Repairing intimate relationships has given me many insights – such as that flexibility is the most important personality trait, and time, self-disclosure and listening skills are the most important resources in making a lasting union. Here are those insights summarised into 13 key areas.
Long term committed relationships can deal with just about anything but the unforgivable. It requires extraordinary skills to manage and overcome the deeply personal and usually intimate injury of the unforgivable. Many conflicts are about the ‘conversation that never took place but needed to’ a conversation that was fundamentally about emotional connection. Turning your back on the past tends to support old relationship programs getting a re-run – feelings buried alive seldom die. Those who forgive easily have a lower resting blood pressure than bigger grudge-holders. Forgive to live longer.
A couple can look forward to up to 40 years of satisfaction and to a greater degree than singles. Only by the age of 60 do single people begin to report being as happy as couples. On average, every successful marriage benefits from a strong honeymoon effect, lasting approximately a year. This is usually the happiest time in marriage often before children arrive.
Those destined for separation or divorce report a fall in happiness in the first year of married life. Not all those who experience that fall will go on to divorce.
Overall marriage makes people happier. However, this research indicates almost all marriages lose their magic as feelings of happiness slip back to the levels before the couple met. Thereafter even couples set to stay together for the long haul can expect a sharp decline for two years, with only a mild recovery between years three and five before the slide begins again. After 10 years happiness levels are slightly lower than before marriage. Does Marriage Make People Happy, Or Do Happy People Get Married? Journal of Socio-Economics 2006.
Just two years after marriage, an estimated 20% of couples make love fewer than 10 times in a year. Eighty-one percent of happily married couples said their partner’s friends and family rarely interfered with the relationship, compared to just 38% of unhappy couples. Researchers found a huge decline in happiness four years into a marriage with another decline in years seven to eight. In fact, half of all divorces occur in the first seven years of marriage, which gives rise to the popular term ‘the seven-year itch’.
Unhappy marriages are less common than unhappy spouses – three out of four unhappily married adults are married to someone who is happy with the marriage.
Australia’s national annual divorce rate is very, very low.
Marriage continues to be a big success despite the bad publicity, or perhaps because of it.
For the last 200 years the median length of Australian marriages has been between 17 to 20 years. That is a statistical average, which may not represent a skewed population.
The rate of divorce has been falling for decades. Twenty-five years ago, zero point six per cent (0.6%) of our population divorced. Today it is down to 0.26%.
That is 2.6 Australian adults per thousand population divorced in 2007. The last-reported U.S. divorce rate for a calendar year is 0.38% divorces per capita per year, or 0.75% of the US population gets divorced each year.
None are even close to the 50% figure most ‘experts’ keep quoting. What are their agendas?
It is worth remembering that even when a couple divorce, researchers found that unhappily married adults who divorced were no more likely to report emotional & psychological improvements than those who stayed married. In addition, the most unhappy marriages reported the most dramatic turnarounds: among those who rated their marriages as very unhappy, almost 8 out of 10 who avoided divorce were happily married 5 years later. Newlyweds whose marriages are steeped in romantic bliss are particularly prone to divorce, simply because it’s difficult to maintain that kind of emotional intensity. The road to divorce is marked more by a loss of love and affection, not by nascent, nagging interpersonal issues. Ted Houston
A study published in the Journal of Marriage and the Family indicated that divorce is linked to unhappiness and depression. Divorced persons were more likely to be depressed, and those who had divorced more than once were likely to be depressed more frequently. In a study of some 200 people, it was found that divorce left men and women emotionally distraught for an average of seven years, others for decades. Interestingly, the one thing that divorce did not affect was the unhealthy pattern of behaviour that led the couple to divorce in the first place.
3. A lasting union
The smoother the road, the more firmly we should grip the steering wheel. Jerry Apps
Our attachments are so powerful that our brains code them as ‘safety’. Any perceived distance or separation in our close relationships is interpreted as danger because losing the connection to a loved one jeopardizes our sense of security.
Flexibility is the most important trait and time, self-disclosure and listening skills are the most important resources in a lasting union. Larson
In one survey, the top seven reasons given by partners in a long marriage for how their relationship lasted were:
- spouse as best friend
- liking spouse as a person
- marriage as a long term commitment
- marriage as a sacred institution
- agreement on aims and goals
- spouses becoming more interesting to each other
- wanting the relationship to succeed
What is odd about that list is the absence of skill in avoiding the unforgivable.
In my clinical experience long term committed relationships can deal with just about anything but the unforgivable. It requires extraordinary skills to manage and overcome the deeply personal and usually intimate injury of the unforgivable.
Similarly, a good balance of connectedness and individuality is missing from the list, yet self-differentiation is critical to a happily married life.
Struggles over power, control and ownership and rigid adherence to roles early in a relationship are rarely improved by marriage.
A long term committed relationship, straight or gay, married or not, is an impossible arrangement since a healthy one promotes independence in each partner. Consequently, neither can know where the other will be in seven years time as their continued growth is supported by the relationship. Balancing a strong sense of self with a strong sense of connection is the art of almost any long term relationship.
It is necessary to manage the tough times and the impasses by each standing up for themselves AND for the other. This feels like a team working together rather than competing against each other for scarce resources.
Though opposites may attract, in clinical experience a long and happy marriage is more likely when the similarities outweigh the dissimilarities and in particular regarding:
- leisure activities and having fun
- in philosophies of child rearing and
- in sharing a life.
Most of today’s marriages are probably for a lifetime.
That’s not necessarily good news if you think about the consequences of a destructive mismatch in chronic marital unhappiness.
For a first marriage there are some good reasons to wait until you are over 25:
- The part of the brain that does risk assessment isn’t fully formed until 23. Women who marry before 23 have a higher risk of divorce.
- The development of links between brain and spinal cord are not complete until age 25.
There is then little difference between a 25-year old brain and a 75-year old brain!
- Men particularly and increasingly women, are socialized to suppress awareness of shame: ‘the sense of being weak, inadequate, powerless, helpless, impotent, or incompetent’
- Feeling and expressing healthy shame is crucial to risk assessment – it’s a signal of our essential limitations. It is uncomfortable and yet keeps us grounded. It takes a 25+ year old brain and personal maturity to welcome this discomfort into decision making.
- Without vulnerability and shame there would be little sense of privacy or intimacy.
I welcome client couples who, a year into their relationship, have identified differences in the way they process feelings and thoughts. They have understood that small disjunctions now may grow into self-reinforcing negative patterns and they want to get to that problem early.
These couples represent a breath of fresh air in the community. They want to identify and deal with their stuff early. They’re choosy. They are committed and yet able to end a relationship that can not be improved and part as friends before they have more invested in their future.
There is a cultural shift in these guys, who unlike my and my father’s generation of men, these ones are unafraid to ask for help and directions.
The beginnings of all human undertakings are untidy. John Galsworthy
The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing. John Powell
For a second or a step family marriage
- Turning your back on the past, unexamined and unredeemed tends to support old programs getting a re-run – feelings buried alive seldom die.
- Those who forgive easily have a lower resting blood pressure than bigger grudge-holders. Forgive to live longer.
The oft-quoted 65%+ break up statistic is also wrong.
- Step families have a high rate of success in raising healthy children – 80 percent of children of divorce and remarriage do not have behaviour problems compared to 90 percent of children of first marriage families, however
they are a gender trap. Ambiguity of expectations in gender roles and responsibilities are at the root of many issues that blind sight a step family.
- Parents, not the step family make the most difference in the success of step families – this is about respect.
One of our friends, once married now divorced and with grown up kids, has become a serial monogamist. He is a very sexy, intuitive man – the type women come up to when his back is turned to them at a wine bar, tap his shoulder, give him their card and then walk away. He smells good. I bet he tastes good too.
From considerable experience he has now formulated a profiler’s Identikit of his perfect match. This very simple sieve separates the chaff from his grain. She is 60 to 65 kg (for a woman of medium height), half his age plus 10 to 15 years.
The remarkable thing, and why I tell this story, is that he makes sure he never goes with someone who fits the profile and is available. All his relationships start well because of compensating attractions, but slowly lose appeal as he returns to a realization of the enduring truth of the profile.
He remains ‘safely’ uncommitted, yet feels unsafe in the world, gets anxious about the small stuff and craves the safe harbour of a committed relationship. He chooses available women above and below his profile’s line. The ones below he says tend to give too much of themselves and the ones above take too much from him.
With the ones like the story of Goldielocks and the Three Bears who are ‘just right’, he experiences deep emotional and spiritual connection, profound companionship and great sex. He feels safe and belongs there. But still he cleaves to the others who don’t fit the profile, with whom intimacy on all levels is good but not great.
There is something so true about human nature in the self-defeating contradictions of this story.
Same bed and different dreams
Listening to my long term couples talk about their relationship, I get the impression of each watching their own version of the movie of their lives together. One landscape with two maps completely out of whack and the territory yawning beneath them. They may as well speak different languages but believe they are speaking the one. They come together sure they had fully explored their values and were agreed. These are assumptions that will go untested until they hit a turning point some 6 to 8 (and 12 to 16 and 20 to 25) years into the relationship.
Suddenly things are not as they dreamed.
This may not be entirely avoidable because people do change, but they don’t change that much in the years since they turned 25. Defences can and do change but we remain more or less the result of the habits we choose (or claim not to have chosen – which itself is a habit).
Exploring how our partner thinks (discovering their habitual thinking process) is as important if not more important than what they think.
Most marriage problems can be sourced to pre-marriage habits, such as talking about everything BUT the real issues.
Another of our friends married because they fell pregnant after having been lovers for two months. They didn’t explore or understand the likely impact on a new relationship of a child. Abortion was out of the question. Single parenting remained an option. Now, seven years on they are together but struggling with not having explored how (rather than what) each other felt and thought about life, leisure and child rearing beforehand. They mismatch on how to talk about ‘how we talk about our problems’. Relationship issues remain a no talk zone since every time they try to work on solvable problems, the process mismatch and its in built assumptions gets them into trouble. Like many of my 25+ years couples, they will probably seek help when the pattern is entrenched and the nest is empty.
In a conscious relationship and an intentional marriage ‘you are actually safer when you lower your defences than when you keep them engaged’.
Unfortunately, fortresses have a decided disadvantage. They grow stuffy. and after a time you begin to imagine that the only world of any importance lies within the walls. Bruce Shelley
Fatal delays in seeking help for symptoms of heart disease, for example, is primarily due to the use of the defences of suppression and denial – trying to forget something that is causing physical distress such as angina and breathlessness.
Relationships in that kind of analogous distress can misuse these defences to delay seeking help early, when the first problems are easily and often painlessly dealt with.
A failure to welcome shame and vulnerability into the decision making process at the outset of a relationship (see 4. above) rebounds at this time in an inability to accept there is a problem.
Even just naming a problem is powerful, but denial won’t allow what is suppressed to form into its name.
The typical stoicism of this stage in relationship development is that of help-rejecting complaints:
The individual deals with emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by complaining or making repetitious requests for help that disguise covert feelings or hostility or reproach toward others, which are then expressed by rejecting the suggestions, advice, or help that others offer. The complaints or requests may involve physical or psychological symptoms or life problems.
Vulnerability is to intimacy as wheels are to a car.
People become more degenerate, argumentative, agitated, and aggressive at home than at work. Conflicts lie at the core of emotional distress; effective conflict resolution brings resumption of emotional well being.
When we brought couples back four years later to talk again about their major issue in their marriage, 69 percent of the time the couples had the same problems, same issues, and they were talking about them in exactly the same way, so that the instability in the marital arrangement was enormous. Still, 31% of the problems had been solved. Gottman
Many conflicts are about the “conversation that never took place but needed to” a conversation that was fundamentally about emotional connection. Gottman
- Fierce conversation is the theatre of manners in a committed relationship
- Stonewalling, carping and abdicating responsibility are ill-mannered and ineffective
- You can’t be right and married at the same time
- Fighting is sometimes necessary
- At times gridlock is inevitable if you are going for win-win solutions
- Taking out frustration and anger on each other is neither necessary nor inevitable
- Fight fair and hold on to the crucible of intimacy rather than break it up. This takes courage
- One of my new couples quipped that if they had to follow all of these fair fight techniques they would have nothing left to say!
You don’t have to see eye to eye to walk hand in hand. Rick Warren
Healthy anger is a short lived emotion expressed by most animals in response to trespass or an injury to self-esteem. It is a reality check.
That kind of anger pushes the other person out of the zone they have trespassed. It can be like a yell of pain, as if the incursion were a physical wounding to self-esteem.
For example, deceit in an intimate relationship damages the value or esteem of the one deceived. A barbed put-down of valued parts of ourselves is an injury to self esteem. Both are a trespass of the territory of healthy relating. One assumes both people in an intimate relationship would defend that territory.
This gets tricky when the intrusion is by in-laws, work, community or ‘friends’. Yet these are among the most important transactions requiring firm boundaries. Feeling anger about the lack of those limits signals an issue that ought be addressed early in a relationship.
When the events leading to anger were such that any reasonable person would experience anger in response and yet the person ‘injured’ habitually does not, there are conflict avoidance issues to deal with.
This is a bit more challenging than the consequences of discharging anger in a healthy way in the first place. When anger is linked to cruelty, shame or fear, that is another level of complication. The linkage likely arises from experiencing one’s own or a parent’s anger as frightening, cruel or shaming. Or from a view that anger is immoral.
When anger is not expressed in response to a trespass or injury to self-esteem because of shame or fear, it may go cold. Just like a ‘cold case’, some evidence will linger on. If it gets really cold, frozen over, it goes toward the black dog of depression where some people get lost for decades.
If it just stays tepid, as if on the back burner of a cook top, it may be expressed as sulking or the silent treatment or as loss of libido or as unaware forgetfulness.
This then will likely interfere with events about which any reasonable person would observe no trespass or injury to self-esteem yet, because of the backlog of unexpressed anger, the event becomes an ‘issue’ to the person carrying the old anger.
As if trying one more time to resolve the earlier injury, symbolically in this latest triggering event. It is the likely fuel of chronic issues recycled in repetitive arguments.
Very old anger held for many years is like a slush fund that periodically erupts when a small additional deposit is made to the fund. It sounds like a reaction far in excess of what is called for by the actual event.
The difference between love and lust is that in love you want what is best for the other person. In lust, you just want the other person.
Emotional intimacy and physical intimacy are different and related, two limbs on the same tree. With only one at play, the tree grows lopsided and is more likely to fall under stress.
Consensual sex is good for a committed relationship. Use it or lose it applies to both mind and to body. There is a dual mechanism in the brain for sexual arousal and sexual inhibition. What activates either area varies between people and cultures.
Inhibition can become a physiological habit as much as arousal. Sexless marriages (defined by some as sex less than 10 times a year) are not that difficult to maintain if the inhibition circuit has kicked in. A mismatch in desire, however, is difficult and a cause of considerable grief.
Sex maintains a saving kindness and sensitivity requiring each to be tender, vulnerable and actively loving – giving whatever it takes for the other’s sexual happiness and not necessarily at the same time or in the same way.
Increasing intimacy tends to come with age and maturity. Most of our relationships begin with sex and before we have developed a friendship with ourselves or with our partners. A healthy pattern can nevertheless be practiced using a conscious, self-validating sexual intimacy.
Sexual intimacy smoothes out the ups and downs of a long relationship; offers a home in each other’s arms; makes peace; enlivens the soul and wakes us up to our differences and to our wants as they change over time.
However, sexual dysfunction is the norm, not the exception.
NORC’s National Health and Social Life Survey found more than 50% of those studied reported sexual problems in the previous year. Of course, since men have rarely gone to the doctor with a sexual problem one wonders about this kind of statistic: do women have a problem because their partner says so or because they themselves say so and it’s causing them distress?
Significantly more people suffer with what Schnarch calls tepid sex – functional, but not satisfying. Some people in long term relationships expect to negotiate sex with few or no words. Direct references to sexual behaviours can then be considered crude or improper.
I meet quite a few couples who tell me they have not had sex for years and where no sex has become the norm for them and others in their age group. The brain has dual sexual channels (stereo) – one for arousal and one for inhibition. To restart sexual intimacy after a long absence one has to develop psychological intimacy first and then BOTH reduce the information in the inhibitory channel and increase that in the arousal channel.
I recently worked with a long term couple who had not had sex together in fifteen years. Both wanted it but they had tried and failed so many times that they had given up. By a slow process of unravelling the inhibitions that supported sexlessness, many based around painful habits of intimate criticism, they returned to beautiful sex once a week. Even I was amazed that it could be done after so long a hiatus.
The first comprehensive national survey of sexual attitudes, behaviours and problems among older adults in the United States has found that most people ages 57 to 85 think of sexuality as an important part of life and that the frequency of sexual activity, for those who are active, declines only slightly from the 50s to the early 70s. Data from the University of Chicago’s National Social Life, Health and Aging Project (NSHAP), presented in the August 23, 2007, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (2007), 357(8): 762-774, showed that many men and women remain sexually active – participating in vaginal intercourse, oral sex and masturbation – well into their 70s and 80s. Source
Whilst 90% of men may climax with intercourse alone, 90% of women climax when more than two forms of stimulation are enjoyed as well as intercourse.
The key to female arousal seems rather to be deep relaxation and a lack of anxiety, with direct sensory input from the genitals playing a less critical role.
Play with each other in both body and mind.
Sexiness wears thin after a while and beauty fades, but to be married to a man who makes you laugh every day, ah, now that’s a real treat. Joanne Woodward
My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met. Rodney Dangerfield
How regular and in what form should we have sex? Do you have to be in the mood? Is sex without desire a form of faking it? Should it be spontaneous?
Frank Pittman, who is no slouch in offering opinions in his book ‘Grow Up!’ suggests as often as desired by the one with the greater interest BUT in the manner agreeable to the one least interested. There is enough room in that opinion for wide interpretation and to include just being beside your partner as they pleasure themselves. And it is a smart opinion since the person with the least sexual desire controls the sexual relationship anyway.
In this context it can be okay to have sex without desire provided there is no hurt, abuse or coercion. Many people experience arousal developing after they start.
However, the not uncommon confusions between affection and sex; power and love; and in situations where sex is the only method of personal stress management or of marital problem solving (we had it last night so the problem must be solved); or where one suffers chronic pain or illness, leads me to question simplistic expert opinion. One could just be upgrading tepid sex for agreeable sex, which for some may even be an improvement.
You have to find your own way of sharing sensuality and sexuality and of growing up around power, love, sex and affection. Dialogue is always good. Be prepared to change, especially after children, after major life events, accident or illness.
Where we grieve the losses inherent in change, we can also reach deep into a well of humility and shared vulnerability.
When either partner is chronically dissatisfied with sex and affection, sex is then a source of the greatest misery for all those affected. Sometimes that includes the kids who are rightly unaware of the sexual misery of their parent’s marriage. Sometimes one of the kids can be allied by a disgruntled parent seeking to isolate or punish their partner. This is clearly dangerous to the child’s adult adjustment and it forms a sick kind of glue that keeps a family together around the core of a dead marriage.
Schnarch’s Resurrecting Sex and Dr Pam Sturr’s Naughty Tricks and Sexy Tips (2004) are written for anyone who’s ever been disappointed with sex. Books like those can shift this misery to delight IF you collaborate.
If you compete in the bedroom, you’re in a lot of trouble already. Get help!
Use your brain and body or lose it
The body’s largest sex organ is the brain.
It’s ability to imagine, fantasize, to frame and to communicate wants and desires, flexibly within committed intimate relationship, beats anything one can find in uncommitted or recreational sex. However, if you can’t say or won’t hear this wealth in the relationship with intimate and delicious detail, then variety will tend to flirt with your mind from outside the relationship.
Today we assume everyone knows about sex but in clinical experience, many sane and healthy people remain almost completely out of touch with their bodies and with body sensations. They can not fully know what is the best fit for them at the time, without that awareness. That lack of body awareness is usually long standing, observable in school children who are literally unable to to move their feet on command in a movement class. Observed in adults who ignore crippling pain in their bodies and develop repetition strain injuries.
One result of this lack of bodily self-respect is a kind of disembodied sex. It may then be given as a ‘mercy f–k’ or as a ‘truck stop’. Or it may be used as a weapon or to control the other’s behaviour. Like the husband who expected his partner to be nice to him all day, prepare great meals and keep the kids quiet before he might feel ready to consider sex. And how often does that happen? About once a month, she replies, plaintively.
Some people claim that marriage interferes with romance. There’s not doubt about it. Anytime you have a romance, your wife is bound to interfere. Groucho Marx
And then there’s ‘the lifestyle’. Occasionally I work with a couple who have wandered into swinging without considering the implications and have ended up in a mess. It involves about 6% of the adult population according to evidence in a December 2005 Montreal swinger’s club case.
‘Lifestyle’ rules like ‘be friendly and warm with your swing partners but understand that there is a type of emotional involvement, which is properly reserved for a spouse’, are typical. From my point of view they exhibit a shallow comprehension of the nuances, complexity and the raw simplicity of human coupling, propinquity and power.
Don’t get stuck in gender roles
There are intelligent, heart-wrenching and at times soap box monologues about sex and marriage from writer Julia Grey and her often feisty readers. She concludes,
We all want Love, which we have redefined toward an unsustainable ideal, and this is the hard place: when we feel we aren’t getting Love, we seek Power, which the culture has restructured in ways none of us can any longer confidently use. There are the secrets we’re afraid to voice, dissatisfactions we don’t verbalize for fear of slaughtering your ego or making ourselves less desirable – or more disposable.
Women might bitch and moan day and night about everything else in their lives, yet never confess the most essential things, the things their lovers really need to know. Still, we can sometimes work it out. With effort and introspection we can come to feel content enough to let go of desperate striving and angry scrambling for ascendancy and concentrate instead on controlling the one thing we can ever really have power over: ourselves.
As a contrast Haltzman, in secrets of married men observes,
85% of the variance in whether a marriage succeeds or fails is based on the husband’s actions and attitude. John Gottman discovered that successful marriages involve husbands who resist immediate negative reactions to their wives’ concerns. These men increase the odds of having a happy marriage by allowing themselves to accept the influence of their spouse.
When my wife asks me to do something, almost anything, my initial reaction used to be annoyance because I have lots of work to do, lots of things to do around the house, and lots of other bullshit reasons why not. However, most of what she asks me to do is actually quite reasonable, usually my responsibility, and I probably will end up doing it anyway. So, now I’ve trained myself to say ‘yes’ or ‘no problem’ as my initial response. This has contributed to less arguing and a better relationship.
Victims sometimes feel that when they are married or involved with someone for a long time, they somehow gain ownership over each other. This is not the case. Being married to someone does not mean that individually spouses do not own their own bodies. Individuals can form a union, however, they are still individuals. Many victims look for reasons to defend and protect their spouses to avoid embarrassment, and interference by their families and authorities. Many of the victims of this type of rape do not end the relationship, and do not remove themselves from the household that they share with their attacker.
I am aware of another, more slippery beast – one that can be nuanced to look like anything other than forced or coerced intercourse.
For example, being hard on the kids or overspending until the unwilling partner ‘agrees’ to having sex.
Some couples carry a belief that intercourse is a conjugal right or that one’s sexual happiness is the nonreciprocal duty of their partner. Sometimes this has a religious derivation but mostly their unwelcome compliance is induced by fear and duress.
It is not consent when one party increases pressure for sex with sulks, moodiness, bad temper, spending, threats of straying or of self-harm. Nor by filling the house with a palpable tension that affects everyone until the sexual tension is relieved by their partner.
When I have confronted couples with their compromised consent, I rarely meet a simple, one dimensional problem. It’s not only in the sexual area that the couple use power over a problem.
With money and in-laws I may find the same process alongside the sexual problem.
Whether you know it or not, like it or lump it, you marry a family (its history, culture and its genes). They are carried, often asleep in your beloved’s habits. Yours and theirs, agreed or not, will grow your family and your kids, in which ever combinations you choose to know and meld them or not.
Inconsistent parenting styles, conflicts in philosophies of child rearing and poor boundaries between generations (e.g. secretly hoping one of the kids will be your confidant as one of your parents had relied on you) arise from differences in family histories and temperaments. Ignored, they can make the task of child rearing and problem solving a living hell for all those affected. Respected and managed consciously and intentionally, the differences will nourish responsible, respectful and resilient kids who celebrate difference as well as sameness and who have a range of options to choose from for a happy and fulfilling life.
Infidelity is most likely to occur in the first three years of marriage or in the last year of the marriage.
In any one year 95% of marriages are monogamous.
90% of first time divorces may involve emotional, sexual or financial infidelity.
Of course those are more damn statistics and usefulness depends on what is meant by infidelity and monogamy. If you want to know, ask your partner, preferably before you’re in too deep.
12. Personality traits
The better acquainted a couple is before marriage the higher the marital satisfaction. Larson
Larson outlines the pre-marriage traits that predict marital satisfaction and dissatisfaction. He rates flexibility as the most important trait and time, self-disclosure and listening skills as the most important resources.
If you are considering having children, I cannot recommend committing to a long term relationship when either of you have a moderate to severe narcissistic personality disorder or struggle with borderline personality disorder without initial and ongoing professional help.
If you are often attracted to these patterns of behaviour in others you may have some serious work to do on yourself. We are all a bit narcissistic, self-absorbed if you like, but the disordered form of it predictably damages children. From this it travels inexorably to the next generation.
13. Job description
Half our mistakes in life arise from feeling where we ought to think, and thinking where we ought to feel. John Churton Collins
What do you already know about your relationship that you are going to find out in a year?
Could you now think about a job description for your relationship? Write it as concretely as possible, listing what is expected of you and your partner. Then study each other’s lists and question the expectations stated or implied. Those that cannot be fulfilled in real life or are likely to lead to disappointment are probably myths.
Here are some marital myths:
- the key to a long relationship is working out all your problems
- the key is good luck and romantic love
- marriage will make my problems go away
- a happy marriage requires total trust and honesty
- people let it all hang out in a happy marriage
- my marriage will be easy
- marriage is hard work
- it will change things
- my mate will be perfect and satisfy all my needs
- having children will bring us closer together.
Some of these may seem true to you. In fact each is a flawed expectation in the way it is written. For example, ‘it will change things’ – marriage in and of itself will not necessarily change anything and it may change everything.
Try writing a job description that is deliberately wrong headed such as, when I’m married my partner will be able to read my mind and know everything that is going on in my life; I will never need to question her/his motives because s/he will be totally honest and open with me all the time; I will be able to trust her in everything and everywhere.
If you really let yourself go in doing this it can be edgy, funny and revealing.