Perpetual Problems in Relationships


You are about to beat your head against the wall. Are you EVER going to get past this argument? It seems like the two of you have been struggling with this issue for the entirety of your relationship.

Have you ever had these thoughts about any subject with your significant other? Perhaps the two of you constantly fussing over finances. One of you is better at saving than the other…or perhaps you are both good at saving…or spending…just on different things!

Will the two of you EVER move on from this topic?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Drs. John and Julie Gottman, couples therapists, researchers, workshop leaders and famous for their “four horsemen idea“, teach therapists and couples that every relationship has what is called some “perpetual problems”. These are problems that arise because of personality differences or individual preferences.

This idea of “perpetual problems” can seem a little discouraging, but it can also be liberating.

It tells us that we are not alone. All couples face these kinds of things. It isn’t the end of the world.

It is important to note here that this discussion on perpetual problems does NOT include anything that would be considered abusive in any way including physically, emotionally, or mentally. This kind of behavior is NEVER ok and should not be something that is tolerated.

It might seem like there is not much you can do about perpetual problems, but that is not true. Here are some things you CAN do:

1.     Keep talking. Expect this to be a conversation that continues…perhaps for years! It is a perpetual dialogue, not a one time discussion.

2.     Be creative. Try new things. For example, if the same person always manages the finances or the children’s schedules, try switching things around. Or, be willing to try that crazy idea your partner has for a week just to see how it goes.

3.     Be empathetic. Keep talking and listening…listening to UNDERSTAND. This is important. Pay attention to what I am about to say. YOU CAN UNDERSTAND SOMEONE WITHOUT AGREEING WITH THEM. Try to REALLY understand your partner’s perspective on this perpetual issue…even if you never change your mind (and perhaps shouldn’t!).

4.     Create safe spaces and times. What I mean by this is that you need to have times and places where you don’t talk about your perpetual problems. Give both of you a break from the dialogue. Talking about it constantly will probably NOT make it go away. Continue to have fun.

5.     Don’t talk about perpetual problems (or any problem!) when you are tired or hungry. Christians sometimes struggle with this one citing Ephesians 4:26 when it says: “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” Listen, sometimes you just need to go to bed. “Sun” can mean a whole lot of things. It can be used to mean a “season” or a time of life. This verse can also mean that you just need to let it go (don’t start singing that song…don’t do it!) and go to bed. Actually going on to bed can take a lot more strength for a relationship and indicates more health in the relationship than staying up all night ever did.

Here’s something to consider. Perpetual problems probably exist outside of romantic relationships, too. Your relationships with your boss, your friend, your child…they all have “perpetual problems”, too.

Try to see “perpetual problems” as a chance to grow yourself and the relationship. Perhaps, these perpetual problems will never grow wings and fly away…but maybe, just maybe they WILL grow your relationship and you.

At Unstuck, we can walk alongside of you and your partner to help you navigate the perpetual problems that keep surfacing on your relationship journey.