Why are relationships so difficult?

Couples Counseling Associates
Call or Text 312-416-6191
All inquiries and sessions are strictly confidential

Not so very long ago (just a few decades), relationships between men and women were based on a  hierarchy – a pecking order– with men acting as the primary earners and decision-makers, and women serving, literally, as the doers of all things related to children and home. Roles were clearly defined, rarely questioned, and each half of a couple knew how he or she was expected to behave.

Men and women also operated in largely separate spheres. Women often had the company of their mothers, sisters, friends and neighbors, and could confide in them when they needed advice on how to handle their men and their children. Most women didn’t need to rely upon their husbands for emotional support, and their sexual longings weren’t even acknowledged. Men spent their days and many nights with male bosses and co-workers, didn’t necessarily have to rely on their wives to meet their sexual needs, and their emotional longings weren’t acknowledged.


Enormous changes have occurred in a relatively short span of history in the Western world, with women entering the work force in droves, the pill making pregnancy voluntary, and a same-sex orientation emerging from its hiding place in the shadows. Households and neighborhoods are no longer held together by the fibers of three or four generations. Most families can’t survive on one income, roles are blurred, and expectations are high.


While most women I know (not to mention most men!) wouldn’t go back to that old, oppressive system for all the chocolate in Belgium, we’re still blindly fumbling our way out of the cave, even 50 years later. Today’s couples watched their parents and grandparents play out those predictable scenes, and really have no role models for a 21st century, egalitarian relationship. We know we want equal partnerships, but what exactly does that mean?


We want our partners to be our best friends, fulfill our sexual fantasies, support our dreams, share our financial burdens, and accept our flaws. Sure, the divorce rate hovers around 50%, but given all that pressure, isn’t it remarkable how many couples do hold it together? Couples of all persuasions, no longer forced to stay in unhappy relationships, are compelled to wrestle with myriad questions day-in and day-out, the answers to which are individually demarcated and personal, and designed by each couple from scratch.

So what are the secrets of successful couples of today? And why are relationships so difficult? When couples don’t intentionally think through some of these issues, confusion, anger and resentment often take over. Operating unwittingly from an old family playbook, partners push to assert their version as the right version. So it’s worth the time, effort, and the struggle to shed light on and work through these questions:


  • What is our relationship vision?
  • How do I influence another person without resorting to bullying, manipulation or withdrawal?
  • Is it ever possible to make decisions jointly?
  • What does compromise mean and how does it work?
  • Is equality possible in all areas of a couple’s life?
  • Does equal mean symmetrical, and how do we avoid falling into keeping score?
  • How can I become the best partner, if I want to have a great partner?


It is possible to make your own rules, roles, and boundaries, but it requires a great deal of thought, flexibility, patience, and trial and error.

Take the time to consider what you witnessed growing up, and make conscious decisions about what you want to carry forward, and what you don’t. Then be prepared to stretch and reshape those decisions, as some of your partner’s ideas will undoubtedly differ. Through the years, priorities and beliefs will shift, and you may need to come back to the negotiating table a number of times. But if you work hard early on at crafting a mutual definition of equal partnership, you’ll have your own playbook to draw from, and your relationship needn’t be so difficult after all!

Sara Schwarzbaum and Alison Knox

Couples Counseling Associates in Chicago

Tap to Call:

© 2018 Couples Counseling Associates

 Associated Therapists

Sara Schwarzbaum


Founder, Couples Counseling Associates 


Tap to Call:
312-416-6191 ext. 202

Liz Garvey



Tap to Call:
312-416-6191 ext. 207


Linda Lazzara


Associated therapist

Tap to Call:
312-416-6191 ext. 205

Also in Arlington Heights

637 E. Golf Rd Suite 201

Arlington Heights Il 60005



 Associated Therapist

Michael Villarreal:


773 789-9775

Associated Therapist Giulia Casani MA,LMFT

500 North Michigan ave - Suite 600 Chicago, Il 60611
Phone 773 580 0152

Associated Threapist

Kate Engler, LMFT, LPC 

10024 Skokie, Blvd. Suite 207Skokie, IL 60077(224) 233 - 1036 ext. 418 (office)(844) 546 - 6642 (mobile - PLEASE NOTE: this number does not accept text messages)



All the mental health professionals practicing at 737 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 2130, Chicago, IL 60611 or any other locations, are individually licensed by the State of Illinois and practice independently and separately. They have no legal relationship to the practices of each other and do not incur in liability for services of one another or to Dr. Sara Schwarzbaum.