Do you ever feel like your friends and family have better marriages than you do? People don’t talk much about the problems they are having behind closed doors, which can leave you feeling like your relationship is the only one with problems, and hopeless that there’s anything you can do to fix them! Couples and Sex Therapist Maegan Megginson wants to change that. Maegan joined Kara Mack on Afternoon Live to talk about the most common relationship struggles (the ones that no one likes to talk about) and what you can do to get through these struggles in your relationship. Check out the video below and keep scrolling to read more on the blog.
I’ve been trying to think of an analogy for long term relationships recently. Well, more specifically, I’ve been trying to think of a not-so-corny-or-cliche analogy for long term relationships… but I think I’ve failed.
Long term relationships are like riding a roller coaster with your best friend. You start by waiting in line together, building anticipation for the ride, feeling giddy and nervous but also so happy. Then you’re on the roller coaster itself. It starts out okay, a little scary, but you feel really connected and safe having your partner by your side.
Then shit starts getting real and you begin to question why you got on this ride in the first place. You’re feeling nauseous, and then you realize you’re about to nose dive to your death, and suddenly, you hate everything about the person who convinced you that this would be fun. You would do anything to end this ride right now.
Wait! You survived the nose dive! And the loop-de-loop that came afterwards was actually mildly entertaining. Your nausea has subsided, and it sounds like you’re laughing now? What is happening to you? Oh, and you don’t hate this person anymore! Although you’re not sure if you trust them…
You’re at the end of the ride now. You car comes screeching to a halt as you arrive back to the loading station. You know for sure you’re safe now. Huge relief.
You get out of the car, take some deep breaths, begin the slow walk down the ramp and back into the park… and then you realize, I have to decide how I feel about this person again. We’ve just been through something together than has changed us both. Hopefully, if your nausea has completely subsided, you’ll look over at your partner and think to yourself, “Wow, that was wild… I really like doing crazy stuff with this weirdo”, and you’ll go along your merry way to find your next adventure together.
That is what it’s like in a long term relationship.
Are you still with me? That was a long analogy, but I think it illustrates something very important: relationships are fun, challenging, and unpredictable. Where we begin is not where we end; however, many of us adopt the faulty belief that we should be consistently happy throughout our years together… like a train ride through the zoo instead of an intense roller coaster.
The problem is, many people feel too ashamed of the ups-and-downs to talk about them openly and honestly with others. This creates a culture of secrecy about what happens behind closed doors in long term relationships.
How do I know this? My job is to join couples behind the closed doors of their relationship. I’ve worked with hundreds of couples, and I’ve learned that we all have pretty similar stories playing out in the privacy of our bedrooms.
In fact, this is the most common dialogue I hear in my couples therapy office:
Therapist: Yes, (insert struggle couple just explained to me) makes a lot of sense to me.
Couple: What? How is that possible… we haven’t even told you the whole story yet.
Therapist: Well, most couples I work with also struggle with (insert their struggle again), so I’m quite familiar with this experience.
Couple: Really? We thought we were the only ones… none of our friends or family are going through this.
Therapist: I am positive that is not true. I would bet my life that every couple in a long term relationship goes through this exact struggle at some point in their journey together. It’s just that many people are too ashamed to talk about it.
Couple: (brains explode) … (then they feel much more normal and relieved that they aren’t broken and alone)
I believe there is immense power in dispelling the myth that relationships should be easy, constant, and stable. Can you imagine how disappointed you would be if you waited in line for 45 minutes to ride that roller coaster?!
You are going to go through a lot of really hard things together. There will be moments when it feels scary, challenging, infuriating, sad, and maybe even hopeless… and that is totally okay! You don’t get to skip the nose dive if you choose to ride the roller coaster. You have to ride the whole damn thing together. Holding hands, screaming, cursing, laughing hysterically, trying not to puke on each other…. I really can’t think of a better analogy for life in your long term relationship.
Now I want to take a stab at guessing some of the common struggles you might be going through that I wholeheartedly believe you can make it through!
Here is how I’m going to break it down for you:
Struggle – This is the struggle I believe you might be experiencing.
Origin Story – This is what it was like for you in the beginning of your relationship.
Current Story – This is what it is like for you now (an expanded explanation of your struggle).
Future Story – This is what I believe is possible based on my work with hundreds of couples who have faced the same struggle. Make this statement your own and use it as a mantra with your partner as you begin to navigate out of hardship and back to connection.
Struggle #1 – We just can’t communicate with each other anymore!
Origin Story – We couldn’t stop talking to each other. We had so much in common and felt like we could tell each other everything. We were finishing each other’s sentences and sharing deep moments of vulnerability. It was like our brains and spirits were connected!
Current Story – Every time my partner looks at me I want to scream. We can’t get through a single day without arguing or hurting each other’s feelings.
Future Story – We are going to work together to understand how we’ve changed and what we need to feel connected, respected, and safe in our relationship again. We will re-create the deep emotional intimacy we felt in the beginning of our relationship.
Struggle #2 – We’ve lost our sexual spark, and now we’re stuck in a sex slump.
Origin Story – I’ve never felt such a strong physical attraction to another human being. We couldn’t keep our hands off each other for years! We were having sex all the time (even when we shouldn’t – oops!), but it was exhilarating.
Current Story – Ehhhh. We’re just not that into it anymore. The desire isn’t there, or when it is, the sex is routine and boring. We’re lost our spark and are wondering if it means this relationship is over.
Future Story – It is normal for the organic flames of eroticism to die down in a long term relationship. It takes intentional effort, communication, and creativity to keep the flames alive, but it is possible when we are committed to maintaining an erotic connection in our relationship.
Struggle #3 – We cannot stop fighting about sex! Partner A wants sex all the time, but Partner B has changed and they never want it anymore.
Origin Story – We couldn’t keep our hands off each other… and it was mutual! We were both really into sex, and it was so easy and fun.
Current Story – There is something wrong with Partner B. They used to want sex all the time, and now they don’t want to be touched. It’s killing our relationship. They need to fix their problem, or we might be over.
Future Story – It’s normal for sexual desire to change in long term relationships, and it does not have to signal the death of your erotic connection. We are committed to learning how to cultivate an erotic relationship that feels good for both of us. We will prioritize our emotional connection and sexual connection to ensure we are both getting the love that we need in this relationship.
Struggle #4 – We both feel incredibly lonely and sad in this relationship.
Origin Story – (See story from Struggle #1 and #2!) We felt so close during those early years – we were emotionally connected and sexually connected. We had each other’s backs through thick and thin. We were each other’s best friends, and we never felt alone.
Current Story – We fight. We don’t have good sex… or any sex. We’re so stressed and busy that we’ve forgotten what it feels like to be relaxed and happy. We don’t have much time for friendships outside of our relationship… and we don’t really like each other… so basically, we both feel totally alone and depressed.
Future Story – We do not want to feel alone in this relationship. We will work hard to share and understand our needs so that we can continue strengthening our friendship. We will meet each other with compassion when life feels challenging and work hard to prioritize our relationship amidst the craziness of our lives.
Struggle #5 – We’re thinking about calling it quits and getting divorced.
Origin Story – Our relationship is impenetrable. We are going to be together forever.
Current Story – This is awful. We’re hurting each other, we’re hurting our kids, and we can’t see a way out. The only thing we can do to make this better is to walk away from this tortured relationship and hope we can be happy again without each other.
Future Story – Divorce is the right path for some couples, but we want to try to find our way back to the love that brought us together before euthanizing what is left of our relationship. We are committed to clearing the wreckage and repairing the damage left behind by years of neglect, conflict, and disconnection. We believe it is possible to salvage and restore our relationship.
Do any of these struggles resonate for you? Remember, there is no such thing as a problem-free long term relationship. The sparks you felt in the beginning will fade. Conflict will emerge. Hardships will hit you one after another.
I promise that you have the ability to make it through all the shit life throws at you together. You are not alone. We are all fighting the same battles in our long term relationships. You can get through this, and at the end of the journey, you will thank each other and agree that getting on that stupid roller coaster was a really good idea.