There are five traps that couples typically fall into that damage their marriage relationship. Once you read them, you recognize them immediately. Some of them might be yours! Some might be your partners!
In his book “The New Rules of Marriage”, Terrence Real identifies five losing strategies that undermine our marriage relationships. He goes on to say that when we employ anyone of these strategies “we will never get what we want.”
A Loop of Diminishing Returns These five strategies are used in relationships all the time. They become a default, distracting us from dealing with real issues and keeping us stuck in a loop of diminishing returns. A loop of diminishing returns? Yes. We continually repeat our favourite losing strategy (strategies) and the longer we use it, the less satisfied we are with our marriage relationship. We end up not having the relationship we want while we can see or imagine the relationship that we long for. This leads to great dissatisfaction with our relationship. We may not be miserable (yet) but we’re not happy either. Our favourite relationship strategies keep us stuck where we don’t want to be.
What Are the Five Losing Strategies?
1. The Need to be Right is not an unfamiliar concept. The person who is sure they are right is pitted against their partner who appears to pigheadedly and persistently refuse to see that they are wrong. Instead of fighting for the relationship couples become locked in an unending contest of who is right and who is wrong. Being right is not the point! However, working together toward a satisfying solution is the point. I often tell couples who are stuck in the fight to be right, “You can have an emotionally healthy relationship or you can be right. The problem is you can’t have both – you choose.”
2. Controlling Your Partner is also a familiar dance. Getting your own way may seem like a winning strategy, after all, you get what you want! Sounds great doesn’t it? Yet, what is the cost to your relationship? Getting your way all or most of the time may seem satisfying but consider this, what would it be like for you to live in a relationship where you almost never got your way? How satisfied would you feel? Control is often a way of trying to get the relationship you want by getting the other person to do what you want or behave the way you want. If you want a great relationship (and who doesn’t), then focus on what you can do for the relationship rather than focusing on what your partner is or isn’t doing. Don’t give up what you want most (a great relationship) for what you want in the moment (your own way).
3. Unbridled Self-Expression or saying everything that pops into your head without filtering a single thing. Some partners feel they have to lay it all out for their significant other. No thought or feeling goes unchecked or unfiltered. Terrence Real calls this a “barf-bag approach to intimacy” and explains that it looks like this, “Hey, let me tell you in precise, lurid detail just exactly how miserable you make me by your shortcomings.” Three guidelines come to mind: 1. Think before you speak, 2. Don’t speak if you are angry or upset, 3. Use a gentle approach – words and tone that work toward a healthy relationship, seek answers and are less accusatory.
4. Retaliation strikes at the heart of your relationship and damages what you want most – an emotionally healthy relationship. Retaliation is often grounded the pain and hurt we experience in our relationship. The message is typically “I want you to stop and see how you hurt me.” And it takes the place of a healthy discussion about hurt and pain. Healthy discussions are a pathway to healing while retaliation is a war cry. Open retaliation in its nastiest form is physical or verbal abuse. In its more subtle form, it’s passive-aggressive behaviour or snide comments. Open or subtle, it damages relationships.
5. Withdrawal starts with not knowing how to respond to your partner or not being able to handle the emotional flood when you have a disagreement. It can be a physical withdrawal where you leave the room or the house or an emotional withdrawal where you mentally checkout. When one (or both) partner(s) becomes emotionally withdrawn, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to deal with relationship issues. Withdrawal is often a form of self-protection. It’s a move towards self-preservation; hanging on to your remaining dignity and self-respect. It’s like curling up into a ball to protect yourself and not let the other person in. After a while, there is no opening for the other person to be able to get in. The thing about withdrawal is that it often has subtle, small beginnings where one partner (or both) start to give up on trying. Give up on trying to share feelings then giving up on trying altogether. This feeling of giving up begins to invade the five areas of relationship intimacy - intellectual, emotional, physical, sexual, and spiritual.
Good News The good news is once you understand your go to losing strategy; you can dial it back and work on getting rid of it. Change your focus from what your partner can do, to what you can do to improve your marriage relationship. Your marriage relationship can be great – you get to decide.