Marriage brings out the best and worst in us. We cleave to our spouse, make sacrifices, and develop deep love over time. It grows from knowing and sharing feelings and activities with one another, creating a family, a home, livelihoods, and going through difficult times together.
But along with love, hate exists in the married state. We may say things to our spouse we’d never dream of saying to a friend. Unlike a dating relationship, we are seen at our worse. We let down our guard and reveal our selfishness, impatience, and bad habits.
Patterns of behavior and communication start to take hold, and soon spouses find the same problem or argument reoccurs without resolution. One or both partners retreat to their corner and hopelessness sets in. They may feel trapped.
In the healthiest marriages, spouses are autonomous and interdependent, not codependent. They have good self-esteem and accept and respect themselves and one another. An interdependent relationship allows them the safety and freedom to be themselves and also to have greater intimacy. They want the best for one another and don’t try to control or take responsibility for their partner. Instead, they communicate and compromise. The relationship is full of aliveness.
In dying marriages, spouses try to keep the romance alive by pretending. They try to rekindle their initial passion by repeating familiar rituals or sentimental reminders that are in reality devoid of it. Their marriage lacks the aliveness and authenticity of true intimacy. This is a common complaint in long-term marriages.
Actually, it’s not that romance is lost or forever gone, it’s just that once couples have more to risk in a relationship, they begin to hide their true feelings. They may develop an attitude of “What’s the use,” if they don’t feel heard or respected by their spouse. Additionally, self-centered habits and the distractions and stresses of every daily life take over. Couples need help to rebuild bridges of mutual, empathetic understanding through vulnerable and authentic communication. This takes courage and often the guidance of a psychotherapist in the safety of marital counseling.
Assertive communication skills allow couples to not only share their feelings, but also to problem-solve. Conflict is inevitable in relationships because two people have different needs, opinions, and wants. However, healthy couples have goodwill, are able to resolve conflict by talking things over, and return to feeling loving and close. Assertiveness is key to healthy relationships of any kind. See my ebook, How to Speak Your Mind: Become Assertive and Set Limits and webinar, How to Be Assertive.
Other issues may need to be addressed, such as addiction, unresolved past hurts, or dishonesty. Marital problems can be caused by an imbalance of power, where one spouse attempts to dominate the other through aggression, control, or manipulation, or emotional abuse. This damages the relationship and the self-esteem of the other partner. It’s not uncommon in relationships with an addict or narcissist. One spouse can also control the other through neediness, demands for attention or validation, or by playing the victim, with the expectation his or her spouse makes him or her happy.
Signs that you need marriage counseling are:
- Having the same argument that never gets resolved
- Lack of communication or affection
- Sustained resentment by either partner
- One partner is trying to change or control the other
- Verbal or emotional abuse (ordering, blaming, undermining, putdowns, withholding)
- Deference to friends or family over the needs of one partner
- Breakdown of trust
- Constant need for reassurance
- Substance abuse, workaholism, or other addiction that interferes with the relationship
- It’s not safe to be open and honest
It’s important to seek couples counseling early, while there is still goodwill in the marriage. The longer problems fester, the more difficult is to restore trust and love. If you want couples counseling, but can’t convince your partner to attend, that shouldn’t be a reason not to go to therapy. When one person changes his or her behavior, it affects their partner, because a relationship is a dynamic system. This is because each person plays a role in the problem.
©Darlene Lancer 2016