It used to be cheating, parenting styles, and money management, but now a whole new crop of issues is plaguing married couples. But, it turns out, they're actually way easier to solve. By Anne Roderique-Jones, REDBOOK.
A Facebook Affair
What brought them here: Darren Wilk, a certified Gottman Couples Therapist in private practice in Vancouver, British Columbia, says that 30 to 40 percent of the couples he treats are trying to recover from some form of infidelity. When he met Megan, her Facebook friendship with an old flame had progressed to exchanging not-so-innocent messages about "being each other's old crush," and ultimately, an affair that was discovered by Megan's husband, Paul. "The problem with Facebook is that it makes people feel as though they can be more vulnerable when they're behind the computer screen," says Wilk. "Couples who were once able to reach out to their partner may now now find it easier to get their emotional needs met online."
The breakdown: In order for the marriage to recover, Wilk had to help Megan understand that the relationship she found on Facebook was actually a fantasy. Though it might be the easiest place to get support, the support she felt wasn't real. In working with Wilk, she was able to see that what she really liked about her exchanges was that they felt like when she was first dating her husband - a time when a partner is more open to listening to what the other is saying. Finally Megan acknowledged that she was not looking for someone new to be with, only for someone to hear her.
The breakthrough: Wilk says that a relationship will survive infidelity about 80 percent of the time - if you confront it. Megan and Paul went though their Facebook accounts together and unfriended the people they held on to from their pasts. They realized that part of a successful marriage is recognizing each other's stressors, and began having regular "stress reducing conversations." These talks included subjects that you'd typically discuss with your friends (especially online), but they're now doing it with each other. This eventually led to weekly dates, and understanding that they are able to get support and love from their spouse - rather than through social media.
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A Sexually Deprived Dad
What brought them here: Since having their baby, Janie and Jack have become mismatched in their sex drives. Jack is a stay-at-home dad and Janie works long hours. Because of this, she wants to spend her evenings with their daughter. Jack prefers to enjoy date nights and get out of the house when his wife arrives home. Janie feels as if she has two jobs and no longer has the desire (or energy) for sex, and the couple has gone from having an active sex life to having sex less than once a month. Janie also happens to be insecure about her recent weight gain, and felt her husband wasn't doing anything to make her feel attractive.
The breakdown: Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor and the founder of Good in Bed, first had to help Janie understand that she should not feel guilty for reducing what she felt was "precious time" with her daughter in order to prioritize her relationship with her husband. Jack needed to learn that sex was more about the relationship outside of the bedroom, and that just because he wanted sex, it did not mean he was making his wife feel sexy. He had to compliment Janie, and encourage her to take more time for herself. Both needed to accept that having children changes the way you approach each other, and that you may not have the same desires. Finally, for women, being able to relax and mentally deactivate is part of the arousal process.
The breakthrough: Kerner worked with Jack to create a campaign to boost his wife's self esteem while Janie learned to go through the motions (AKA: just do it) to rediscover her sexuality. The couple focused on getting out, spending quality time with each other, and reestablishing their identity as a couple. They've created relationship routines that prioritize their marriage, and understand the effort required. They've also found a regular, trustworthy babysitter and focused on sleep training in order to get their child on a schedule that allows them to spend time together in the evenings. They now have sex once or twice a week, and feel more bonded than ever before.
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A Baby-Making Dispute
What brought them here: Melanie and Leo have always wanted to have children, but it wasn't until Leo lost his job that Melanie wished to start trying. Because Leo is a planner who tends to factor a budget into every decision, he felt they should put baby-making on hold until he found a new job. Carin Goldstein, licensed marriage and family therapist and creator of Be the Smart Wife, believes that when Melanie was told that she could not have a baby, she immediately felt out of control and emotionally unsatisfied by her husband. Leo felt inadequate and unsupported throughout his job loss, and the situation put an understandable strain on their marriage.
The breakdown: The couple learned though therapy that this feeling of being out of control had brought up Melanie's childhood, a time when her needs were not emotionally met. Goldstein worked to help her understand that this history was not a valid reason for attacking her husband. And both Melanie and Leo had to accept that their life situation was a bump in the road - which is common in all marriages - and that they needed to learn how to manage life's curveballs and stop living in fear.
The breakthrough: Slowly, Melanie and Leo started to each do their part to resolve the situation, and made a deal that once Leo had a steady job for at least six weeks, they'd revisit having children. She need to know that he was invested in starting a family, and that there was something tangible to hold on to. Goldstein helped the couple understand that Leo would (and eventually did) get another job, and that they would get over this obstacle by finding coping strategies. Melanie and Leo are now the happy, crazed parents of two children.
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A Jealous Father
What brought them here: New parents John and Jackie have been feeling the stress on their marriage since they had their baby, Lola. Jackie works outside of the home, and has only two hours with her daughter each evening. She made it clear that she wanted that time with her child - not her husband - but felt guilty that Lola took so much energy. John felt that Jackie was putting the child first. He eventually started working long hours, and spent more time alone than with his new family.
The breakdown: Wilk had to help the mother understand that she did not have to be supermom - she could be "good enough" mom. "Mothers often feel pressure and guilt because other moms don't share their struggles," he says. It's important to understand that though your spouse is an adult, he still needs attention.
The breakthrough: "After the baby is born, and they bring the baby home, 70 percent of couples feel less happy," says Wilk, referencing John Gottman's research in And Baby Makes Three. The other 30 percent do three things: maintain courtship, don't use the baby to solve problems, and nurture their friendship. John and Jackie worked on all three by spending one hour, three nights week, catching up. Simply sitting down and having a cup of tea, chatting about work, what they're excited about - and yes, the kids - helped them to care not only for the baby, but for each other.
*All names have been changed.
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