The Decline in Marital Success – Turn it Around
We are in interesting times, as marriage models have continued to shift, leaving men and women to contend with the challenge of ever-changing roles and expectations. The outlook seems to be grim, with as many as ⅔ of recent marriages expected to end in divorce (The State of Our Unions, 2007). There is an interesting dichotomy at play here. On one hand, we are more capable than ever to have the most satisfying marriages, and on the other hand this flexibility of roles is battling with remnants of the traditional expectations of a man and woman.
The typical modern marriage model is called a Self-Expressive marriage. It is one that is based predominantly on self-centered satisfaction or selfishness. Individuals in this type of marital arrangement are principally asking what they will get from the marriage, rather than what they can give. The Self-Expressive marriage, to me, is an “If” marriage. Individuals give if their partner does first, or quickly reciprocates after a gift. What results is two individuals that wait for their partner to act first, which (in time) occurs less and less. With the decrease in conditional or unconditional gifts of love, the married couple becomes distant, emotionally and physically. At this point, other options become more and more enticing.
What the layperson knows and thinks of marriage is quite damaging, to their spouse and themselves. Many marriages impose significant costs on the woman while granting significant advantages for the man. The idea that men are dragged, unwillingly, to the altar is a bit absurd when it is men that (often) present a false representation of what the future relationship will look like, during the courtship. In time, the wife becomes the primary doer in the household, as the man can relax. It is of no surprise that countless men are taken completely by surprise, not realizing the extent to their wife’s unhappiness when she indicates that she wants out. By the time she has indicated it was over, she had already been convinced of this reality for many months.
I write this article because of the incredible freedom we have to love in this modern age, and it is absurd to give up on the opportunities that are truly at our disposal. If we give up the selfish tendencies and give in to externally directed compassionate ones, the possibility would become the reality. We have to give up the cultural traditions that only hold us back and create a new model of marriage, a marriage of externally directed efforts. I want every couple to experience the constant pleasure of an emotional release, by giving love to their partner. It all starts by each partner deciding to communicate.
We can focus incessantly on how to communicate, but what do we actually see in countless modern marriages? We see the refusal to communicate about anything other than issues that are on the surface. Individuals don’t get to this point overnight, and staying there is a major red flag and warning sign of possible divorce. Partners stop communicating because they began using unhealthy conflict resolution techniques. They resorted to listening to their pride, rather than listening to their heart. Much of the recommended methods of communication stem from treating each other as if they were their favorite person on the planet. Unfortunately, many realize that their partner is not going anywhere, and they begin taking that for granted, giving negativity instead of love.
I recommend that couples build their Emotional Intelligence (E-IQ) and then use a structured foundation of communication that will keep their relationship in healthy territory. While many authors and researchers now incorporate Emotional Intelligence, I tend to look to Daniel Goleman’s five principles from his 1995 book Emotional Intelligence. They are:
Self-Awareness – Being able to recognize and be aware of your emotions. Those that are self-aware are capable of seeing themselves in an unbiased manner, and seeing the impact that their expressed emotions have on others.
Self-Regulation – This skill is incredibly in deficit nowadays. It is inconceivable, for a lot of reasons for an individual to receive verbal insult and not reciprocate in retaliation. It is seen as the proper defense for one to retaliate, and not doing so supposedly implies that you are taken advantage, walked all over, weak or a beta male/female. This characterization is wrong.
Internal Motivation – This lends the power that an individual needs to improve themselves, mastering these skills. An internally motivated individual is capable of brushing aside the emotional hijacking from the Lymbic System, doing so with an empowered logical mind.
Empathy – Are you able to feel what others feel? Well then, skills in empathy are primarily for informational purposes. Empathy is not sympathy, although both are necessary. Empathy is just knowing what another person is going through. Being able to empathize with others makes it incredibly easier not to take something personally. If you see your romantic partner as in pain when they give a verbal insult versus seeing them as giving the verbal insult out of an internal desire to hurt you, you are going to be able to immediately de-escalate any situation and restrict your responses to healthier ones. You need empathy, no matter how heinous the level of emotional abuse.
Social Skills – This skill is all about regulating the moods of other individuals. Remember that in the movie The Matrix, Neo (Keanu Reeves) finally gained confidence and believed he was “the one.” As soon as this happened, his face turned emotionless, and he was able to manipulate the fabric of reality, being able to slow down bullets that were being fired at him, and even pick them out of the air, before forcing them to all fall to the ground. Those that master Emotional Intelligence can see the emotional buttons of others and the strings that are attached to the limbs and muscles of one’s mouth, being able to navigate any scenario to stay on the path of utter bliss.
Whether in a conflict or not, the same communication strategies must be employed. This keeps consistency in the marriage and also helps stave off the urge to give negativity, or communicate in an unhealthy manner by stonewalling or giving a cold shoulder. Every communicative effort is equally valuable, yielding information that we can use to navigate better the marriage. I recommend a few simple methods to employ, being:
Validation: This is just letting your partner know that they were heard and understood. It does not matter what they are saying (positive or negative), it is vital for them to be received.
Mirroring: Paraphrase what your partner says. It is very common to end the paraphrase by asking if you understood and relayed it back to them correctly. If you are tired of misunderstanding each other, then this is a technique that can drastically reduce conflict potential.
Layer: When your partner says something, and they make a pause to allow you to respond, add something to the conversation. If you just nod and say mumble, then your partner will not feel as if their communicative effort is valuable to you. You do not have to agree with what you each other say, but if you do disagree, do it respectfully.
Square: Square your shoulders with your partner, as if you were playing hockey (offense – defense). It is incredibly difficult to look away when your body is facing your partner. If you and your partner are on the couch, then you need to turn your body towards them, not just your head.
Disclosure: Stop talking about only surface-level issues. I don’t want you to force an answer out of your partner, either. It might be you that re-invigorates the intimacy in the relationship by taking communication to a deeper level, at least initially. Confide in your partner and do it without fear of judgment. Relationships degraded because partners became hostile, instead of inviting. It may be a bit challenging at first, but you must stay the course.
When you employ all of these methods, you can take your relationship far beyond what you ever considered imaginable. Give up on what others think is right for you and what culture dictates. Relationship success is at your fingertips, and the costs or benefits are a direct result of what you do. Every relationship can become blissful by unconditional gifts of love, and engendered intimacy.
National Marriage Project (2007). The State of Our Unions. New Jersey: Rutgers University
Goleman, D. (1998). Working with Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam.