This, the third in our series of six articles, is my analysis of how most
couples allow marital bliss to go adrift to the point where they believe
divorce is the only option. We define what makes a good relationship and
how it can change over time in ways so subtle that couples miss the warnings,
until the “Danger Ahead: Road Ends” sign appears. We will
discuss our take on good relationships, and discuss a set of warning signs
and guidelines to best avoid a major emotional and financial train wreck.
The amazing thing is that marriage begins with a wonderful wave of emotion
and anticipation of a lifelong adventure together. We agree to love and
cherish through sickness and health, in wealth or poverty, through trials
and tribulation until death. We believe what we say and we trust our partner.
We make a promise and a covenant to keep our promise. We are good to each
other as we continue to learn more about each other’s strengths
and weaknesses and how to work together as a couple. We listen, defer
to our partner and support each other. And life is GOOD! And it can stay
good as long as we continue to grow together, talk things out daily and
keep up the mutual support and love.
But life is a journey, with peaks and valleys, joy and adventure, and sometimes
challenges and disappointments. Think of the most perfect couple you have
ever known. If you asked them for their secret of success, you’d
probably find their experiences to be similar to most couples. But how
do they get through life with such love and mutual caring and support?
If you asked, they would probably give their partner most of the credit.
Their partner is their best friend and confidant, the person who cares
most about their happiness, health and welfare. “They complete me,”
or “I can always count on her/him,” are common feedback from
happy couples. They manage to get through even the most difficult times
together and still find time for each other as a priority. Each year seems
to get better from their perspective. They tend to be positive with each
other and about the future.
Many couples move on to what I refer to as a Give-and-Take mode of living
at some point in their relationship. Out of necessity a couple or family
tends to divide roles. It begins with simple tasks like, “I’ll
do the dishwasher if you’ll clean off the table.” It makes
sense to divide the daily work of keeping a household, raising a family,
paying the bills and planning for the future. Particularly when there
are children, the family needs household rules for managing the safety
and behavioral needs of growing children. And, as the family grows, the
Give-and-Takes demand more time and take on roles of their own. Some days
there is just not enough time! We get so busy being Mom or Bread Winner
or Student or Coach or any of the other roles we take on, and time passes…without
giving enough time to each other. Often parents focus more on the children
and neglect their own relationship. As personal lives get less daily attention
couples tend to unknowingly drift apart.
This is where the first danger signs begin to appear. The obvious danger
sign is called “Keeping Score”. For couples in the Give-and-Take
mode of living, keeping score in the game of life has winners and losers.
One parent can feel like he/she is doing most of the work, or being taken
advantage of, or not really appreciated. Feelings can be hurt and disagreements
go unresolved. When this becomes the norm, the usual response is to retaliate
in subtle or even overt ways. By this time, both know each other’s
weaknesses, and how to say and do things that hurt. If there are children,
the behaviors trickle down. Children learn and build similar communication
and behavior habits, from mom and dad, or they take on lasting feelings
that somehow they were the cause of their parents’ unhappiness.
These are typical outcomes of a relationship that is on the rocks, or
is at least heading in that direction.
The game of baseball has been called America’s pastime for over a
hundred years, and probably everyone has played it at some time. It also
has rules and roles. Without them the game would be chaotic. But baseball
is not about the rules; the fun of baseball is in
playing the game. Games should be fun! In any relationship there will always be some rules,
but winning in life is getting to the end together while making each other
better persons, enjoying the exciting and tender moments and enduring
the tough ones that always come, just like you did in the blissful first
days after your marriage.
Some of the warning signs I observe regularly at Center for Mediated Divorce
are the following:
- “Listening “is a thing of the past. The parties either talk
over each other or spend time planning their response while the other
- One party has all of the financial knowledge and control and uses that
knowledge to the detriment of the other.
- One party dominates the other and says hurtful things.
- There is a disconnected feeling—drifting apart.
- Neither person says complimentary things about the other. Negativity or
silence is the norm.
- Parenting is no longer shared; one parent does most of the parenting.
- Trust is sadly lacking or is non-existent.
If you feel some of these danger signs are creeping into your relationship,
we will discuss how to repair and rebuild the relationship to help you
through the divorce process and to deal with post-divorce relationship
issues, especially where children are involved.