Has anyone ever created a foolproof formula for a ‘perfect’ marriage?
If they did, all we’d have to do is assemble the right ingredients, follow the formula steps like a recipe and “Voilà!” we’d go straight to ‘happily ever after’, with carbon-copied marriages all across the globe.
As we all know, marriages are not that simple – or that boring. They are rich and complex. They have ups and downs, twists and turns and they come in all shapes and sizes. They don’t even have to be formal. For many, the term applies to the committed and long-term union between two loving adults.
Why do people get married?
Most people get married for love, some for financial or social status, some because it reflects their ideal future and others because they believe it is the ‘right thing to do’. These reasons are all fine if both partners share them and have similar expectations. However, misunderstandings in these areas can lead to relationship breakdowns if not addressed early. A number of other factors can also have a detrimental effect on relationships.
What are the warning signs?
1. Poor communication
Frequent arguments are an indicator that something is wrong, especially if they are over little things like washing the dishes. They often mean that there are deeper issues that haven’t been addressed.
Negative or derogatory talk is not healthy. Being humiliated or judged by a partner is hurtful and may lead to one person being afraid to talk openly or avoiding some subjects. Over time it will also erode feelings of self-worth and confidence.
Being given the ‘silent treatment’ is a manipulative form of emotional abuse, giving one person a sense of power over the other. If a couple has stopped talking altogether it can mean that they have given up trying to repair the relationship.
2. Incompatible differences
Our beliefs and behaviours are largely influenced by how we were brought up and the behaviours of those around us. For couples with similar backgrounds, this may not cause many issues. However, when partners come from different backgrounds they come into the marriage with a range of differing or even conflicting belief systems stemming from factors like:
- Family size and composition
- Financial and social status.
These can have a dramatic effect on expectations in areas such as parenting, budgeting, careers and much more. Couples need to be able to discuss these subjects openly, to maintain respect for each other and to be willing to compromise if needed.
3. Lack of trust
It is ok to expect some privacy and autonomy within a relationship, but keeping things secret from each other is not a good sign.
Financial infidelity is when one person hides their spending habits from the other. They may assume full control of the finances in order to protect their secrets.
Having an affair or being obsessed with the belief that the other person is having an affair both indicate a breach of trust and unhappiness within the current relationship.
Stress can put a huge strain on any relationship. Financial worries, pressure at work, managing the household or long-term health problems can all take their toll. It is important for couples to discuss their concerns and avoid taking their frustration and anger out on each other.
Significant changes in the patterns of sex life can be signs of a deeper relationship problem if they upset one or both partners. This could include changes in frequency, levels of intimacy, preferred positions and also in libido.
Empathic failure happens when one partner turns to the other for help or emotional support, tries to initiate something fun or wants to share something important and they don’t get a positive response. If this is a regular occurrence, the first person can end up feeling unloved, ignored, misunderstood or rejected and the relationship can fracture very easily.
6. Unequal role status
In a codependent relationship, one partner foregoes their own needs to meet the needs of the other -often at the expense of their own mental, emotional, and physical health. In these situations, the non-dominant partner may gradually lose their sense of identity and independence, relying on the other for approval and decision-making.
Other signs of codependency include:
- Wanting to change the other person. Not loving them for who they are.
- Recognising the negative behaviours but staying in the relationship despite them.
- Being unable to find fulfilment outside the relationship.
- Falsely believing the other person or the situation will change.
In some cases, the dominant partner may not be aware of the effects of their behaviour; believing it to be normal. Sometimes, though, they can deliberately be emotionally abusive – withholding affection or consciously undermining the other person.
7. Other negative behaviours
Some forms of negative behaviour can be extremely destructive to a relationship and to the mental and physical health of the whole household. This includes:
- Violence and abuse
- Mental health conditions (including personality disorders, depression and anxiety).
In these cases, the deeper issues need to be addressed before the relationship can begin to heal.
How marriage counselling can help
Marriage (or relationship) counselling can benefit couples in many ways. Most people see it as a form of crisis therapy when relationships are on the verge of breaking down completely. While this is certainly one area where counsellors can help, they can also work with couples prior to marriage or at any stage of the relationship.
During counselling sessions, couples are encouraged to share their concerns, feelings and goals in a supportive and non-judgemental environment. A counsellor won’t tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. Instead, they will help you both step back from the situation and see the bigger picture before finding constructive ways to move forward.
As in all other areas of life, identifying problem areas in relationships and dealing with them before they get out of hand is a great way to keep them healthy and functioning well for years to come.