April 19, 2024

Well, if last week was about easy answers that often repeat across couples, this week’s question is, indeed, its opposite.

What challenges you as a couple?

I get all sorts of answers to this question. Some are vague, and some are detailed. Some take the question seriously, while others take a lighter approach. And I know what you are wondering. Because we all wonder – what did everyone else say? Are our challenges normal? Sane? Are they manageable?

There is a reason I choose the word “challenge.” It’s deliberate. I imagine that most folks think the follow up question to “What are you good at as a couple?” will be “What is hard as a couple?” But “hard” just isn’t very invitational. Hard is inflexible, unyielding, fixed. Hard is heavy, and negative, and burdensome.

But “challenge?” Well, challenge is meant to suggest that something is doable. It can be negotiated and navigated. There is flexibility and malleability. You can practice, develop new skills, put in the work, and overcome a challenge. Challenges can even be fun. People like a good challenge. And a challenge asks us to consider that a weakness is exactly where strength can emerge.

The other night, when I asked my spouse, “Hey, what challenges us?” he was watching TV. He glanced over at me, and I knew that look. That look said, “Sarah, what challenges me is when you interrupt my veg-out time with your questions and ‘what ifs.’” So, I waited – but just until there was a commercial break. At that point, he paused. He didn’t have a quick answer.

So, instead I asked him, “Can our strength also be our weakness?” He nodded, considering. So, I continued, “Then I would say, communication. We are sometimes good at it. And other times, I am definitely not good at it.” (See: interrupting veg-out time.) So yes, for us our strength is also our weakness. We are always working on communicating . . . with each other, with our children, and even with the wider world.

But . . . what else? What do people say? Here are a few that I think resonate with most couples:
Schedules
Introversion/Extroversion
Communication (of course)
Budgeting and finances
Blending families
How many pets shall we own? (this one always makes me laugh)
Division of tasks
Cultural differences
Religious/spiritual differences

Intriguing, right? But also, nothing terribly surprising when you think about it. And sitting here, thirty years into a marriage, I will say that as with every other question I ask my couples, challenges change over time. Work challenges yield to financial challenges and challenges around children, to aging parents, and weathering the blows that life will deal out like illness and grief and death.

Which brings me back to “challenge” as the choice word. Because it’s all doable. It’s all manageable. It just requires flexibility, openness, and most of all . . . a willingness to work together to overcome – or at least manage – whatever your challenge of the moment might be.