Every marriage has challenges. It wouldn’t make sense to expect the union of two different human beings to proceed without conflict. But that very conflict can be very useful – if you look under the surface. A hugely important question to ask as such times is Why. It will help so much to understand the roots of why you feel unhappy in your marriage.

In the ultimate sense marriage problems are simply the result of the union of two sinners. But asking the Why question more deeply can get you a whole lot closer to actually solving many challenges. You and your spouse both have your own unique brands of brokenness, as does your relationship itself. And looking at those root causes can help you know where to go next.

I regularly hear from husbands and wives who are frustrated and upset at their spouse’s behavior. But very few have taken the time to thoughtfully consider the Why. Once they do, it makes moving forward so much clearer.

To use a non-marriage example; let’s say your coworker hasn’t provided you the information you need to proceed with your own work by the agreed-upon deadline. You’re upset! But don’t you feel differently when you discover your coworker’s child just needed emergency surgery after a serious accident? Knowing more of the Why changes your perspective.

Looking for the Why can do that in your marriage too. 

Looking for Why

Communication, intimacy and sex, money, and all the other “usual suspects” of marriage problems don’t start in a vacuum. They come from somewhere. You can learn to be your own consultant in addressing many of these problems.

When there’s conflict between you and your spouse, your natural response is likely either to withdraw or to claw for resolution. Your Style of Communication is a great example of this. Withdrawal comes when you feel powerless to affect the outcome, and trying to force communication comes when you blame your spouse for the issue. Neither is helpful.

Learn to recognize your internal tendency to hide and ignore, or to fight and pressure.

And then learn to invest in looking for the roots of the problem.

The Root of the Problem

Some marriages become toxic, when your spouse has an evil heart. That’s an important question to start with. Is your spouse basically a person of good will? A Yes answer doesn’t guarantee an easy solution. But if the answer is No, there are times God releases someone from such a marriage.

But if both you and your spouse are basically decent people, keep looking for Why. These are some questions that can help.

  • What’s it like to be married to me? In what aspects have I contributed to the problem?
  • Do I have any sense of what the underlying issues may be? If the answer is No, this is where to invest your time and energy. Study your spouse. And talk! (More on that below.)
  • Where has my spouse been wounded or hurt? All of us have old baggage. Is that where your spouse is coming from?
  • Are there any medical/biological issues at play? Could they be treatable?
  • Where do the two of us have differing expectations in this area?
  • What patterns of relating from my own family-of-origin or my spouse’s family are playing out in this conflict?
  • What unfinished business is there in our relationship? Walls are usually built slowly, over time. Has neglect allowed those walls to grow?
  • Is addiction to substances, pornography, or something else at play? If so, your own codependency will need to be addressed also.
  • If my spouse were asked, what would he/she say is the root of the problem?

Take the time to thoughtfully explore those questions, or others you may think of.

And then, yes, you do need to talk!

Having “The Talk”

“Honey, we need to talk.”

That statement has brought a lot of angst to many married people. By now you probably know how your spouse responds to something like that, so you will need to do your homework and choose your time, place, and words carefully.

And yet you’re not likely to fully understand the Why until you talk about the problem together. See yourself as a detective who cares. Don’t come to your spouse thinking you know it all; come seeking to understand.

At a time and place you know your spouse is most likely able to hear you, you can say something like, “Honey, I’m grateful for the time we’ve had together. I love you! But I’m also struggling. I’ve noticed these things about our relationship that trouble me. I’d like to understand this better from your perspective. Can we talk about this?”

And then listen. Ask follow-up questions.

There’s no guarantee your spouse will respond well. But please don’t simply say, “I’ve tried to talk to them about this, and they won’t talk.” Make absolutely certain you’ve approached the conversation with an open heart, and in a way your spouse is most likely to hear you.

In my own marriage the bedroom environment became a source of tension; he slept with the TV on, and I wanted it quiet and dark. After a few years, we got to the root of the issue one morning in the kitchen. Al had become afraid of dying in his sleep, and with the TV on he could rouse himself just enough to know he was alive and then go back to sleep. That changed everything. During the remaining years of his life we slept with the TV on, and on mute. It was a compromise that allowed us both to sleep well.

Not the End

Once you understand something of the Why, you’ve just begun. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, understanding Why is not the end, or even the beginning of the end. But it may be the end of the beginning.

Once you understand what the true problem is, then comes the work to actually deal with it. And remember; the problem is not your spouse! The problem is some thing affecting your relationship.

You may need to have several ongoing difficult conversations about this. Our Guide to Healthy Communication can help here.

You may need to seek some healing for yourself. You may need to support your spouse in some significant healing they need.

There may be difficult boundaries to be set, forgiveness to be worked through, trust that needs to be rebuilt. Sometimes you need outside help. I regularly coach couples working through such issues also.

The good news is that once you understand more of the Why, you can better work together on a pathway to finding solutions.

Your Turn: Have you taken time to understand the Why underlying your marriage problems? What will you do next in seeking to understand more? Leave a comment below.

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  • Why do you feel unhappy in your marriage? Why, really? Getting to the roots, truly understanding why you feel unhappy, will make all the difference in moving toward a solution. And that may not be as easy as you think.  Tweet that

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