General: Couples may experience problems early on in their marriages, while others may be happy for many years before problems develop. There are many factors that may lead to marital distress. Below are some of the most common causes of marital distress.
Poor communication: Experts believe that poor communication is the most common cause of marital distress. Communication skills include verbal, non-verbal (facial expressions, gestures, and vocal tones), and listening skills. All of these skills are important in a relationship because they help people know what to say, how to make good choices, and how to behave in different situations.
People with poor communication skills may be unhappy or upset with how their partners are behaving, but they are unable to express their feelings. In other cases, talking about such issues results in fighting. Sometimes people will avoid discussing bothersome issues in order to prevent arguments. As a result, the person's feelings go unresolved and changes are not made to improve the relationship. Communication problems often cause spouses to feel bad about themselves, their partners, and their relationships.
When a couple has communication problems, people often feel that their partners are making excessive demands or requesting much more than they can give. Other people may feel that their partners are too withdrawn or do not share or open up enough.
Having poor communication increases the likelihood that other marital problems, such as lack of intimacy, sexual difficulties, and major life transitions, will cause marital distress.
Arguing: Frequent arguing is also a common cause of martial distress. Many experts believe that the topic being argued is less important than how the argument is actually handled. If one or both people in a relationship have poor communication skills, they may not be able to properly resolve their arguments and as a result, they might fight often. People who are unable to compromise, negotiate differences, and listen to others are most likely to face marital difficulties. Some experts suggests that it is important that couples view their relationship as a partnership.
Studies show that money is the number one thing couples argue about, followed by issues relating to their children. Other common conflicts involve problems with in-laws, cultural clashes, and differences in values or priorities. For instance, some couples may have very different religious beliefs that come into conflict when they try to make major life decisions. Couples may also disagree with the parenting philosophies of their partners.
Lack of intimacy: A lack of emotional and/or physical intimacy among couples may also lead to marital distress. According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), it is natural for strong emotions associated with courtship to decline over time. For instance, romantic gestures (such as buying flowers) or weekend date nights may become less frequent over time. Although this is considered normal for most couples, some people may perceive this decline in courtship behaviors as a loss of loving feelings. These feelings may lead to a reduced interest in sexual activities.
Intimacy may decline for many other reasons, including emotional stress and sexual difficulties. For instance, working long hours may cause a person to feel tired and stressed when he/she returns home. As a result, his/her partner may not feel as emotionally or physically connected to the person.
Sexual difficulties: Sexual difficulties, such as erectile dysfunction (ED) or menopause (which leads to a decreased libido), may also lead to marital distress. Sexual activities are important for many relationships because it is one way for couples to be physically intimate and close with one another.
Infidelity (affair): Infidelity is a potential cause of marital distress. Infidelity may lead to feelings of jealousy and mistrust, as well as a lack of intimacy.
Major life transitions: Some couples experience marital distress during major life transition or changes, such as the birth of children or moving. Changes that affect a spouse's role in the relationship, such as retirement, employment success or advancements, or unemployment may also put stress on a relationship.
Negative life events: Negative life events, such as the death of a loved one, diagnosis of a chronic or terminal illness, bankruptcy, or inability to have children, may lead to marital distress.
Substance abuse: Substance abuse may lead to marital distress. This type of behavior may strain a couple's relationship and lead to increased arguments. This is because drugs and alcohol may interfere with a person's judgment and cause people to behave in ways they normally would not. If the individual is frequently under the influence of alcohol or drugs, it may lead to a decrease in emotional intimacy. In addition, many substances, including alcohol, may lead to a decreased libido (sex drive).
Domestic violence or abuse: Domestic abuse or violence may lead to marital distress. Domestic abuse occurs when an individual emotionally, verbally, or physically mistreats his/her spouse or intimate partner. However, victims may also include children and/or other family members.
It is very important that victims suffering abuse contact the appropriate authorities immediately. Domestic abuse is a crime that should not be tolerated. Experts recommend that victims call 911 to report the attack and get immediate medical attention. People who are being abused are advised to leave their relationships. Because it may be difficult to leave an abusive relationship, abuse survivors are encouraged to seek the help of a friend, family member, or support group. Staff at emergency shelters can help victims file for court-ordered protection from the abuser, if necessary. If the abuser seeks treatment, including counseling, he/she may be able to change his/her behavior. However, the victim should avoid contact with the abuser until the abuser has received treatment and has shown that he/she is no longer abusive. Victims are also encouraged to seek counseling.
There is no definitive method to diagnose marital distress. Instead, individuals who are unhappy in their relationships and wish to seek help are encouraged to visit a licensed therapist, called a marriage and family therapist.
In some cases, an individual's partner is unwilling to seek help. Although it may be more challenging, individuals can go to marriage or couple counseling on their own. The therapist may provide useful ideas on how to improve the relationship and how to find better ways to approach the person's partner about the idea of entering treatment together.
signs and symptoms
Individuals in distressed marriages or relationships persistently feel unhappy and dissatisfied with their relationships. Couples may fight frequently without coming to resolutions. This may cause individuals to feel worn out. Others may rarely fight, but feel disconnected to their partners. As problems persist, communications generally becomes more difficult. Couples may be less intimate or affectionate and engage in sexual activities less often than they used. Individuals may feel sad, depressed, jealous, worrisome, tense, or angry.
Alcoholism: Studies involving long-term, committed couples have shown that individuals who are having problems in their relationships have an increased risk of alcoholism. In such cases, alcohol may be a way of self medicating or temporarily escaping one's problems.
Anxiety: According to studies, marital distress has been associated with anxiety disorders. Anxiety is an unpleasant complex combination of emotions that are often accompanied by physical sensations, such as irregular heartbeat, nausea, chest pain, shortness of breath, tension headache, and nervousness.
Depression: Individuals who are experiencing marital distress have an increased risk of developing depression. Symptoms of depression may include overwhelming feelings of sadness and grief, loss of interest or pleasure in activities usually enjoyed, and feelings of worthlessness or guilt. Depression may result in poor sleep, a change in appetite, severe fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. Severe depression may increase the risk of suicide.
Behavioral/emotional problems in children: Children may also be affected by their parents' marital distress. Research has shown that children are more likely to develop behavioral and emotional problems if there is continuous conflict among their parents. Some children affected by marital distress may act out in school or at home, have low self-esteem, or feel sad, angry, or withdrawn. Children may also exhibit nonverbal or verbal hostility or aggressive behaviors.
Decreased work productivity: Marital distress has been associated with decreased work productivity, especially in men. This may be the result of decreased concentration and preoccupation with problems at home.
Infidelity: Marital distress may cause people to cheat on their partners and have affairs. For instance, if there is a lack of physical and/or emotional intimacy that is straining a couple's relationship, a partner may end up having an affair with someone.
Violence: Distressed couples have a greater risk of experiencing violence at some point in the relationship. Violent or aggressive behaviors can have serious affects on the relationship, as well as the victim's psychological and physical well-being. Abuse typically occurs in cycles. When the abuser gets angry, tension grows and there is a breakdown in communication. Then the abuser verbally or physically mistreats the victim. Afterwards, abusers are usually apologetic. In some cases, the abuser will deny that the abuse ever took place. Sometimes the abuser may behave pleasantly and kindly towards the victim most of the time. This often makes it difficult for the victim to leave the abuser.
Experts recommend that victims call 911 to report the attack to police and get immediate medical attention. People who are being abused are advised to leave their relationships. Because it may be difficult to leave an abusive relationship, abuse survivors are encouraged to seek the help of a friend, family member, or support group. Staff at emergency shelters can help victims file for court-ordered protection from the abuser, if necessary.