Identifying Problems in Marital Relationships
Counsellor and Psychotherapist
Perth, Western Australia
Relationships have to be worked at, much like a business has to be worked at in order for it to flourish. As with a business, signs will manifest when there are problems in a relationship. In order for change to occur, partners need to be aware of the danger signs that a relationship is heading for a rupture. The sooner the problems are identified the greater the likelihood of repair will be. Some problem signs in relationships are outlined here;
- Harsh start up of discussion of a disagreement.
- When the discussion starts up with criticism and/or sarcasm, it has started badly.
- 96% of the time you can predict the outcome of a conversation based on the first 3 minutes of a 15 minute interaction.
- Criticism, contempt, defensiveness and shutting down
- Criticism: There is a difference between complaint and criticism. A complaint only addresses the specific action or behaviour. A criticism is more global- it adds on negative words about the other's character and personality.
- To turn any complaint into a criticism, just add "What's wrong with you?"
- Contempt: Sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye rolling, sneering, mockery and hostile humour are all forms of contempt.
- Contempt conveys disgust.
- Belligerence is closely related to contempt. It is a form of aggressive anger because it contains a threat of provocation.
- Defensiveness: Defensiveness is really a way of blaming the other person- saying in effect "The problem isn't me it's you".
- Shutting Down: Harsh start with criticism and contempt leads to defensiveness, which leads to more contempt and more defensiveness. Eventually one partner tunes out.
- Shutting down is the result of flooding, a physical reaction including increased heart-rate, hormonal changes (including the secretion of adrenalin, which kicks in the "fight or flight" response), and increased blood pressure.
- The physical sensations of flooding make it virtually impossible to have a productive, problem-solving discussion.
- All you can think about is how to protect yourself from the turbulence the attack is causing. One way to do this is to disengage emotionally from the relationship.
- In 85% of relationships the man is the one to shut down.
- John Gottman's research indicates that the male cardiovascular system is more reactive than the female's and slower to recover from stress.
- Thus marital conflict that activates vigilance takes a greater physical toll on the male, so it's no surprise that men are more likely than women to attempt to avoid it.
- Failed Repair Attempts
- Repair attempts are efforts made to deescalate the tension during a touchy discussion (eg "let's take a break" or "I need to calm down").
- The failure of repair attempts is a mark for an unhappy future. The presence of criticism, contempt, defensiveness and shutting down are precursors of divorce.
- Pervasive Negative Thoughts about the Marriage.
- When a relationship gets subsumed in negatively, it's not only the present that gets painted in a negative light; the past often gets rewritten in a negative light as well.
Signs that a relationship is in trouble are,
- You see your marital problems as severe.
- Talking things over seems useless. You try to solve problems on your own.
- You start leading parallel lives.
- Loneliness sets in.
Counselling provides a safe neutral space for couples to explore how communication is not working properly and what can be done differently, with heightened awareness, to help prevent divorce/relationship break down.
If you would like more information, or to make an appointment, please contact;
M Soc Sc (Counselling), B Sc Psychology, Grad. Dip. Ed.
Perth, Western Australia
Main source of information 'The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work". John Gottman and Nan Silver