Do you wonder how your marriage stacks up, what the strengths and weaknesses are? One way to tell is to ask yourself some pointed questions that assess different aspects of it.
This is the second installment of the story of Jared and Janine, whose marriage had so many fatal flaws that no matter how much couple therapy they had, I didn’t believe it would have been a success.
In the first installment, I talked about the first four fatal flaws in this doomed marriage. We’ll continue now with the rest of Jared and Janine’s red-alarm issues.
Issue Number Five: She began asserting her dominance because it was “her” house.
Power and control issues are common in the first few years of marriage. It becomes a problem if you and your partner cannot negotiate with each other to turn down the heat on major power disagreements within the first few years.
We would all be hard-pressed to find a relationship in which there were not struggles over who gets their way, whether it is about how to fold undershirts or how often to eat out at a restaurant. But these fights should subside after a while, or you should learn to ignore your differences on minor matters.
Marriage researcher Dr. John Gottman has said that every marriage will have some insoluble issues. Couples have to learn to create a lot of happiness and connection, and to downplay the significance of minor disagreements. I once worked with a couple that was having huge fights 10 years into the marriage because the husband could not learn to close kitchen cupboard doors. In most respects, he was a very likeable guy, a hard worker, responsible, and a good parent.
In a case like that, when you are fighting for decades over something relatively inconsequential, the fighting is a symptom of much deeper problems within the marriage. The open cupboard doors become an excuse not to be emotionally intimate.
Issue Number Six: She said a lot of emotionally abusive things.
Quick to anger and slow to forgive should be a red flag as you are considering marriage. Agreeableness is one of the primary personality attributes that lead to a happy marriage. As I have written before, try to not let lust blind you to the personality characteristics of the person you are thinking of partnering with.
In psychological research, structural analyses have repeatedly shown five important factors that sum up personality. To remember them, think of the word OCEAN.
“O” stands for openness to experience, which describes the breadth, depth, originality, and complexity of an individual’s mental and experiential life.
“C” stands for conscientiousness, which describes socially prescribed impulse control that facilitates task-based and goal-directed behavior, such as thinking before acting, delaying gratification, following norms and rules, and planning, organizing, and prioritizing tasks.
“E” stands for extroversion, which implies an energetic approach to the social and material world and includes traits such as sociability, activity, assertiveness, and positive emotionality.
“A” stands for agreeableness, which contrasts prosocial and communal orientation toward others with antagonism and includes traits such as altruism, tender-mindedness, trust, and modesty.
“N” stands for neuroticism, which indicates individual differences in the extent to which a person perceives and experiences the world as threatening, problematic, and distressing.
Picking a partner who is neurotic and disagreeable has been shown to lead to marital unhappiness.
Issue Number Seven: It was clear their sexual recipes were incompatible
Dr. Sam Hamburg, author of the book “Will Our Love Last?” considers sexual incompatibility one of the primary reasons not to marry a person, even if you seem like a good fit in many other way.
This makes a huge amount of sense. The majority of committed people are assuming marriage will be monogamous. (Not to say that monogamy is easy, but that is still the most common expectation.) If you love baseball and your partner doesn’t, you can go to baseball games with someone else. If your passion is SCUBA diving and your partner hates it, you can find a vacation that provides SCUBA for you and other activities your partner does like.
If you think about staying emotionally connected for the long term, a disconnect in sexual drive often is a fatal flaw for a marriage because most people are not willing to have an open marriage. But take note, recent statistics indicate that perhaps 25 percent of people might be open to consensual nonmonogamy. If this describes both you and your prospective partner, then sexual incompatibilities may not be a dealbreaker.
Issue Number Eight: Threatening unilateral action on a joint issue.
Despite the fact that their relationship was rocky, Janine insisted that she wanted to have another child. When Jared said no, that that seemed like a terrible idea, she told him that she was going to have another child no matter what he said, even if she had to use artificial insemination.
How many of you are astounded by the narcissism of this threat? Janine is so single-minded that she doesn’t even think of what the consequences might be for a child conceived against the wishes of his or her second parent?
If you are being squeezed to make a big choice like this against your will, drag your partner to a mediator or a couple counselor. Do not capitulate on an issue that will have long term, life altering consequences.
Issue Number Nine: Despite seeing five marriage counselors, they couldn’t stop fighting.
I’m in favor of seeing marriage counselors, of course. You might see a few, because each therapist will have his or her strengths and weaknesses. But if a long series of couple counselors cannot make any headway in solving your problems, and if there is no progress in learning how to repair the wounds you have caused each other, and if one or both of you do not feel any attachment and love for the other person, it’s likely that you are in a fatally flawed marriage.
It is painful to give up. It feels like failure. But people make mistakes. Try to have some self-compassion. Try to look carefully at the mistakes you have made. That way, you will not repeat them in your next relationship.
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