While the common conflicts and issues discussed in Chapter 8 can be challenging, there are several categories of challenges we call “big issues.” These are the ones that create enormous amounts of stress in a relationship and often lead to the breakdown of the relationship. Some of these, like a serious illness or accident, can happen suddenly and unexpectedly. Others, like the failure of a relationship, or a divorce, can build over time. Regardless of whether it’s unexpected or something that’s anticipated, the moment of stress often sneaks up on you and appears suddenly out of nowhere. But these mechanisms for either surviving the issue, or the seeds of failure, are generally planted much earlier.

Each of us watched the other struggle through the breakup of a previous serious relationship before we got together as a couple. The impact on how we each approached our relationship, what we were sensitive to, and how we dealt with conflict was influenced by our previous failed relationships. Fortunately, we knew each other and our former partners and were able to talk openly about the challenges. Regardless, many of our reactions to our previous relationship created challenges for our new relationship.

We’ve also had to deal with illness and death as a couple. As a colleague of Brad’s likes to say, “Life is a fatal disease.” There is no denying that death ultimately comes and when you are confronted with it, or a ...

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