It’s true what they say, we don’t know what we don’t know. I have to believe these top five relationship fails often develop out of lack of knowledge. Not knowing better, not realizing the consequences, not understanding there’s a better way.
Most likely, these patterns are born out of desperation and maintained out of an unhealthy sense of normalcy. In order for change to occur, you must first understand that change is necessary. You need the objectivity to see the dysfunction in your very own home.
While objectivity is one of the benefits of therapy, you needn’t wait for your first session to step back and gain some clarity on what it is that is wrong and how it is that you can start to fix it. If you’re reading this blog, you’re already on the path to achieving those goals, so give yourself a pat on the back.
Alright then. Let’s take a look at the top five red flags I believe to be most problematic in marriages today.1. Enmeshment – Yes, children are little miracles and the future of our world. But, there is a time and place for everything and one place children do not belong is in your bed. I understand, this habit likely came out of desperation for sleep. Whether you struggled with a colicky baby or your toddler suffered from night terrors, allowing children to sleep in bed with the two of you started out of occasional necessity. Unfortunately, children are manipulative in the sense that they understand the inner workings of their parents and know how to get what they want. I’m sure sleeping with you does make them feel safe, relaxed, comfortable, etc. but it does nothing for the relationship you’ll be left with when they move on with their own lives – your marriage. Most definitely this is a tough habit to break and behavioral modification for all involved will be necessary. But change must occur and the sooner the better. Look at it this way, you want a healthy family. In order to meet that ideal a few things must happen: the parents need to be in a loving, connected relationship, the children need to develop autonomy, and healthy boundaries need to exist for each family member. Allowing children to sleep in the marital bed results in numerous consequences, some of which include lack of physical intimacy between parents, feelings of rejection or as though the child is chosen over the spouse (it’s a common misconception that children should come first but we can debate this point another time), sexual frustration, resentment, enmeshment of child and parent, codependency, the list literally goes on and on. So, do yourself and your little one a favor and move them back into that big kid bed they were so proud of when it first arrived in the home.
2. Banishment – Now that the kids are in the room they belong, let’s let the spouse who was previously banished from bedroom return. Think back to the first time you learned your sweet little old grandparents sleep in separate beds. I bet you thought, ‘They do what? Why? That’s terrible. I’m never going to let that happen in my marriage.’ Uh huh. And look at you now. But that’s okay. We’re not going to judge or get all worked up. We’re just going to fix it. First let’s consider the desperation the banishment was born out of, because that still needs to be addressed, but in a healthier, more direct way. Were you desperate for love and affection that wasn’t being received? Were you self-sabotaging because you felt the passion start to wane and you didn’t want to be the one that got hurt? Were you silently begging for your spouse to pursue you to no avail? Whatever the reason was or is, identify it and commit to working through it with your partner. This would be a great topic to address in couples therapy, especially if your communication skills haven’t been the greatest in a while. Ultimately, sleeping separately sends the message that your spouse isn’t wanted, is only a matter of convenience, and isn’t worth fighting for. Prove those messages wrong by getting back in bed together.
3. Withholding – No, we’re not talking money. We’re talking sex. If you could see the hurt on faces of clients sitting in my office who have been repeatedly denied sex from their partner, you would never even think to implement this strategy in your marriage. And it happens all too often. Maybe your spouse has a higher libido and you feel you can never keep up. Maybe you’ve gained a little weight and are feeling super self-conscious. Maybe over the course of your marriage you’ve had some negative sexual experiences together that have turned you off. Whatever the reason behind the refusal to meet the sexual needs of your partner, please understand not having sex is not really a viable option if you expect longevity out of your relationship. I urge you, seek therapy. There is nothing wrong with asking for help about whatever sexual issue you are facing. There is something wrong with withholding this very physical need from the one you claim to love. Doing so unfortunately opens the door to so many other issues, issues I promise you don’t want plaguing your marriage. Know it’s never too late to look at your spouse and say, I’ve been wrong, but I’m committed to changing, together. Oh, the happiness the two of you can find after admitting that truth.
4. Ultimatum – I’m sure this one’s not a shocker. The number of times ultimatums are given in relationships each day would astonish you. This has unfortunately become the norm in our society. Oh, you don’t want to play by my rules? Fine, I’ll just replace you. It’s so, so sad. Sure, threatening divorce likely comes out of desperation for not being heard, loved, respected, etc. but it truly serves no purpose. Think about it. Think about the last ultimatum you gave your spouse. What was the reason and what did it accomplish? If you’re being honest with yourself you probably admitted it didn’t do much. If anything it might have temporarily settled a fight or increased whatever behavior you were seeking from your spouse, but the consequences of threatening each other far outweigh the momentary gains. The real outcomes of using the d-word include a sense of insecurity in the relationship, a realization that till death do us part was just an obligatory statement, and a painful severing of the idea that unconditional love exists between the two of you. Ultimatums result in bitterness, anger, and something you probably wouldn’t have thought of and likely don’t want – your spouse contemplating what life would look like without you. So, instead of speaking out of frustration, acknowledge the two of you have issues but assure your partner you’re in it for the long haul and are willing to do your part to improve things.
5. Symbolism – As a marriage therapist, it pains me to see couples not wearing their wedding rings and hear the dreadful details of that last moment it was worn. I understand you might be in a place of uncertainty. You may not even be fully convinced you want the marriage to work. But until you know for absolute certainty, keep the rings on. I know you’re trying to make an emphatic statement to your spouse that you’re at the end of your rope and barely hanging on by a thread. Yes, they need to understand where you are emotionally. However, there are better ways to send that message that wouldn’t involve simultaneously giving the message to everyone else that your marriage is on the rocks and that you are extremely vulnerable. While we may not want to admit it, there are many people in our lives waiting for that door to crack open ever so slightly so they can push their way through, pretending to be a shoulder to cry on, all the while secretly hoping for divorce to make you available. Keeping your ring on tells your spouse and those around you are taken, committed, off the market.
Okay. So now you know my version of the top five relationship fails as seen from a millennial marriage therapist. If you’re currently experiencing one or all of these, don’t panic. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or your relationship is doomed. It just means you’re human and you’ve made some mistakes in your marriage. Luckily, it’s not too late to seek change.
I encourage you to be honest with yourself and your spouse if you’ve fallen into one of these unhealthy patterns and determine together the best course of action to breathe new life into your relationship. If you’re ready to take that next step of couples counseling, click on over to my appointment request page. I look forward to helping you along the way.