Not All Your Problems Are Marriage Problems


I learned this the hard way. My first husband dropped dead with no warning when he was just 35, making it quite clear how few of the problems affecting the two of us were marriage problems.
What’s the difference? The marriage problems go away when your marriage partner dies or after all the dust settles from your divorce. The others, the ones that remain, were never about your marriage. Not enough money to live the life you want? Not a marriage problem. Not enough time for all the chores you consider essential without more help from your mate? Not a marriage problem. Want to do something new that will take some courage to try and your spouse isn’t interested? Not a marriage problem.
If it wouldn’t end when your spouse’s life ended today, it’s not a marriage problem. It’s just a problem. One for you to solve for yourself. And having a husband or wife means you’ve got a support system, with very different strengths, to help you come up with a way solve it.
If you make the mistake of telling your mate you’ve figured out how he or she could–and therefore must–solve it for you, you add a marriage problem to your other problem. And when you wake up the day after your husband dies, it will be crystal clear which problem was which and how badly you robbed yourself of the enjoyment of being married.

About the author

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.


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  • So interesting! Just when you thought you read enough marriage books to hear everything you can on the subject…
    These are very valuable insights. Thank you!

  • Oh man this is a good post. What happens though when real problems that aren’t marriage problems get in the way of marriage? Worse, one spouse is better at dealing with problems than the other?
    I’m loving how “matter of fact” this post is though… just a great idea to think of your spouse as “gone” and see if the problem in front of you dissappears too. … interesting

  • Thanks, Matt. And what a great question! What happens when other problems get in the way of the marriage and one spouse is better at dealing with them than the other? Watch for a blog post later this week to answer this. It’s a meaty topic.

  • Thank you for your perspective, Patty. When you’re so close to someone you can finish his sentences, it’s so easy to think things are a “marriage problem” when it’s just a problem. I’ve been reading backwards from your new post, read this one, and now I think I’ll go discuss them with CJ!

  • I’ve read this a dozen times since you first posted it. Read it to my husband the other day, and he was as struck by it as I.
    Such a HUGE perspective shift to realize that marriage means I have a supportive partner with a very…make that ENTIRELY ;-)… different strength set to help me grow through my personal problems.
    I’m going to have to read this one daily!

  • Thinking further about this post helps me understand why I used to leave for a trip, mad as a hornet at my husband, but start missing him within hours of my departure.
    I used to blame ALL of my problems on him and his failure to change. I did not recognize that (a) I had a ton of individual problems I wasn’t taking responsibility for and (b) that *I* was creating marriage problems by demanding that Daniel change.
    Once I left on a trip, though, I suddenly missed the myriad strengths he contributes to our marriage. I was stuck with all my myriad problems…withOUT Daniel.
    I was so hell-bent on changing my man that it never occurred to me that there I was, in a completely different state, surrounded by all the same problems, that they couldn’t possibly be Daniel’s fault if they followed ME wherever I went!

  • In my case, i always try not to blame my spouse. Instead, i am blamed and judged all the time by my husband and my family in law. I never hope he will die soon. Ha…ha….even it’s the best way. Because, as long as he never changes his bad habit and sacrifice our happiness and life, i resist to maintain my marriage with him. How about it, friend?

  • How sad yet how so true. Thanks Patty for putting out a reminder of what is really important and for knowing how to refrain from overloading that “marriage problem” camel!

By Patty Newbold

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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