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When will he ever stop doing…?

Every marriage, every relationship, is fraught with perpetual problems and issues. It’s common that I will counsel a couple for several sessions, they reach their desired goals, and leave with renewed hope and energy for the marriage–then come back several years later still arguing about the same issues.

While each person has changed and gained (or lost) a few pounds and wrinkles, they’re still having the same argument. Perhaps you’ve even seen this in your parent’s marriage, or in your grandparent’s. They fought about the same thing their entire life.

One of the leaders in the field of marriage research, John Gottman, has discovered that the majority of marital conflicts are perpetual in nature. In fact, 69% of all marital problems fall into this category.

Now before this is totally deflating to you, hear me out.

There are many areas in marriage where you’re simply not going to agree. Here’s a few:

  1. One of you wants to have children (or X number of kids), while the other says they’re not ready, or are happy with the current number of kids.
  2. One of you wants sex far more frequently that the other.
  3. You want to raise your children Baptist, while your spouse wants them to be raised Catholic.
  4. Your spouse is lax about housework and rarely does their share until you nag them, which makes them angry.

Problems in marriage are inevitable. The question is — can you remain satisfied in your marriage in spite of the differences? Can your marriage thrive when there are differences between you?

Many people have a fairy tale view of marriage. You and your lover will agree on everything and only argue about what movie to rent on Saturday night.

Despite what many therapists will tell you, you don’t have to resolve your major marital conflicts for your marriage to thrive. ~ John Gottman

Problems in marriage are similar to inevitable physical ailments as you age. Back pain, trick knee, tennis elbow, or arthritic hands await us all. Bummer.

I play pick-up games of basketball two to three times a week, and have been doing this for the past 11 years. Now, several sprained ankles and a knee surgery later, I feel the effects of playing more and more. I may not love the effects but I still love to play, so I’ve discovered ways to cope with them, and to avoid things that will worsen them.

Marriage is the same. The perpetual problems that come with every relationship will not go away. Some times it gets better, other times it gets worse.

The key — continue to keep working it out. Acknowledge the problems and talk about it. Your love for each other doesn’t have to be overwhelmed by your differences.

In unstable marriages, perpetual problems are likely going to kill the relationship. Instead of coping, the couple gets gridlocked.

You have the same conversation over and over, resolving nothing. You’re spinning your wheels. And since you’re making no progress, you both may feel more frustrated, hurt or rejected. When this happens, the four horsemen of the apocalypse become ever more present, and humor and affection leave the room.

Problems in marriage will happen. How you address these problems is up to you.

As you face future problems, have a discussion about whether it’s one that fits in the perpetual category, or if it’s solvable. Then spend your time and energy working on the ones you can solve.

Shameless plug warning: I’m beginning a series at Simple Marriage to take this idea even further. If you’re interested in joining us, feel free to subscribe.

What have you discovered that helps you address perpetual problems in marriage?

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  1. steadymom

    Keeping quiet helps me, especially in tense moments. I have a right to my opinion, of course, but I don’t have to share it immediately or if it’s going to make the situation worse. I can wait until a calmer time, and listen.

    Often I’ve found that when it gets down to it, my husband and I are saying the same thing, just in very different terminology.


    steadymom´s last blog post…What Do You Think? – A Sense of Humor

  2. turnitupmom

    I have to say (knock on wood) that we don’t have perpetual problems. Okay, maybe the housework that he doesn’t see. How is that? I think flexibility and a sense of humor keep us strong and happy.

  3. ChristineG

    Well, I think learning to accept that this is something I cannot change and that will not go away has actually freed me from constantly trying to ‘do something’. Acceptance has allowed me to focus on the only person I can change – myself – and also to focus on all the wonderful qualities my husband has instead of the thing that frustrates me.

    ChristineG´s last blog post…My Favourite Cookbooks

  4. Leah

    I agree with your post, but that picture I find completely inappropriate. Is there not another picture you can find that doesn’t display domestic violence? Yes, it is “just a statue” but he is choking her! Look at his face, he looks like he is intent on killing her. What kind of positive image is that? Whatever problems a marriage has, violence is not okay and us as women should not allow it to be ok (and men as well).

    • Emma @

      +1 for both. Marriage is never without problems (well, personally I like the word ” issues” because it projects more positivity) but that picture is too intense! Positivity is one thing it doesn’t imply.

      Emma @´s last blog post…Toys That Last: musical mobile for your newborn

  5. Megan

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! Reading that 69% of marital issues are perpetual is both frightening but also encouraging. My husband and I are currently separated because we’ve let our perpetual problems overwhelm us. For so long we’ve convinced ourselves that arguing about the same issues over and over is not what we should be doing instead of understanding that we probably won’t ever agree on those issues and work from there. I’m going to send him this post and use it as a tool for our discussions. Thank you.

    • Corey - Simple Marriage

      It is possible to have a thriving marriage without agreeing with each other 100%. After all, when are 2 separate individuals with different family or origins and backgrounds ever going to agree on everything? You can then ask yourself, can I live within disagreement? Provided the issues you disagree on are not core values (which even then it’s still possible) I hope you’ll discover that you indeed can! God bless.

      Corey – Simple Marriage´s last blog post…What Do Men Know About Women?

  6. Michele @ The Integrated Mother

    I’ve enjoyed Gottman’s work; thanks for opening this discussion.

    Early in my 9-year marriage, I thought I could change my husband. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I couldn’t! So, I’ve learned to accept him for who he is. After all, there was a reason I was attracted to him and married him! Plus, despite our differences, we are both very committed to working through life *together*.

    Michele @ The Integrated Mother´s last blog post…Claim it girl!

  7. Kim

    This has been a tough year for our marriage, but we continue to hold on to each other during the rocky times. I’m the mean one and he is the passive one, so while I’m freaking out, he is clamming up. We are both trying to be better communicators and I love the idea of looking at problems as perpetual or things we can overcome.

    • Corey - Simple Marriage

      Kim- Hang in there – working through the rough times is what makes the good times so much better, and more valuable. About your idea of being better communicators, be sure to check out one of my other posts here as well as many posts at Simple Marriage.

      Corey – Simple Marriage´s last blog post…What Do Men Know About Women?

  8. Amy Reads Good Books

    I agree with SteadyMom. Often, my husband and I are on the same page, it’s just that we express things differently. Great column! It does help to remember that the same disagreements may come up, we just need to keep on talking and keep on loving!

    Amy Reads Good Books´s last blog post…Top Three Tuesday

  9. Melitsa

    It’s not wrong to want the best marriage but I can see now that ideal comes from one side- mine. After almost 9 years of marriage you learn to rub along together and work to the others strengths. When difficulties and disagreements come up- keep your mouth closed. Often the first thought isn’t the best one to utter.

  10. Sherry

    After 20 years of marriage, we STILL are struggling with the “same old problems”…I’m anxious to read your series @ Simple Marriage.

    RE: The pic. thought “wow”, how many times have I or my husband “feel” that way in the heat of the moment? I endured an abusive 1st marriage (now divorced) & I can understand why individuals would be upset, but it also summarizes the frustration we feel & DON’T physically demonstrate!

  11. Tsh

    Hey guys. Re: the photo selection — that was my doing, not Corey’s. I honestly didn’t see any domestic violence in the statue; I honestly didn’t even see a male hurting a woman! Being from Asia, and it being an ancient-looking statue, I assumed it was two men in battle. Overall, I thought it depicted the general theme of conflict, not a specific theme of marital violence.

    But I wasn’t sold on the photo, so I’ll happily change it, if it gives more of you peace of mind. Enough of you saw domestic violence in the art to make it worth for me to change the photo.


    • Leah

      Thanks for changing it. I can see how it could be interpreted differently, as the anger and tension we all feel at times, but I guess in our different culture upbringings it can influence how we each interpret it. Still, thanks for being sensitive to others who saw it differently 🙂

  12. Shannon

    I found the list of conflict examples interesting, but half of them should be addressed before marriage. Numbers 1 and 3 to be specific. The other two are ones that would come up after a couple is married.

    Their will always be conflict in marriage since it is two sinners going through life together. There is much wisdom in being slow to speak and evaluating what we did wrong instead of what our partners did wrong.

    Shannon´s last blog post…Turnip Greens Quiche

    • Corey - Simple Marriage

      Shannon- Even if every issue or potential problem is addressed prior to the marriage, it still has the potential to be a perpetual problem. We may agree pre-marriage to have only 2 kids, but deep down I may still want to have 3 or more. It’s not that this issue keeps coming up in the marriage, but it could still be there just below the surface for me.

      I completely agree that many of these things need to be discussed prior to the marriage, at least that way you each can know more what you’re getting in to!

      Corey – Simple Marriage´s last blog post…What Do Men Know About Women?

  13. Theadora

    Thanks for this article. .. very inspiring.

  14. Shelly

    There will always be bumps in the road (it makes the smooth times that much sweeter!). I have found that we tend to argue more when we start focusing on ourselves…as long as we put the main focus on the other things are smooth sailing! Most annoyances are little things that when you step back, you see you have a few of your own 🙂

    7 years ago, my mom gave me the book Love and Respect (I think the author is Emmerson…lent it out a while ago). It changed my life and my marriage!

    • Julie W.

      The author of Love and Respect is Dr. Emmerson Eggerichs. It’s a great book, and he has another one too, although I can’t think of the title right now.

      Julie W.´s last blog post…Swimming

  15. Laurie

    After being married for 25 years now, I totally get the idea of perpetual problems. One of the ways we cope is acceptance. While I try to improve on my tidiness, I will never get how people keep a spotless, clutter free house. My hub doesn’t ride me over this. If it bothers him he puts stuff away or helps me out.

    He is a perfectionist (I know the above should drive him crazy) But in being this way, he starts projects around the house and gets stuck. This use to really bother me but now, I accept it. If one of the projects is bothering me too much, I can finish it myself or hire someone to do it. Having that out, is enough for me not to feel trapped and angry. Since I changed my mindset on this, I stopped nagging him and he feels free to stop and think about how to proceed next on his project.

    Corey, great post, and thanks for! It’s a wonderful blog!

  16. Alison

    This article couldn’t have come at a better time. A few weeks ago, my husband and I had a “talk” where I pretty much told him that we need to get on the path of progression, individually and as a couple, or get on our own paths and part ways. I don’t know of that was the right thing to say or not, and it’s still hard for me to decide if I want to deal with the problems that have been perpetual problems for the last 2 years. If we had a spirit of progression, humor, tenderness, and affection, the perpetual problems might not seem so overwhelming. I hope it all works out, but I just don’t know…

      • Alison

        Thanks, Corey. I’ve been subscribing to Simple Marriage for awhile, and I enjoy the posts. I haven’t shared any of them with my hubby, though. Perhaps I should do that. 🙂 It could get some good conversations going.

    • Kelly

      hey Alison,
      Your post could have been from me! My husband and myself have been “in battle” for a long time. I don’t know if you have read/done the Love Dare, but I encourage you to get a copy and do it. If your husband will also do it that is even better! My husband wouldn’t but I still did it and it has made a difference. I can honestly say I have found “peace” even though we still have issues. Hang in there and keep at it! Even if your not sure if you want to stay married please still do the Love Dare it will change your life! The movie, Fireproof, is also amazing too! Good luck and keep the faith!

  17. Heather @ alis grave nil

    Man, this is SO where we are. I want more kids, he’s done. We’re basically at an impasse. Your timing on writing this couldn’t be better. Compromise is so hard.

    Heather @ alis grave nil´s last blog post…Sunny Side Up

  18. Sherry

    I came back to read some of the other posts as I in the the “thick of things” with my husband & have had (many times) the “talk” Alison referred to in her post. My current perspective after the begging, pleading, cajoling, rewarding, yelling, threatening, not talking, talking, blah, blah, blah is to stop “talking” (i.e. beating a dead horse) & ACT.

    I also have interest in dealing with spouses who are “impaired” & I don’t mean drugs or alcohol, I mean depression, anxiety, rage, anger or possible mental impairment. Any thoughts or resources on these challenges as they relate to a marriage would be greatly appreciated.

  19. Heather G

    Looking forward to the series, Corey. I’m in the same position as the prior poster, Heather is. I want another child but after saying he does my husband no longer does. Don’t know how to move forward or resolve (can it be?) this issue without one of us having regrets. Hoping to gain some insight into this perpetual problem from your series!

    Heather G´s last blog post…Hello?

  20. Kika

    We’ve been married 15 years this summer 🙂 Something that has helped me in this area is trusting that my husband and I are together for a purpose – that we are meant to be together to balance the other and create a more stable environment for our children. So, when my husband and I don’t totally agree on something, rather than expending tons of energy worrying or trying to change his mind, I largely “let go” and focus on finding the balance/compromise and choose to believe that there is something in his thoughts/opinions that we need in our home. My vision and perspective are limited (as are his) but together we make a great team.

  21. Beverly

    The Gottman Institute hosts 5 Couples Workshops per year in Seattle with Drs. John and Julie Gottman. It’s great for enrichment as well as couples in crisis. Learn more at The next one is THIS WEEKEND at Seattle Center then 2 more are planned for later this year in Oct & Dec. Check out the website to learn more about registration.

  22. BeanMa

    I love what Kika said.

    Communication for us is key… but it doesn’t always happen that easily.

  23. George Burdell

    She is way type ‘A’ and I am not. She has plans and schedules. I have a “to do” list, maybe.

    Why would I want someone “just like me?” There are many things in the world that I haven’t experienced or even thought of. She thinks of those things. It is our differences, her foibles, that make her (and us) interesting.

  24. Angie

    My huvand and I are just like everyone else who’s married, we have perpetual problems. Guess what? After a lot of trial, error, heartache, tears and rejoicing, we discovered that calm communication works! Wow, it really does! We calmly vent to eachother, we listen to the other person’s calm vent, and things change! Even if the change is temporary, it helps.

  25. Renee

    Communtication is key for us. Being able to admit something or identify it seems to help us. It’s better than letting it be the elephant in the room or stewing about it.
    My husband (in my opinion) asks the wrong question for the answer he is seeking. If he asks me “does this yogurt container get recycled?” my intial (unspoken) response is “Oh course! You can look on the bottom and find out too!!” What he is really asking is “are we keeping this yogurt container for some reason or should I go ahead and and recycle it?” Thankfully I’ve discovered this quirk and can react accordingly instead of getting frustrated. We’ve discussed it in the context of “I know you do this, it frustrates me but I need to remember that in my response.” It would be nice if he just asked the “right” question, but I don’t see that changing.

    Great post! Thanks!!

  26. Jackie

    I’ve been with my husband for more than 20 years and for many of those years I tried to change him. Well, that never works! Compromise is the key to our marriage and letting go of the little stuff. Thanks for opening up this topic.

  27. minnesota:madre

    It’s comforting to know that it’s not just going to go away. That the differences will continue. That used to annoy me, but there’s comfort in the this-is-how-it-is and love within that.

    minnesota:madre´s last blog post…fan worker

  28. FruitfulVine2

    One of the things that we do is constantly work on ourselves instead of trying to change the other. We keep short accounts meaning we address things as soon as possible after they come up instead of letting it fester. I find that I tend to look at my faults and what I should be doing and try to improve where I need to, knowing that I am not perfect. It helps to keep in mind that the other is not perfect and we are not perfect either.

    FruitfulVine2´s last blog post…Bible In One Year

  29. Kate in NY

    When I am having an argument with my husband of 15 years (usually one of three “perpetual” arguments that we tend to have), it really helps to stop and “say it from the other person’s point of view” – with no judgments or “but’s” allowed. In other words: “I understand that you are angry because I said I would be on the 6:00 train, and you were counting on that when you were making dinner,” or whatever – then the other person does the same thing, a non-judgmental summary of the other’s POV. 99% of the time, this simple exercise clears the air immediately! I think that what we all really want, even more than “winning” an argument, is to know our partners are listening.

    – Kate

  30. Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

    I just heard that a friend is getting a divorce after about 3 years of marriage. He thought he could talk himself into wanting kids, but he didn’t. 🙁 They are still friends and will work it out w/o a lawyer. To those who aren’t yet married: don’t expect your spouse (or yourself) will change on the big issues!!!

    Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship´s last blog post…Frugal Find, Honey Fav and a Freebie

  31. Asha

    Thanks for the lovely and encouraging article Corey!
    We have been married thirteen years and still going strong. We are entirely two different personalities, that it sometimes surprises me that we get along well. Here are things that helped me in the tougher situations
    1) Pray it out… anytime something bugs me or when any issue that I just could not agree crops up, I talk it out with God… amazing things happen to me and to the situation when I do that!
    2) When there is an argument brewing up into a potential battle, I find the best course is to just keep quiet by choice. I wait for awhile, even a whole day or night, then ask for an ‘appointment’ time (when the kids aren’t around) to discuss the issue.
    3) Taking walks alone, being active with hobbies or things I enjoy, generally being outdoors – all help take one’s mind off an intense situation.

  32. The Accidental Housewife

    We have our differences, like everyone, but they are very minor so far.
    When he has/n’t done some thing I think he should/n’t do, I try and remind myself how lucky I am to have him here to get annoyed about. It makes the issue of a half full toilet roll in the bin or a massive beetroot spill in the fridge seem minor, in comparison to the loneliness I feel when he is away on work (which he often is), or the struggle I would have if he wasn’t here at all.
    Also, I try and think of how, in a years time, I would like to look back and remember myself responding. I find it’s a good cure for my occasional childish tantrums.
    Of course, neither of these techniques worked when I was hormonal and pregnant, I’m just lucky I have an understanding husband!

  33. Julie

    It is helpful to know that other people are going through some of the same problems. It helps to make me feel less alone. I will be married to my Hubby for 9 years this fall. We have been through many up & downs; job loss, the death of my mother, moving, having children, buying a house, etc. We have weathered many storms. Early in our relationship we were not good at resloving our issues but we are improving year by year. My Hibby does not drive, has never driven. Our children are nearing school age & I am feeling overwhelmed. I have no idea how to approach this subject & handle well. I do not want to hurt him, but I would love for him to try to learn to drive. Simple Marriage has helped me through several situations, do you have any advice on handling big, complicated situations?? I love him, I want to be with him forever, I do not want to hurt him.

    • Corey - Simple Marriage

      Julie- Any time we are faced with difficult, emotion filled, conversations the best thing you can do is search for the appropriate time to talk (i.e. not when things are already tense, not right before going to sleep, etc.) and then be honest about what’s going on with you. Share your concerns, your fears, knowing that he has the right to respond however he wants (having this discussion while walking together or sitting side-by-side can relieve some of the tension, you don’t have to talk face-to-face). If you take care of you and share your thoughts, at least your concerns can be in the open and then possibly addressed more upfront.

      It sounds like this is much more involved for you and he so take advantage of seeking professional help if necessary. Feel free to contact me if you’d like to discuss more out of the public’s view. Best of luck. God Bless.

      Corey – Simple Marriage´s last blog post…When Will He Ever Stop Doing…?

  34. Chele

    Sorry just getting to my reader! I have to say that my husband and I only ever argue about money issues. Usually only because we are both stressed! We each put 50% work on everything. I agree with the comment about Fireproof marriage… that movie is awesome! My hubby actually went to see it with me. The Love Dare book is something we have suggested to others to use that are having problems! I love Corey’s Simple Marriage blog! Thanks for writing from a man’s perspective!

  35. TechyDad

    The arguments that my wife and I have seem to be perpetual in nature too. The house is a mess & I never help her clean it. (Or the flip side: I want to clean the house and she claims I’ve got a “bug up my butt” about it.) How much of the mess in the house is mine. (Her claim is usually that it is nearly all mine, but when confronted with her stuff lying around, she claims there are good reasons why it’s there.)

    My main problem recently are the stress-arguments. Whenever there’s a stressful situation, she becomes very argumentative and tries to hurl blame my way. When the stress-situation passes, she acts like nothing happened while I’m still hurt at what she said during the argument. To give an example, we recently ate at a restaurant. After leaving, we realized that we didn’t have our little one’s sippy cup. She yelled at me for forgetting it. I reminded her that she was there too and could have remembered it so we both forgot it. She claimed that since *she* paid the bill and *she* drove the car and *she* carried our little one’s seat, *I* should have remembered the sippy cup. (I had done other things like carried our son and diaper bag out.) What got me most was that a replacement sippy cup costs less than $5 but she was acting like I lost her diamond earrings.

    It turned out that the people we went to lunch with took the cup with them by mistake. After retrieving the cup, she dropped the argument and that was that. She was back to normal and didn’t apologize at all. Meanwhile, I was hurt over what she said for the rest of the afternoon.

    Having grown up with a father that would hurl verbal daggers when stressed, I don’t like this situation at all. I don’t think “I was stressed” is an excuse, but I don’t know how to resolve this repeating problem without causing yet another argument. Of course, it doesn’t help that my natural response to an argument is to clam up and not say anything for fear of losing my temper and saying something that I know I’d regret later.

    TechyDad´s last blog post…The Jammie Thomas Verdict and Ridiculous Copyright Fees

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