Couples often come into therapy complaining of communication problems, meddling in-laws, sex and money issues ― but those are just the most obvious problems counselors hear about.
Below, marriage therapists share seven of the most overlooked reasons couples come to therapy and how to avoid each in your own relationship.
1. They’re way too dependent on each other.
It’s humanly impossible for your S.O. to fulfill your every need. You can’t expect one woman or man to be your sounding board, your bestie, your lover, your personal accountant and everything else in between, said Kristin Zeising, a San Diego-based psychologist.
“It’s taxing on the relationship and a burden for your S.O. to play so many roles,” she said. “This dynamic can also can deaden your sexual desire for each other.”
To curb this kind of dependency, Zeising tells her clients to create some distance and focus on outside relationships.
“For the couples who do everything together, concentrate on spending time with friends separately, create separate hobbies and interests,” she said. “Becoming a more well-rounded, less dependent individual makes your relationship more fulfilling.”
2. They don’t realize what housework represents.
Many couples struggle with how to balance their careers and home life but few recognize the emotional charge behind housework, said Susan Pease Gadoua, a marriage therapist and the co-author of The New I Do, Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebel.
“For decades, women have been in charge of domestic responsibilities because the tasks were considered too ‘lowly’ for men,” she said. “Unfortunately, most of the housework still falls on modern women but men have stepped up and they are doing far more around the house these days.”
Couples struggling to split housework need to adopt a “we’re in this together” mentality, Pease Gadoua said. (And know that there’s research-backed benefits to divvying up the chores: A recent study found that couples who share housework report having better and more frequent sex.)
3. They underestimate the need for personal space.
In the early days, you spent every last waking hour together. That was intoxicating back then but chances are, it might be a little stifling for one of you as time goes on. The good news is, there’s nothing wrong with a little “me time” in a relationship, said Liz Higgins, a Dallas, Texas-based couples therapist who works primarily with millennials.
“People often ‘lose themselves’ in their relationship and forget to harness their independence,” she said. “When you’re in love, you just can’t give up on your hobbies or disengage from self-care activities; these things are actually incredibly important to maintaining your relationship.”
To avoid a codependent dynamic, couples must learn the balance of interdependence: “It’s about thriving together yet also separately,” Higgins said.
4. They don’t love themselves enough.
The old platitude is true: You can’t love anyone else unless you love yourself first. Going into a relationship with a low opinion of yourself “trickles down negatively to almost every aspect of marriage,” said Becky Whetstone, a marriage and family therapist in Little Rock, Arkansas.
“I’ve seen it lead to so much dysfunctional behavior, from adultery and addiction to being dependent, or a boundary-less control freak,” she said. “A person who is shame-filled cannot have a healthy relationship with another person. I really do believe that shame is the number-one cause of divorce.”
A more solid, healthy relationship starts with bringing your best, most positive self to the table, Whetstone said.
“Work to maintain that, find a mate who is dedicated to doing the same and you have a fighting chance at having a healthy relationship,” she said.
5. They’re vindictive during fights and rarely apologize.
In the heat of an argument, couples all too often go for the low blows. Unfortunately, they rarely apologize for the momentary lapse in judgement, Zeising said.
“We’re all human and have a dark side but if you don’t acknowledge it and own up to it, you can’t learn to control it and are more likely to keep acting it out,” she said. “When you can own these feelings, you can approach relationship issues from a place of integrity.”
6. They assume they know everything about each other.
To keep the love alive, you have to maintain a little mystery. When you think you have your spouse all figured out, you deny yourself the chance to discover new, loveable qualities about them, Higgins said.
“When couples have been together for a long time, they often lose sight of the fact that their partner is still an entire world of their own thoughts, feelings and experiences,” she said. “Desire and excitement thrive in the unknown; continuing to explore the otherness of your partner will actually deepen your connection.”
7. They’re closed off to their spouse’s feelings.
There’s little room for growth in a relationship when one partner overreacts and doesn’t want to hear feedback from the other, Zeising said.
“Instead of blaming the messenger or avoiding expressing your true feelings, it’s important to soothe your own anxieties,” she said. “You can’t guarantee that your partner won’t have challenging things to say to you but you can decide how you want to handle that information.”