Often times, it’s as important to recognize what NOT to do in our marriages as it is to learn and know what TO do. We all have blinders on when it comes to our own relationship behaviors. Over time, we’ve convinced ourselves that what we do with our spouses works.... Even when there is no evidence it is (as evidenced by our ongoing dissatisfaction or complaints)!
Today’s blog post will help you understand and recognize five common behavior tactics many of us use in our marriages that have the opposite effect than we intend.
In the West, half of all marriages end in divorce. As we settle into our lives and routines with our spouses, we suddenly realize that the person we married doesn’t live up to the image of them we’d held in our mind in the early years. Disappointment sets in. We wonder, “did I marry the wrong person?” or “is this all there is?” Over time, we are excellent at convincing ourselves that if only we’d made a different choice of spouse, we’d magically be happier. And so half of us exit our marriages, aiming to start anew with a better option who will make us happier, and half of us settle in to a resigned parallel life with the person we once thought was our ticket to happiness.
What about the other small percent who actually use their marriages as a foundation for enhanced personal growth, discovery, and fulfillment? That small percent realizes that 99.9% of the time, our happiness does not come from the person we chose; but rather our happiness in our marriages relies on our lifelong ability to look hard at ourselves, examine what we bring to our marriages, and double down on working out our blocks and difficulties together WITH our partner.
Read on to learn five common behaviors that may have creeped their way into your interactions with your spouse. Identify where you use these and catch yourself at it!
Needing to be right: Often times our desire to be right takes precendent over our desire to honor our own experience while also respecting our partner’s. Needing to be right easily transforms into self-righteousness or indignation. Neither of these behaviors has a role in personal relationships or in public life. The need to be right acts in direct opposition to real intimacy and connection.
Controlling your spouse: When we’re in a tough spot in our marriages, we slide right into exerting control. As we sense in the back of our brains that we are losing control, we subconsciously wind our control wands even tighter. The truth is, we are drawn to spouses whose issues fit perfectly with our own issues in a way that allows us to re-enact the behaviors of our childhood. But good relationships don’t avoid the raw spots of ourselves. Rather, good relationships handle our bad parts and great relationships allow us to heal our bad parts.
Unchecked Self-Expression: This is the attitude that you reserve the right to tell your spouse in precise, unreserved detail just exactly how awful they’ve made things due to their shortcomings. But here’s the truth about venting: when you are hurt or angry, spewing everything doesn’t mean you’re being authentic, it means you’re being thoughtless and rude, and is not constructive.
Retaliation: Retaliation is all the small ways we chip away at our bond with our spouse by sending the signal, “oh, yeah!? You think!?” Retaliation is both direct and indirect. Being passive aggressive is a form of retaliation. Withholding is another form. If you’re mad, then say so, but don’t act it out.
Withdrawal: Withdrawal can come in many forms. It can be as stark as having an affair or stalking out of a marriage, or it can be as subtle as a decline in the frequency of lovemaking or bonding time together. Intentional withdrawal can be passive aggressive, but withdrawal can also come from avoidance, fear of conflict, mistrust of real intimacy, difficulty being vulnerable, hopelessness, or being just plain tired. You can withdraw from the entire relationship, or you can withdraw from specific aspects of the relationship. When you examine your bond with your spouse, are there certain interactions or connections you’ve turned down or turned away from over the years, with the conscious or unconscious goal to send a message or to self-protect?
The five losing strategies of marriage, as outlined by marriage therapist Terrence Real, are time proven ways couples erode their trust, connection, and longevity. Most of us don’t use any of these strategies intending to hurt our marriages; indeed, that is usually our biggest FEAR. But many of us learn and adopt these behaviors throughout our lives and end up using them despite our best efforts, and the result is that they do hurt our spouses and hurt our marriages.
If you are wondering whether you’re using these strategies in your marriage, and are feeling stuck in changing your tune with your spouse, call me at 860-339-6515 and we’ll work to get you back on track to the marriage you always imagined.
Lauren L. Drago, MSEd, LMHC, LPC is a women's therapist and counselor, providing individual counseling in Old Saybrook, CT and online in greater CT, NY & PA. She specializes in working with smart, insightful and capable women to overcome stress, anxiety, loss of identity, self-limiting beliefs, perfectionism, marriage strain, and the pressure of "trying to do it all." Lauren has a passion for helping others to achieve the happy, fulfilling, productive, and meaningful life they deserve. She believes that every woman can and should live out her personal definition of her own best life. Call (860) 339-6515 to schedule your free initial consultation.