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.
Whether you have just begun dating or you are celebrating a Golden Anniversary, most partners are aware that communication is a crucial component in relationship happiness and satisfaction. Most self-help books extol it, and most experts working with couples encourage and facilitate improved communication.
Dr. Marianne Legato, author of Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget contends that without effective couple communication, there is no relationship at all.
A crucial but often overlooked communication skill for partners is knowing when it is best not to say anything.
This skill is not about suppression, quiet compliance, the silent treatment, dismissal or neglect. It is a choice that reflects attunement, empathy, regulation of emotions and prioritizing the bond you share.
It is knowing those times when your comment, critique, opinion, question or news not only fails to add value – it makes matters worse!
The question of whether to end a relationship, be it a 20 year marriage or a 5 year commitment, is a painful and complicated one. It is a question that often implies loss, fear of judgment, sense of failure, self-blame as well as glimmers of hope and change. At times we avoid this question, we ask others to answer it, we act on it impulsively, we never stop asking it or we recognize we have no choice – we have to ask it of ourselves.
Here are some issues and underlying questions that you may find helpful as you consider this life decision.
The Importance of Knowing Why You Want to Leave
If you are thinking of leaving a relationship, it is important that you know why. Understanding your past and present informs the decisions you make for your future. No matter what the circumstances of the relationship you are ending, understanding it offers something valuable for you to know about you.
The Importance of Your Partner’s Knowing Why
Except in those cases where interaction and discussion could be dangerous, it is important for your partner to know why you are thinking of ending this relationship. The very thought of this may make you want to scream, “How could she/he not know?” The reality is that a painful familiar relationship is often preferable to change or the fear of being alone. Denial can be a powerful and long standing survival strategy. It makes communication crucial.
No one just shows up for a good relationship and relationships don’t just get better because time passes. It is what we do during that time that helps heal and enhance our relationships. Over the last few years I have written many blogs for couples. Here are six simple resolutions drawn from them that many have found enhance the bond they share with their partner.
Let It Go
If you are human and you are in a relationship, it is inevitable that at times you will be angry with your partner. Once you and your partner have come to some resolve or have agreed to a working resolution, let the contention and disagreement go.
You may think it is important to explain to your partner one more reason you were angry or to analyze his/her character flaw. It’s not. Your partner will not be grateful for this information. Let it Go!
Once you and your partner move on to a positive mood or enjoyable place, go with it, feel it- let it take. Positive memories and experiences build recovery momentum. They facilitate problem resolution because they broaden perspective, re-kindle appreciation of each other and build trust.
It depends. It most cases it’s not the differences that threaten a marriage, it’s how the partners experience and react to those differences.
There Are Always Some Differences
Whether you were drawn together by the attraction of opposites or finally found your ideal match in terms of similar looks, education or socio-economic background, most partners at some point realize they are married “ with differences.” The fact is that no two people have the same goal, react the same way or enjoy the same thing, at the same time – ALL THE TIME. ( Thankfully)
When Do Differences become Problems?
Working with couples, it seems that differences become problems when they are unexpected, imply change or are experienced as a threat to either partner or to the relationship. Often partners react to the assumed threat with accusation or judgment which sets the stage for conflict. For example,
While most partners can live with having different tastes in foods and music, differences that emerge in the face of life events ( jobs, children, financial burdens) often threaten partners.
If you and your partner find yourselves battling over throwing out the garbage or doing the laundry, you are not alone and neither may actually be to blame. A closer look may offer some understanding and some alternatives.
The Division of Labor
What may seem, however, like an easy division of labor, “you shop” and “I’ll cook” is actually not so easy. In fact the notion that a perfectly balanced list could or should exist is a myth. People just don’t function that way.
With increasing longevity we have become very concerned about the impact of old age on memory. Notwithstanding the importance of this focus, it is worth remembering that we have been forgetting all kinds of things throughout our lifespan – our violin in fourth grade, the due date for the final paper in High School, and the time of our first job interview.
Understanding and enhancing memory is actually a life-long process.
A particularly interesting area is the way in which memory operates between partners. Research findings remind us of the potential that couples have for maximizing mutual use of this precious resource.
A recent study in Science of “Google Effect on Memory” reports that our brains are adapting to technology such that we remember less information when we expect to have access to it on the computer. What we do remember is where to find it.
What the authors suggest is that we have come to use the computer as an external source of stored memory much like the transactive memory used between partners.
Some things need clarification. One is the of the impact of infidelity on marriage; which is brought to the forefront by a recent article in the New York Times Magazine, the cover of which reads “ Infidelity Keeps Us Together.”
The article by Mark Oppenheimer considers the proposition by sex columnist Dan Savage that the solution to a deadened monogamous bond may be infidelity.
From years of working with couples, I suggest that this is not so simple. Whereas most would agree that monogamy alone does not make a marriage, the leap to infidelity as solution to a struggling or even lifeless relationship is a big one – one that misses all the partner possibilities for working within their relationship.
It’s Not Just About Sex
While the author of the article examines Savage’s point in an open-minded way, the perspective is a narrow one. Central to the thesis is that sexual satisfaction, specifically meeting the specific sexual request of a partner is crucial to the stability of the relationship.
Savage suggests that if partners expect to be monogamous, they must be up for anything. They must be G.G.G., good, giving and game with game meaning going along with a partner’s need or going along with letting him/her meet their need outside the marriage.