How to Avoid a Common Pitfall of Unhappy Marriages

What are your goals? If you are like most people, you initially think of your personal goals—work, hobbies, spiritual, etc. A few people view themselves first as a part of a family or couple, so they initially think about things they want to do with their spouse/family. While of course married men and women should maintain individuality, there are some particular times in life when it is especially important to view yourself as part of a team, rather than as an individual goal-seeker. Times of transition or crisis are two such examples.

Marriage and family researcher John Gottman, PhD, studied couples transitioning to parenthood; some had a more difficult adjustment and others fared better. He found that when as new parents, husbands and wives were able to move from a “state of me-ness” to a state of “we-ness,” whereby they sacrificed for the team, they were able to make a successful adjustment.

You may also know some marriages (or maybe even yours), that tend to have a fair amount of conflict. These couples may disagree about how to spend time or money, how to parent, etc. They view one another as being on opposite sides of a tennis net, hitting those issues back and forth, over and over. One couple I interviewed from California said they felt like they were on a long path heading in different directions. After a difficult reconciliation, they felt like they were climbing a steep mountain—but they were doing it together. Eventually, they felt they reached the top. Essentially, they figured out how to become part of the same team, although the struggles of the world did not disappear.

Another couple I interviewed recently was absolutely devastated at the death of their infant child. Their marriage became severely fractured when they were unable to see themselves as part of a couple, but rather saw themselves as individually experiencing such deep sorrow and pain in their own unique ways that they were unable to connect with one another. After a series of events, they finally began grieving together and slowly began to heal and grow in their relationship.

It is not always simple to make this change to move to the same side of the net. Often, a counselor, pastor or mentor can help. I detail in my book on how these couples achieved this successful transition after overcoming some extreme obstacles. However, even in everyday life, it can be challenging to view issues and opportunities as a couple. Did you both agree on where you took your last vacation, or how you celebrate the holidays? If your family has one breadwinner, do you discuss job changes, promotions and relocations before making decisions? If you are parents, do you make parenting decisions privately, then present them with unity?

I enjoy watching my young kids play soccer. Frequently, I see two teammates struggling with each other for the ball, when an opponent is not near them. You often hear the coach yell, “Same team!” I think it’s the same for marriage: If we spend all our time struggling with one another, when the real opponents come around (and they will come), we won’t have a fighting chance. Do you feel like you’re on the same team, or do you need a coach to help create unity?

One response to “How to Avoid a Common Pitfall of Unhappy Marriages

  1. There’s got to be a lot of give and take in marriage. You can’t always have your way when it comes to your opinions. But when you view your marriage as being married to your best friend and your goal it to please them first and not yourself … it helps a lot.

    I can’t imagine being in a marriage where you felt you were on different teams than your spouse. Definitely not the way marriage was intended to be.

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