“We are drawn to people whose issues fit perfectly with our own in a way that guarantees a reenactment of the old, familiar struggle we grew up with.” Terrence Real, The New Rules of Marriage.
As someone who was married for nearly a decade, I went through the ups and downs of marriage.
The downs were really down and took me through these 5 terrible behaviors that people commonly engage in during a marriage.
I felt terrible when I read about these behaviors in the book, The New Rules of Marriage.
What the heck was I thinking?
How could I have committed all 5 of these harmful behaviors when I was married? I started getting angry with myself all over again for having been so lost, blind and hostile.
I would never treat anyone else I know like this, so why my ex?
The New Rules of Marriage hit me in the gut and awakened thoughts of unpleasant behaviors from my past. I didn’t realize they were common and showed up in all troubled relationships.
If you’re still married, I’m bringing this up to remind you that these are unhealthy behaviors that you don’t have to engage in.
If you’re divorced, you’ll remember these behaviors as a wake-up call for your next relationship.
I’ve tried to get over the shame and to stop beating myself up for these negative behaviors. I’m reminding myself that I did the best I could and now self-awareness will help going forward.
5 harmful behaviors to avoid in your marriage.
1. Needing to be right.
If you’re married, you know this one all too well. You want to be right and you refuse to see it another way, for both the small and big things. You may be factually right but being right isn’t the point. You could win the battle but make your spouse feel lousy about themselves and therefore lose the war.
Solution: “The only sensible answer to the question ‘Who’s right and who’s wrong?’ is ‘Who cares?’” Real tells us in his book. We can be right or we can be married – which matters to you more? “I want you to do this: Understand that the need to be right eats away at intimacy, no matter what the provocation. You can make a commitment to stop self-righteous indignation, no matter what the provocation.”
2. Controlling your partner.
We try to get our partners to do what we want them to do. Some do this by force and others by manipulation, but both essentially try to get their partners to behave in a certain way. Real tells us that we naturally feel attraction to people who have a way of pricking our deepest wounds and childhood pains. He tells us that we marry our unfished business. Even the best relationships bring up every hurt and anger you carry inside.
Solution: You don’t have to avoid the raw parts of yourself in a relationship. You can handle and heal the raw parts of yourself, but not in the way you imagined. Your instinct might be to change your partner and get them to behave. “Our understable, naïve and utterly dysfunctional dream is that our partners will give to us whatever we most missed in our childhoods, that we most yearn for now as adults.” Control is an illusion. You can heal and change only yourself, not your partner.
3. Criticism and negativity – giving your partner a piece of your mind.
“Hey, let me tell you in precise, lurid detail just exactly how miserable you made me by your shortcomings. I need to vent!” is the idea that Real describes with what he calls “unbridled self-expression”. It’s telling your partner in brutal honesty what you think of them. If you somehow don’t put it all out there, you feel like you’re suppressing and hiding your true feelings.
Solution: Real says that, “you will not die if you don’t express yourself whenever a thought pops into your mind. Furthermore, venting is not an inalienable right. You can vent or you can move toward a solution.” Find a more thoughtful and careful way to express what you want to say. Try constructive, not critical, self-expression. Realize that telling your partner how horrible you think his/her behavior is or what a horrible person he/she is will not help you get closer or solve any problems.
Who doesn’t love to get even or push your partner’s buttons after you’ve been injured? It’s the idea of thinking of yourself as the victim and hitting your partner harder emotionally than he/she pushed you. Often retaliation comes across as verbal abuse: “humiliating, ridiculing, telling your partner what he should or should not do – these are all aspects of verbal abuse, and they have no place whatsoever in a healthy relationship.”
Solution: Either of you should call a “time out where the arguing comes to an immediate stop. You disrupt the interaction and one of you leave[s] it so there is no further harm done. Check in within twenty minutes or a couple hours or even half a day and see if you each need more time or if you can have a conversation in a more civil manner. “Make a commitment to take retaliation – physical and verbal, direct and indirect – off the table. If you’re mad, say so, but don’t act it out,” advises Real.
You can withdraw from a conversation or even completely from the marriage. Withdrawal is a passive-aggressive form of retaliation. You withdraw from certain or all aspects of the relationship – intellectual, emotional, physical, sexual and spiritual. You withdraw to avoid conflict, when you’ve given up or when you find it pointless to engage any further in the relationship.
Solution: This is the most blatant strategy that results in your not getting what you want because you’ve stopped trying. You can’t get what you want from a relationship by withdrawing from it. Instead of a unilateral, provocative drawing away, you can opt for responsible distance taking. Provide an explanation for why you don’t want to engage in the conversation now and promise to return to it later, providing a specific time to address the concerns.
You need your space while still remaining accountable and responsible in the relationship. You don’t want to sever ties with your partner. You want to find a way to work it out, have your needs met and be fulfilled.
There are new rules of marriage in the modern age. To deal with all of the marriage-breakers above, pick up The New Rules of Marriage, by Terrence Real, for tips and strategies for articulating your needs and wants, listening well, standing up for yourself and knowing how to seek outside help. You can pick up the book on Amazon here.