult situations.
1Lack of self-knowledge
In the first place, a lack of self-knowledge directly affects not only the relationship that one has with oneself, but also how one relates to others.
If I know myself well and I’m aware of my virtues and defects, I’ll be able to accept and love myself as I am. In this way, I’ll also be able to get to know the person next to me better and accept them as they are. No one is more important than anyone else in a relationship.
The concept we have of ourselves will determine the way we act in our homes and towards people outside our family. A poor self-image can lead to jealousy, which is a reflection of insecurity. If we aren’t self-aware and conscious of our responsibilities in our relationship, we may stop taking care of ourselves, which can lead to a loss of physical attractiveness with passing of time, etc.
2Lack of self-esteem
A bad relationship with our parents in our childhood or adolescence can impede, delay or stunt our process of maturation, and leads to egocentrism, which can be the cause of many difficulties in a couple when communicating and making decisions.
Generally this type of person has an immature communicative style (aggressive or inhibited), sometimes creating conflicts with their spouse, often getting into arguments, leading eventually to distancing between the spouses.
Perfectionism is the attitude that everything should be done the way I do it because it’s the right way, and the only way. If we seek to impose our perfectionism in a relationship, we’ll only manage to alienate the other person from ourselves and from what we do. Our demands are unreasonable, because it’s unrealistic to hope to reach the degree of perfection that we long for and demand from others.
4Loss of trust
A loss of confidence can be caused by unforeseen situations, especially when deception, concealment or silence on the part of the person we love makes all the alarms go off. This, together with low self-esteem or not believing that our relationship is “too good to be true,” can cause us to distrust the person who lives at our side.
5Not knowing how to set limits
Not knowing how to set limits, not knowing how to say “no” to specific situations or misunderstood obligations, is a real problem. We may have a hard time saying “no” not only regarding things external to the couple, but also among ourselves. This creates a situation of wear and tear at a personal level that ends up having repercussions in our relationship as a couple, and of course in our entire family relationship.
A foundation for hope: We are all made for love
In short, we have unhealed wounds, because for some reason we have not received the love we needed or we have not given the love we could.
Pope Francis reminds us of this in Amoris Laetitia AL 240:
A sincere self-examination will make it possible to see how one’s own shortcomings and immaturity affect the relationship. Even if it seems clear that the other person is at fault, a crisis will never be overcome simply by expecting him or her to change. We also have to ask what in our own life needs to grow or heal if the conflict is to be resolved.
Circumstances of this kind show us that each of us is made for love and that we need that love to grow. Therefore, in order to overcome these internal crises, we need to change our perception.
First we must change our perception of ourselves, our inner self, so that we recognize ourselves as created and called to flourish and live our vocation in life to the full.
Then, we have to learn to see beyond a superficial view of the people at our side. We must discover not only what’s in our own heart, but also what’s in our spouse’s heart.
Only in this way will we know how to forgive: First forgiving ourselves, and then our traveling companion, our spouse. Only in this way will we strengthen the “We” in which our marriage consists.