Back-Pocket Marriage Counselor

As we say goodbye to February, the month of love, I thought I would condense for you the less-obvious marital problems (with solutions!) I encounter in my practice.

• Being Too Nice. Wha..?? That’s right. The little white lies couples use to keep the peace do just the opposite.

Annoyances never go away with time. They just expand and ultimately have the explosive value of a powder keg. If you don’t address a problem, you are essentially hanging on to it. If you examine those feelings and dig a bit deeper, you may learn something about yourself as well as your spouse.

The solution? Address—don’t hide—from your feelings of anger or discontent. Learn how to communicate these difficult issues to your partner in a diplomatic way. Don’t assume your anger will “just” go away. (It won’t!)

• Not Carrying through on your Commitment. There are lots of ways, besides cheating, to be less than fully committed to your spouse.

These include: contacting or going out with exes, going out with friends alone, going to bed alone, making unilateral decisions, etc.

One of the biggest enemies to commitment is the instant gratification mindset—the popular belief that you deserve to have exactly what you want, precisely when you want it. This translates into a happy you is more important than a happy marriage.

No relationship can be 100% happy, 100% of the time. Commitment is the glue that holds relationships together when they are temporarily less than perfect.

• Assuming you know what your partner thinks. One of the biggest dangers in a relationship is assuming you ‘know’ what is going on in the other person’s mind.

The reality is you never really know what your partner is going to say. You aren’t telepathic—you can’t possibly know your spouse’s reactions or emotions in advance.

So instead of ending the conversation before it starts, just start it without expectations or interpretations. Be open to what your spouse says. Ask lots of questions.

• Downplaying relationship issues. Saying things like: “It’s just that time of the month” or “He really doesn’t mean it” or “She’ll get over it” are minimizing statements.

Minimization is a kind of self-deception—a way of denying a situation or the significance of an event or emotion. It is a common reaction when dealing with stress or guilt. Simply put, downplaying issues is a fancy way of not facing reality.

Brushing off important issues as ‘the time of the month’ will not make that issue go away—it is just postponing the inevitable. In the end, the unattended issue will just come back later –but with a vengeance.

Bottom line: You can solve a lot of marital problems by examining them with your spouse. This is very different than the common, but ultimately destructive, solving the problem alone or impressing a solution on your spouse.

Here’s to every day of your relationship being Valentine’s Day. 

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Laura F. Dabney , M.D.

Laura F. Dabney, M.D., trained at Eastern Virginia Medical School and practiced emergency, in-patient and consult-liaison psychiatry at all the area hospitals including Sentara Norfolk General and the Veteran’s Hospital in Hampton. As a doctor of psychiatry, she treats patients with medication as well as all of today’s popular therapy techniques. As a physician, she can figure out if your symptoms are due to a medical or an emotional problem. Many medical problems, such as hypothyroidism, can cause emotional symptoms and thus be mistaken for a psychiatric problem. A medical background provides Dr. Dabney with the ability to give you an accurate, safe diagnosis. Dr. Dabney keeps up to date with her medical training as a member of various professional organizations. For more information, visit, call 757-340-0800, or email

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