Marital distress occurs when a married couple or serious, committed, unmarried couple experiences emotional or physical conflicts or problems that threaten to end the relationship. It is normal for couples to experience difficulties and argue from time to time. However, when these problems cause the couple to become profoundly disappointed and unhappy with their relationship, it is called marital distress.
There are many problems that can lead to marital distress, including, but not limited to: poor communication, difficulty solving problems (which leads to frequent arguing), lack of physical and/or emotional intimacy, sexual difficulties, infidelity, substance abuse, domestic abuse, major life changes, and negative life events (such as the death of a loved one).
It has been estimated that about 20% of all married couples in the United States are experiencing marital distress at any given time. Research has shown that couples have the greatest risk of experiencing marital distress early in marriage. However, the risks also increase after major life changes or transitions, such as the birth of children, moving, and retirement. Recent data suggest that about 50% of all first marriages in the United States end in divorce.
Deciding whether or not to stay together can be a difficult decision for couples. This is often more difficult for couples with children. Prolonged exposure to serious marital conflict has been shown to lead to emotional and behavioral problems in children. Some marriage counseling experts believe that couples who are able to be civil towards one another should stay together to prevent putting children through the trauma of divorce. Most experts agree that divorced parents should continue to play active roles in their children's lives.
It is unclear exactly how children of divorced parents are affected, and it is often the subject of debate among experts. Some evidence suggests that children of divorced parents are twice as likely to go through a divorce when they are adults. However, other studies suggest that as many as 80% of children with divorced parents grow up to be emotionally healthy adults.
Couples can undergo marriage counseling, or couples therapy, to help them decide whether or not the relationship can provide what each partner needs for a satisfying relationship. A therapist first helps a couple identify the root of their problems, and then helps the couple solve those problems. For instance, if a couple constantly argues, a therapist may help them improve their communication and problem-solving skills.
This type of therapy is also available for long-term couples (married or unmarried) who want to improve their relationships. In some cases, couples are able to improve their relationships without counseling.
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