Sooner or later differences emerge in any long term relationship.  Differences can split couples, freeze a relationship, or transform it.
What happens when you want different things?  What if you have certain ways of doing things and the person you are married (coupled, Civil Union) to, has habits that are the opposite of your own? The other person may be just as attached to doing things her/his way as you are.  What if the differences and the obstacles that get in the way, either seem, or are, enormous?
Sometimes compromise is possible.  Sometimes it is simply not a big deal to adapt to someone else’s ideas, values or behaviors.
When the big, important issues come up, it is not so easy.  How to parent is often a big one.  Religion, money, where to live, politics, sex and communication, are some of the issues that result in a couple getting stuck.
Sometimes the conflict is not just about the particular subject matter.  The stakes of the argument are higher. I often ask the members of the couple what they are really fighting for?  One person might say “I’m fighting to be recognized” and the other might say something to the effect of “I won’t let him/her overpower me”.  When you know what you are fighting for, you can speak directly to the issues instead of having the same fight over and over with different content each time.
There are times when the differences are so great that it is better to split a relationship than to stay. If you stay, what you may have to give up may be greater than what you will get.  Physical violence or Sexual Abuse perpetrated by one member of a couple towards another or a family member is one example of when it is wiser to leave than to stay.  There are other reasons to leave a relationship.
Many things can be worked out between people who want different things or are in conflict.  Sometimes people will change and sometimes the cost is just too high.  Being willing to change is more important than just wanting to change.
Sometimes couples stay “frozen” in their relationship.  They become stuck with each other and stay that way.  These people might not have the skills to communicate with each other.  There may be too much shame or dependency, on many levels, to move either toward each other or away from each other.   Maybe both members of the couple do not know how to move toward resolution.  They do not experience real intimacy emotionally or sexually.  They spend their time talking about superficial things, always distant and sometimes pretending that their relationship is really okay.  Sometimes anger spills out and they smolder with each other.  After a while they each may go back to pretending.
Remaining together may be a conscious choice.  The members of the couple may not be willing to suffer the financial consequences.  The thought of living apart from children may be unbearable.  Maybe a viable relationship is just not as much of a priority to one or both people as other things like a career or a different family connection.
In the best circumstances remaining as a couple when it is a conscious choice is a path to deepening a relationship, to making it better, and to embark on a path that can be emotionally and spiritually rich.
When the members of a couple are committed to take up the difficult issues that lie between them, the result can be transformational.  Communications skills and flexibility are essential.  Both people must be able to see through the other person’s “lens” in a new and different way.  Perhaps a cathartic event such as a birth or a death might leave both people forever changed.
It does not always have to be dramatic.  Acceptance, when it is genuine, can bring peace.  Taking a risk is sometimes wise.  Not taking a risk may also be wise.
When members of a couple, or people in other types of relationships, can change in important and skillful ways, nothing is ever again the same.
There will be other struggles at other times, but there will be greater opportunities for successful resolution.