Why relationships fail is a million dollar question. I’m proposing that we are focusing on the wrong solutions when it comes to our relationship problems.
It seems like divorce is everywhere doesn’t it?
Every time I get together with old friends, an obligatory part of the conversation is to go through which of our mutual friends have joined the ranks of the divorced.
Not my favorite part of any conversation.
I’ve known couples who seem to be “doing it all” and yet still can’t make it work. They go on date nights regularly, spend time together and work on their intimacy and yet it’s not enough.
Well, obviously every couple is so different and reasons for divorce are as diverse as the sands of the sea, but I’m going to propose an idea in this post today that gets at the heart of why many relationships fail, as well as how we can focus on the things that bring real RESULTS and change toward a healthy relationship.
Why Relationships Fail
I’m a big fan of marriage therapist and researcher, Dr. David Schnarch. He says we always talk about marriage problems as solely attachment issues. As in, if we could communicate better or connect more deeply, our marriage problems would be solved. When really these relational skills are only a part of our marriage issues. The other (major) part is our own personal emotional and psychological maturity issues coming to the table.
Most of us are not quite emotionally mature. We blame our spouses for own negative feelings, we hold them accountable for our actions, we seek validation from them when we feel weak or scared or lonely. Often what people are really looking for is acceptance, not necessarily connection. Thus, working through our own emotional maturity issues first allow us to work through our relationship issues.
And if you don’t believe me, believe science!
In this study of 150 couples, attempting to determine what factors lead to marital satisfaction, they found that emotional instability was among the primary factors leading to marital dissatisfaction.
Also, The Oxford Handbook of Close Relationships states that, “The strongest and most consistent. . . predictor of relationship outcomes is neuroticism, described as the tendency to experience negative affects.” Negative affect is described as, “a personality variable that involves the experience of negative emotions and poor self-concept.”
In human speak, this is all to say our emotional health and self-concept has A LOT to do with the health of any relationship we are in.
However, when we have relationship problems, we often focus on all sorts of things other than our emotional heath and maturity.
Enter a paradigm to change how you think about the success of your relationship:
Pyramid of Marital Health
The idea for this post came initially from a diagram from business guru, Ramit Sethi about why our productivity efforts fail.
He makes a pyramid stating at the heart of our productivity issues is our physical and mental well-being. Once those are in place, THEN we can start working out productivity details, but often we get this entirely backwards and flip the pyramid on its head.
We are sure the solution to our productivity problems will be in this new app or technique. When really our efforts would be much better spent working out our own mental and physical issues first.
I read that and immediately thought, “MARRIAGE IS THE SAME WAY!”
Here is what I’m calling the pyramid of marital health:
Bottom: FOUNDATION- your emotional health, maturity and integrity
– Having a clear sense of who you are
– Your ability to control your own anxiety
– Dealing with shame in a healthy way
– The ability to self-validate: not needing validation from those around you
– Your willingness and ability to self-confront with love and honesty
– The strength of your integrity
– Ability to set healthy boundaries
Middle: PSYCHOLOGY- your mindset and expectations
– Your perception of reality, particularly as it pertains to your relationship
– Your expectations of your partner and relationship and ability to question and move past them
– Positive or negative sentiment override
– Ability to focus on controlling what you can control
– Resilience when times are tough
Top: RELATIONAL SKILLS – skills and habits as a couple
– Date nights
Often when we have relationship problems, we move automatically and exclusively to the top of the pyramid, convinced that if we just found that magic sauce to solve our financial differences or our communication styles, we’d be set.
And sometimes we just have financial or in-law problems end of story. But in those cases, those problems probably won’t make or break a relationship if the bottom of the pyramid is sound for both parties.
Rather, when relationship problems rear their head, particularly if those problems are severe, what we’re actually dealing with is problems in the bottom two realms of the pyramid- our emotional and psychological health or that of our partner’s.
A couple could go on date nights every week, could work through their issues in the bedroom and still have a really difficult relationship. Until both parties are able and willing to deal with their own emotional and psychological issues, marriage problems are probably going to keep coming around.
It is always tempting to flip this pyramid on its head and just deal with the visible problems because those often seem easier to solve. The relationship skills issues have more tangible solutions than working on our emotional health. Problems dealing with our emotional or psychological health are typically much more difficult to face and deal with and require more time and effort.
How do we even work out our need for validation? How do we deal with our shame issues? How can we learn to self-confront honestly and lovingly?
So glad you asked!
These are the questions I’m devoting our entire year to! It’s 2018, the year of the self here at Marriage Laboratory. Here, specifically are the themes we’ll be addressing:
April: Clear sense of who you are and what you want
June: Self-confronting with love
August: Controlling your reactivity and self-soothing
October: Tolerating discomfort for growth
December: Forging integrity
This year, let’s make some REAL lasting changes in our relationships. Not just apply Band-Aids, but get to the heart of the issues and improve what we can improve.
And this kind of work will be the answer not only to your relationship problems, but will make you a happier, healthier person as well regardless of your relationship status.
Join us!! (scroll to the bottom of this page and sign up for our email list 🙂 )
PS If you are reading this and can tell you have a need to deal with those bottom two sections of the pyramid, I would really suggest you find a good therapist, whose very job it is to help you strengthen those sections (and the top ones as well!)