Working with so many couples for so long, I have seen that there are many predictors of a relationship's future. I know that relationships are more likely to fall apart in direct proportion to the individual partners' unwillingness to look into themselves, for example. When couples come with a "just fix the other one and all will be well" attitude, I know we're in for a long haul uphill!
I was interested, therefore, when I read a blog posting from The Gottman Institute about their research into the variables predicting relationship success of failure. They wrote on their blog here that:
"The single most powerful predictor of divorce in this study was the husband's disappointment with the marriage, which, at the time of their interview, was significantly correlated with both his own and his wife's marital unhappiness, his belligerence towards his wife, and his wife's contempt and anger towards him."
Letting unhappiness and anger go unchecked and unresolved are clear indicators that things are on a downhill slide. You may even be giving them a push! And, yet, in my experience, couples are more interested in justifying their anger at their partners than in getting the relationship help to resolve it early. They put it off until the question they come to me with is "Can this marriage/relationship be saved?"
You cannot let it go that long without damage. It's like driving your car on a flat tire for too long: you'll damage the rim, the wheel, the frame, the suspension, and the alignment...often irreparably. In fact, we treat our cars better than our relationships often!
If there is unresolved anger for either one of you, this needs attention. Sure, the Gottman blog put "the husband's disappointment with the marriage" as the first item, but notice that it is correlated with his belligerence and his wife's contempt and anger. It takes two to puncture the wheels and bend the frame of a marriage. Yes, either one of those things would be enough to create unrest, and feelings of lack of safety, trust and respect. They were reporting on their findings from interviewing fifty-two married couples.
I think willingness to get relationship help when problems arise is also a predictor of survival. Those fifty-two couples were likely among the majority of couples who wait far too long to get the relationship help they need. Why do they do that? Some folks:
- think it is a weakness to get help for their relationship
- think they should be able to figure things out on their own
- prefer to complain to their friends than work on the relationship
- don't think (...way down deep, that is!) that they deserve a healthy, mutually supportive, happy relationship
- don't want to take responsibility for their part in what's going on
- don't want to "air their dirty linen" in front of other people
- really just want to prove that their partner is so difficult and such a waste of time that they are justified in leaving
- don't care about themselves enough to stop the pain, blame, and shame
Of course, some folks say it is about the money it costs, but, that's usually a cover-up for the list above. It's an excuse people will buy for why they are constantly in pain, frustrated, hurt, or worse, complaining about their relationships! If you want your relationship to work, you'll make getting the help you need a priority, especially if you have children who are watching, listening and learning how to have a relationship!
So, contempt, anger, belligerence and disappointment are the indicators that your relationship needs attention. That surely seems true in my experience, personally and professionally. How about yours?
The fact is that you don't need to put a relationship up on the hoist to realize that things need fixing! You know because the ride is bumpy, unpredictable, and often unreliable.
Now, if you're really just waiting to kick the vehicle to the curb, put it up on blocks, or sell it to the highest bidder, do nothing.
But, if you recognize that the wear and tear on your relationship is endangering its ability to stay up and running, and you want it for the long haul, it's clearly time to get the relationship help you need. Don't let anything on that list above stop you from immediately getting relationship help , IF you want your relationship to have the best chance of staying on the road and going the distance.
Rhoberta Shaler, PhD, The Relationship Help Doctor, is available to work with you in-person at The Optimize Center in Escondido, CA, or online through Skype audio or video. CLICK HERE for more information.