Not all problems in a marriage are marriage problems



Find a time when you’re both in a good mood to ease into a difficult discussion; if both parties are committed and communicating, you may learn something new about the other. ©Adobe Stock

When ‘John’ and ‘Sara’ got into some serious verbal fights over John’s mistrust of some of Sara’s new friends, the couple wisely decided to get some marriage counseling.

Sara was convinced her husband of three years was being overly jealous, and her occasionally going out to eat with some of her coworkers was completely justified. John was equally sure some of Sara’s new friends, a couple of them recently divorced, were a bad influence, and he resented the time it took away from their relationship.

But who has the problem that needs fixing here, John or Sara? Or is this just a communication problem for which joint counseling is the solution?
Most likely it’s all of the above. But to the extent John is too insecure and controlling, or Sara is too insensitive or irresponsible, those personal issues are not what couples’ counseling is designed for. Personal problems have to be acknowledged and overcome by the person who owns them, sometimes with the help of a trusted mentor or with some individual counseling.

In other words, not all problems in a marriage are marriage problems, although personal problems can greatly distress a marriage. This means each partner should first take responsibility for their own contribution to the stress in their relationship, and not simply fix blame on the other person. After all, we have virtually zero ability, and therefore responsibility, to fix another person.

Who has the problem that needs fixing here, John or Sara? Or is this just a communication problem?

Bottom line, only after we acknowledge and deal with our own personal issues are we ready to work together on a win-win solutions to the marriage problems.

For John and Sara, this could mean calmly and respectfully doing the following:

First Discuss
1. Each states, by turn, why they are concerned. Thus each starts with their interests (what makes this important to them) rather than starting with their positions (what each sees as the right solution). Usually couples find many or most of their interests are similar if not the same.
2. Based on their overlapping interests, they then do some brainstorming of  “what if” solutions they each put on the table. In this way they create options C, D, E or F rather than just focusing on options A or B (John’s or Sara’s).

Then Decide
1. The couple then agrees on a plan they are willing to give a good try, one that provides quality together time while also allowing each reasonable time to be with friends, and under what circumstances.
2. They also agree on a period of time in which their win-win plan will be in effect before it is reviewed and renewed—or modified if needed. Agreements need not be set in stone for all time, but are always to be strictly kept until they are changed.
None of this may seem easy, but isn’t it better than continuing to argue and fight?

Harvey Yoder is a family counselor and teaches parenting and marriage classes at the Family Life Resource Center. Questions relating to family concerns can be addressed to FLRC, 273 Newman Ave., Harrisonburg, VA 22801 or to [email protected] His blog can be followed at



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  1. Kimberly Weston on

    My fiancé has had depression for 2 years now – and to say it is a struggle is a tremendous understatement. So I often search the net for some advice or people going through the same situation so I don’t feel so alone and helpless. Here’s what I found: there are countless sites devoted to the depressed individual. All offering great practical advice in trying to overcome it. But very few exist for people like us – and those that do, even though they are designed to help those living with people with depression – almost always end up focusing on the depressed person. So when I found this entry, I was pleasantly surprised. You really have been there. I related to almost every word. I still struggle a bit with the advice of “supporting” your loved one instead of telling them what to do. As I have done just that for 2 years. And today he didn’t get out of bed for the 4th day in a row. I think there comes a point where “tough love” needs to be considered. I know you can’t make people feel, but you can certainly make them get out of bed and go through the motions.


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