From Struggling to Solving

Healthy relationships are built on a foundation, or infrastructure, of clear thinking,
problem solving, and mutual support. Any willing couple can learn to build a happy
relationship, if they stop reacting and learn to respond thoughtfully. As an
individual you have ideas and beliefs about how certain things in life should be
handled, and so does your partner; and we all tend to assume everyone, especially
a person who loves us, will see it our way.

I teach couples the techniques and information that allows them to communicate
and solve problems, rather than fight endlessly about the same things. In my long
marriage, I’ve also learned from my own experience that there’s a big difference
between the skills and attitudes one needs to date and fall in love, and what is
needed to make married life, home and family work smoothly. There’s a difference
between being lovers and being partners, and on top of all that, keeping enough
romance and fun alive to make it all feel worthwhile. Those of us who succeed are
the blessed ones, the happy ones, and you can be, too.

In over thirty five years of couple counseling, I have frequently worked with couples
who fight about who’s right, family, housekeeping issues and time, and who often
resort to yelling and blaming, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can learn you
what you need to know to build the healthy, loving partnership you want, and to
eliminate struggle.

When you learn to view your relationship as a partnership, rather than a challenge
or a competition, you’ll discover new ways to think about sharing and working
together to make all your decisions mutual ones. With a little information and
practice, you can become a successful, happy couple.

I want to help you to resolve your issues, and move on to having a workable,
satisfying relationship, with minimal arguing or fighting, and create a partnership
which will cause you to feel blessed and happy.

Stumbling Blocks

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to improving a marriage is the unwillingness to
talk. Often, this is because a history of fighting has discouraged the partners, and
made them unwilling to deal with problems. It’s always amazing to me that couples
are so much more willing to fight than to work together, but I do realize that
working together requires letting yourself be vulnerable, which is difficult when
you’re scared.

Most of the couples who come to me have let small problems fester for a very long
time before getting help. It’s almost never the small issues that are difficult—it’s
the habits that develop over time of fighting, struggling, and not working together.

Money issues are a big one—and let’s face it, money is just math. It’s not very
difficult if you take the feelings out of it. But couples can get divorced over it.

Sharing space, communication, dealing with family and friends, having different
wants or needs can all become giant issues. Couples without teamwork skills fight
about money, sex, affection, time, infidelity, in-laws, raising children,
housekeeping, or other problems, often repeating the same old arguments, without
any resolution, or locked in habitual ways of relating that they think they “should”
do, but that create dissatisfaction and struggle between them.

Often, infidelity can be a result of the shutdown in communication (and therefore,
sex) that happens when couples avoid fighting with the “silent treatment"”. I
recommend couples who fight take “time outs” when things get too heated, and
separate, but the person who called the time out has the responsibility to come
back and re-start the conversation. I also recommend couples who are having
trouble talking without fighting have their discussions via e-mail, because it takes a
lot of the reaction out of the discussion.

Getting Help

When my husband and I got married, we agreed up front that we’d go for
counseling with any problem we couldn’t solve within 3 days. We went a few times,
then we got to the point where one of us saying “I think we need a counseling
session” was enough to solve the problem, and we haven’t needed help for about
27 years. We’ve been married since 1982.

Getting help with difficult problems is really valuable. If you go for help early, it
only takes a session or two. If you wait and let things fester, it can take months to
solve the problems.

One couple told me how they were on the brink of divorce—due to an affair. Before
going to divorce court, they sought counseling, and stuck with it for 18 months.
She said “therapy saved my life...saved my marriage.” He said: “We sought
psychotherapy from a professional to address the way we were thinking.” They
speak with ease about their past issue, and seem very much over it.

They found a good therapist, and took it seriously. They did whatever work the
therapist assigned, and were willing to make changes. Those things are always

Insisting you’re right and making your partner wrong is the biggest disaster you
can create. The healing action is to listen and understand.

Marriage is a learning process. You’re doing something brand new, and no other
couple is exactly like you, so you have to figure it out as you go. But, there’s a lot
of good relationship technology out there to help you. The rewards for building a
good partnership are truly wonderful.

Relationships and Myths

There is a pervasive myth that somehow happy couples just agree on everything
automatically all the time. Believing this myth, we enter relationships convinced
that whatever problems or differences we have with our partners will be easy to
solve. But, in reality, the individuals who make up a partnership will disagree
frequently, and often struggle over even minor issues.
In the course of building and sustaining a lifetime relationship, every couple
encounters many problems. Different backgrounds and experience, discordant
perception of each other and events, unequal rates of education and growth,
conflicting needs for self-expression and contact, and differing values and beliefs
about relationships complicate and often block attempts at creating partnership

Relationship models based on the idea that one person must lead and the other
follow, or one “win” and the other “lose” can easily become power struggles, where
the partners fight bitterly. Each partner struggles to be in control, or they avoid
disagreements altogether because it isn’t worth the struggle. Hence they spend a
lot of their time either fighting for what they want or feeling deprived.

Who’s in Charge?

The belief that someone has to be in charge of the relationship causes couples to
compete for power rather than cooperate. Otherwise loving partners can struggle
because they believe it’s the way to get their needs met. Between partners in
intimate relationships competition becomes stressful, counter-productive and toxic,
poisoning the relationship by turning us into adversaries, and undermining the
mutual support and encouragement vital to satisfactory relationships.
Differences can be frightening, and make resolving problems and conflicts with our
intimate partners tense and difficult. In a relationship intimate enough that we feel
a deep bonding or sense of commingled identity, it’s easy to experience
disagreements as threatening. Disagreeing seems to indicate we are separate
individuals who perceive everything differently, and have different needs and
wants, and we fear that we’ll be rejected or disapproved of if we are different.
Sometimes relationship problems are only indirectly connected to your partnership:
your car breaks down, your kids need to get to school, your boss is difficult to get
along with. These issues become partnership problems because you bring their
effects, big and small, home (into the relationship) with you. Anger at your
unreasonable boss can quickly become a difficult evening with your partner if you
bring your frustration home, are irritable, and the two of you wind up arguing

Unskilled couples easily become tangled in a web of blaming, hurt and anger and,
after years of similar unresolved conflicts, can build a backlog of bitterness that
can’t be healed.

Some problems are directly related to your relationship: you fight about housework,
time, money, child care or sex. One or both of you becomes hurt or angry. For
couples who don’t know how to cooperate, such issues can escalate into a big

problem or accumulate over time. When problems cause friction and never get
resolved, they undermine an otherwise loving and viable partnership.
Only recently have psychologists and sociologists begun to discuss the elements of
effective decision making. Among other discoveries, they found that decision-
making (even in business) is more effective when everyone contributes their views
of priorities, needs, wants, goals, and their thoughts about possible solutions. This
cooperative approach means that both contribute their understanding to the
problem (which often makes it clearer) and both feel involved in the process and
committed to the success of the solution they agree upon.

In cooperative negotiation, both parties attempting to resolve a conflict or make a
decision involving them can negotiate so that both get what they want. By working
together, you can learn to solve the problems of the past (I’m afraid we’ll fight
about money like my first wife and I did); the present (I don’t think I’m getting a
fair share of the housework) and the future (what will we do if I lose my job?).
Instead of being a struggle or something to avoid, solving such problems becomes
an opportunity to re-affirm your mutual love and caring, and to strengthen your
partnership and teamwork.

Dr. Romance on Getting What You Want:

If you have difficulty in knowing what you want and communicating it, try these

1. Get clear about what you want: You can’t express what you want effectively if
you’re not clear what it is, so before approaching your partner, your boss or your
child with a request, think about it and make sure you can write it down in one
clear sentence.

2. Create a good atmosphere: If asking for what you want is difficult for you, don’t
do it without preparation. Make sure you and the person you’re asking both have
time, and invite the other person to sit down and talk with you.

3. Simply state what you want: Don’t preface your statement with a lot of
disclaimers—they make the other person feel accused of something. Just ask,
politely, for what you want.

4. Be prepared to accept a “no.”: Remember, if you can’t accept a no answer, then
you’re making a demand, not a request, so have a backup solution. Find a way to
get what you want for yourself, even if the other person isn’t cooperating. For
example, if you don’t get that raise you deserve, maybe it’s time to begin a job

5. Listen politely to the other person’s answer: Whether the other person says yes,
no, or something in between—listen carefully to what he or she says. Don’t get all
caught up in a lot of worry and noise inside your head—pay attention. You need to
know what the answer is.

If you follow these steps, you’ll find you’re successful a good percentage of the
time, and when you aren’t you have a backup plan—so you really can’t lose.

© 2013 Tina B. Tessina adapted from: Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Squabbling
About the Three Things That Can Destroy Your Marriage (Adams Media) ISBN#

Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 30 years experience in
counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up
and Out of Dysfunction; The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again; Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the
Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage, The Commuter Marriage, and her newest, Love Styles: How to
Celebrate Your Differences. She writes the “Dr. Romance” blog, and the “Happiness Tips from Tina” email

Dr. Tessina, is CRO (Chief Romance Officer) for, a website designed to strengthen relationships
and guide couples through the various stages of their relationship with personalized tips, courses, and online
couples counseling. Online, she’s known as “Dr. Romance” Dr. Tessina appears frequently on radio, and such TV
shows as “Oprah”, “Larry King Live” and ABC News.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful