The Secret to Getting Through a Relationship Rough Patch

Young man and woman, standing face to face, pensive expressions

Eugenio Marongiu / Getty Images 

No marriage is perfect. At some point, months or years in, you’re going to hit a rough patch. And then, once you get through that one, you’re going to hit another one. It’s a totally normal part of any relationship—and it’s part of the reason people emphasize that relationships take work.

But according to The Rough Patch, Daphne de Marneffe’s insightful new book, marriage isn’t work—or, if it is, it shouldn’t feel like work. Instead, she emphasizes that relationships require consistent and compassionate emotional connections—and that means being vulnerable with each other.

Meet the Expert

Daphne de Marneffe, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist, marriage expert, and author of two books, "The Rough Patch" and "Maternal Desire."

De Marneffe is also the author of Maternal Desire: On Children, Love, and the Inner Life and an expert in how to navigate marriage through its most difficult periods. “I’ve studied the life course of marriage and where the difficult moments are,” de Marneffe tells Brides. “In my work as a therapist, I see people who say, ‘I’ve chosen my life partner, I have a job, and the structure of my life is built. But I feel lost or empty.’ In a ‘rough patch,’ people feel conflict between the fact that everything's in place and they still feel unhappy.”

And, for de Marneffe, the way to navigate through these patches is emotional vulnerability. Whether it comes in the mid-life, which The Rough Patch focuses on, or any other point in a relationship, we need to stop thinking that dealing with problems means just plowing through them. “We are taught that being an adult means we need to suck it up and hide our emotions," she says, "But in reality, our emotions are the most important thing about us when it comes to how we connect with a partner.”

If your relationship has any chance of making it through difficult times, developing emotionally is a must. “People aspire to these long, loving relationships—and that is going to require dealing with the mess and the inconvenience and sometimes the pain of sharing emotions.” That’s how you make it through—by being open about problems, being willing to share what’s going on, and connecting with your partner.

Use Emotional Vulnerability to Get Through Relationship Rough Patches

So how do you do it? It comes more naturally for some people than others. But it’s important to understand that the closed-off feeling that some people have is, in some ways, very natural. “People have all sorts of stumbling blocks, including self-protection,” de Marneffe explains. “I wrote the book because people need help finding a way to tune into those deeper emotions.”

How to Stay Vulnerable

This is key for dealing with a rough patch. Before you start tackling things as a couple, you need to be honest with yourself. “It starts with yourself,” she says. “Marriage is ready-made to make people blame the other person for their own emotional stuff. The first step is to say ok, what am I dealing with, what am I feeling? Look at yourself, then try to express your emotions in a skillful way so that you can be heard.”

How Emotional Intelligence Is Changing Relationship Culture

Even though it may feel a bit alien at first, if you commit to communicating your emotions as they come up, it will keep them from spilling out in other ways. “So many people suppress their emotions until they explode. They don’t know what they’re feeling, or they can’t communicate it—and then they blow up,” she explains. “Their partner is going to get defensive, counter-blame, or shut down. They get into a cycle. Both partners need to learn how to clue into their emotions early in the game, and then be willing and brave enough to express vulnerable emotions in a skillful way.”

If you find yourself unable to tap into your emotions, seek out a therapist or couple’s therapist who can help you tune into and understand those feelings.

Changes You Can Make to Get Through a Rough Patch

One important point is that, while some people still struggle to open up, there’s a shift towards more emotional awareness in our culture. “We’re starting to see so much more understanding about emotions and intimate relationships," she explains. There’s more scientific research, and a language being developed. As a result, we’re starting to expect and demand a level of emotional intelligence in relationships.” There are several changes that you can implement to help get through those difficult times in your relationship.

Reminisce

If you’re going through a rough patch, it’s time to look inward—and then talk to your partner. It’s not about being perfect. “Be generous with your apologies,” de Marneffe says. “The two wonder drugs of marriage are self-awareness and self-responsibility. It helps a lot if you can say, 'I see what I am doing that's difficult, and I am trying to change it.'”

Schedule Quality Time Together

There is far less of a divide between men and women, and everyone is being encouraged to become more emotionally aware. And it’s important that we open ourselves up to working on our emotional intelligence—because it’s not something that happens overnight. “It’s internal work—and it's a lifelong project. No one is an expert.” Spending—and scheduling—quality time together sharing these emotions is important for a stronger relationship.

Make Time for Intimacy

As you better understand your emotional intelligence, you should also evaluate your intimacy level with your spouse. Intimacy, in both emotional, spiritual, and physical forms, should play a very important part in your relationship. Just as you are devoting more time to understanding your emotional vulnerability, you should prioritize time for all of these forms of intimacy.

Consider and Commit to Counseling

Even though you might face issues as a couple, the solution starts with you. However, things may get overwhelming for you and your spouse. If your relationship struggles as you work through issues, a counselor is certainly an important option to consider. 

FAQ
  • How do you deal with a rough patch in a relationship?

    Confronting the problem and discussing it is a healthy way to move forward.

  • How do you know if you’re in a rough patch?

    Sometimes it’s obvious, like when you and your partner are arguing about something. However, other times it can be more difficult to notice. Your partner may be more distanced or less talkative, and you find yourselves spending less time with one another.

  • Are rough patches in a relationship normal?

    Yes, every relationship will go through rough patches. It's perfectly normal and is a natural part of the relationship process.

  • How long do rough patches last in a relationship?

    It definitely varies based on the individuals or problem that caused the rough patch. It could be a few hours or a few months. 

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