Emotionally Committed Relationship, AKA “Marriage”

“8 years is the life of the average American marriage,” according to journalist Sabrina Thompson and others. 

I will use the term “emotionally committed relationship,” and “marriage” synonymously here.  While consistent statistics are difficult to find, it’s generally regarded that more than 50% of first marriages, more than 65% of second marriages, and over 72% of third marriages will fail.  A number of reasons show up in the research and not surprisingly, poor, or ‘mis’communication heads the list.  Here, three important dynamics are most relevant to my work in couples counseling

  • Many couples, especially those younger in age, and those in the earlier years of the relationship, think conflict necessarily means that there is something “wrong” with the relationship.
    • Often, this is just not the case.  Rather, conflict can be viewed as the couple working to clarify, negotiate, and merge their individual values, and styles of living, into a mutual and unique expression of a relational lifestyle;  the couple’s new ‘identity’ if you will. I work with this as a natural part of maturation, of the evolutionary process of even more seasoned couples.
  • Next, I’ve found that both individuals bring to the relationship unresolved issues, not only from previous relationships, but also from childhood.
    • This is inevitable. We all have them! And they are often difficult to spot, because of their repressed and usually disguised nature.  But they will inevitably return, unrecognizably manifest in the marital conflict.  A clue that these are operating: couples find themselves having the same argument over and over, and cannot seem to change the outcome, despite their best efforts.  Here is where the introduction of a guide or therapist can help move the couple toward understanding the underlying meaning of these unconscious, historical patterns, identify their triggers, and to learn to assist each other in moving beyond them.
  • Finally, our culture has increasingly de-emphasized authentic, open-hearted communication.
    • During conflict, emotions escalate, while reason, logic and understanding decrease.  There are actually biological reasons for this.  We say things we don’t mean, we become regretfully, often unknowingly defensive and sabotaging.  Communications become toxic, under the guise of being “honest” with each other.  “Rules of Engagement” become obscured to nonexistent (if ever they existed at all), leading to painful and even dangerous consequences. Unspoken, unconscious ‘agreements’ about unclear, perhaps changing role expectations of ‘husband’, ‘wife’, ‘partnering’ arise out of non-negotiated definitions of those roles. This can become a set up for the potentially ‘perfect storm’.

 Unfortunately, many couples prematurely end the relationship before they’ve given themselves a chance to understand these normal underlying dynamics of their relationship.  Without preparation or insight, it becomes more difficult to identify, much less work through and resolve these more insidious issues effectively without counseling.

 Research shows that 'friendship' is the greatest predictor of the longevity of marriage.  Good, long-term friends know well, what it is that makes them good friends.  More, they know what isn’t working in their relationship, and have on-going ways of working those things out and then, getting back to the business of being good friends.

There are specific criteria for how we define 'friendship' and often enough, by the time couples decide on counseling, not many of those criteria are met.  Did you know that not all conflicts will be resolvable?  Did you know that couples counseling does not seek to resolve all problems?  In my orientation, the therapy is in the ability to understand what is working in the relationship, what isn’t, and how to capitalize an what you already do well.   And, it is in knowing how to treat those rare unresolvable issues.  The successful process of handling them, as well as civil, disciplined conflict resolution, is among the critical processes by which human beings grow and expand personally as well as spiritually.  Authentic, nontoxic communication is the 'engine' that drives that process.  The therapy seeks to help the couple remember and harness the power of it’s friendship in any and all circumstances including disagreements.  These things are at the very heart of intimacy, and therefore the healing.  Did you know that?

In the Lansing, Michigan area, please feel free to email or call me with any questions or comments at the address below.

Peter Roseman Psy.S.
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