We know that only half of all first marriages make it. What we often don’t recognize is that the first four years seem to be important ones in shaping, making or breaking a marital relationship.
Research has long pointed to communication as core to a couple’s satisfaction and regulation of conflict. A study by Ronald Rogge and Tom Bradbury, uncovers another tipping point of early marriage survival.
Whereas most people are warned that the blessed event of a new baby may challenge the romance in their marriage – not enough warning is given to parents of teens. Lulled by the relative calm of the school age years, they find themselves suddenly embroiled in the challenging journey of adolescence which extends anywhere from age 12 to 18 years.
Notwithstanding the love parents have for their kids and for each other, most parents will agree that the teen years can stress even the strongest of marriages. Why?
Most couples know the positive sounds of silence–the mutual experience of sharing time and space together without needing words. Be it walking the dog together, cooking side by side or listening to music–it is the silence of connection and love.
Many couples also know the silence that reflects tension, conflict or disconnection. Unable to speak beyond the necessities of daily life, these couples report, “ We just don’t talk anymore!”
If we recognize “ talking together” as a metaphor for the communication of confidantes, the special interest of partners and the pillow talk of intimates, then we understand that this is a silence that can start to feel emotionally deafening.
Why do couples who once had so much to say end up feeling this way? Is it inevitable as time passes in a marriage? Is there a way back?
Years together need not result in negative sounds of silence.
Yes, events can disrupt harmony and patterns can erode vitality, but if couples are curious rather than blameful about the silence between them, they may find some reasons and remedies to speak together again.
If we look closer at those partners who end up sitting in a restaurant with nothing to say, painfully aware of the couples happily chatting around them, we find that partners are often unaware of what they may be doing or what has happened to shut down the verbal connection.
Here are some possibilities:
While the definition of intimacy may vary depending on the relationship, it is generally felt to be the “ authentic” connection between two people. As such, the connection reflects a mutuality of loving feelings shared and expressed in thought, affect and behavior.
A host of factors including safety, trust, effective communication and sexual exclusivity have been identified as important for intimacy between partners.
Less discussed and perhaps surprising, is the importance of the “capacity to be alone” in establishing true intimacy.
What Is The “Capacity To Be Alone?”
Why Is This an Asset To Intimacy?
You won’t have to be what someone else wants or needs you to be.
You don’t have to cling to someone to avoid abandonment or avoid someone for fear of rejection.
Neurochemistry supports …
It can also be just as shocking to observe the public interaction of a couple only to wonder, “Why are these people together?”
Having worked many years with couples, I’ve come to understand that no one but the partners involved really know the differences in the private or public versions of their relationship.
While some differences in the private and public versions of a couple’s relationship are inevitable and even desirable, differences that cause or hide pain, rejection and disdain are destructive.
How different are the private and public versions of your relationship?
In this fast paced world of expectations, social media, instant communication and blurred public and private lives, it’s worth accessing whether the differences in the public and private versions of your relationship are desirable or destructive.
The Private Version
Are you trusted confidantes?
Can you hold on to your relationship ties despite outside family demands?
Do your friends know how important your relationship is to you?
The Public Version
We all have a public version of our private self that is adjusted to fit the role, demands and expectations of our public lives. While your public “image” might be at times very different from your role as a spouse or partner, it shouldn’t disqualify it. In the …
When children head back to school this year, they should not be carrying emotional baggage from home.
When we worry about how our children will handle school- what they will face and how they will cope, we often overlook the impact of marital strife on their physical, emotional and intellectual functioning.
It is difficult to feel confident, curious or open to new school friends or ideas when you are a young person weighed down by exposure to adult conflict and issues.
While we know that the impact of most traumatic events on children can be reduced if parents remain calm & learn to manager their own feelings, marital strife poses a bigger challenge. In the case of chronic marital strife, the very people who are supposed to offer safety are the ones creating the danger!
Don’t All Couples Fight?
Yes, in fact if a child never saw any discord or disagreement, he/she would have no model for conflict resolution or regulating a broad range of emotions.
Marital strife that creates a potential emotional crisis for a child of any age is a different animal altogether. It involves expressions of anger that can include chronic but subtle verbal abuse, the silent treatment, bitter fighting and at the extreme, domestic violence that warrants a 911 call.
Unregulated marital discord demands too much of children and teens.
Do they need this extra job as they face new appropriate childhood challenges?
Is this a learned pattern of survival we want a youngster to take with them in life?
In their necessary avoidance they tragically lose not only the connection with their parents, but a world of knowledge, relationships and …
Recycling is a good idea, except when it comes to relationships.
Regardless of what people tell themselves about the time invested, the good times missed, the great sex, or the feeling that things will be different; in most cases the re-connection with an ex rarely brings a better outcome.
Research tells us that rekindling a relationship decreases happiness. Studies of college grads as well as larger national studies of older couples reveal that those people who cycle back to relationships, often over and over again, experience less satisfaction, more uncertainty and more disillusionment in their relationships than non-cycling partners.
Let’s face it – breaking up is hard to do. When it has happened there is usually a good reason on the part of one or both partners.
Why then do people look backwards? Why do they imagine it will be different?
In a recent study in The Journal of Family Psychology, researchers, Lavner, Bradbury and Karney found in surveying 251 couples every six months for the first four years of their marriage, that despite the wish for marital fulfillment those whose marriages deteriorated were dealing with unsafe dynamics like verbal aggression, repression of feelings and denial of needs. Left unattended, such dynamics compromised the bond despite commitment, personality strengths or stress level.
In a similar way, no matter how beautifully a couple might decorate a home; a leaking roof or cracking foundation can not go unattended without consequences.
A closer look at a three “ unsafe couple dynamics” may invite mutual consideration of your relationship and the possibility of some renovations.
“Living like this is like living in a minefield.”
Appropriate Assertion of Anger
The hallmark of a viable relationship is the ability to feel anger and express it in a way that communicates a problem, disappointment, conflict, or feeling without frightening, threatening or verbally assaulting one’s partner.
Renovations that make the healthy assertion of anger possible:
Stepping down by one or both in the face of verbal aggression is not giving up – it is protection for both. No one can fight alone. The mutual call for a “ Time Out” or the individual message, “ I can’t really respond if we are screaming,” …
Thanks to a plethora of self-help books on relationships, most partners, whether dating, committed or long married, have become aware of the value of listening for improving understanding and connection. Most recognize or are reminded by their partners when they are not listening.
Validation is much more than listening or even active listening. It is a verbal affirmation of another’s right to think or feel a certain way.
“I can see why you felt embarrassed when I said that in front of our friends.”
“Most people would feel betrayed in that situation.”
The problem with invalidation, and the reason it is so caustic to relationships, is that it is not simply the absence of validation.
Invalidation is actually the disqualification of another person’s thinking or feelings. It carries the implication that you must be crazy, bad, over-sensitive or inept to feel a certain way.
While there is no doubt that striving to be your personal best and feeling good about your efforts is healthy as well as relationship enhancing – perfectionism is something else.
Perfectionism is the belief that a state of completeness and flawlessness can and should be attained. The literature on perfectionism underscores that there is an important difference between adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism. It is a difference worth considering.