Tools for Couples Happiness — 02 November 2003
Can this marriage be fixed?

Most couples who choose to divorce have lost hope in the viability of
their union. Or, at least one of the partners feels profoundly
discouraged. However, only for few couples the termination of the
marriage is inevitable. For most unhappy marriages, with time and some
help, the prospects are bright.

Marriages go through three phases. Dr. Hendrix calls them: the
infatuations phase, the power struggle phase and the conscious relating

phase. As their titles describe, the initial relationship is new,
exciting, positive and exhilarating. Both partners are in love, each
believes to have found the “perfect” mate who will fulfill all the
desired needs. The connecting with just the ideal mate is magical. Often
the couple creates a story about their meeting and the unique nature of
their match.

Matches, however, are not made in heaven, and couples soon encounter
life on earth. The dreams of perfection evaporate and reality sets in.
Each partner soon awakens from the love dream to the first recognition
of the other’s human imperfections. This is a very disappointing. Once
each mate’s attention is not placed solely on pleasing the other, the
union is threatened. Suddenly, one sees the spouse’s goodwill and love
as self-directed. If he is no longer there to please me, then I am left
to demand that my needs be met. Thus the power struggle is born.

Many erroneous and harmful beliefs are held at this phase. “He is more
interested in his job, or his golf game, or relatives, or hobbies, than
he is in me.” “She is only interested in financial security and the nice
life that I provide.” These and other similar perceptions cause the
believer to exclude himself or herself from the central role in his or
her partner’s life.

When we do not feel valued, cherished, heard or considered, we become
angry. We may even become vindictive and ill tempered. We may then wage
war and escalate the non-loving exchanges.

This is the time when both partners may realize that their marriage is
in trouble. If they attribute the ill will in the relationship to the
other person’s innate, unchangeable, and troubled nature _ they may give
up on the marriage.

However, research by Dr. Paul Amato, who conducted a 20-year study on
2000 married individuals, found that many unhappy marriages would
improve over time. He also states that most marriages could be
strengthened through marital counseling.

Dr. Kantor, author of My Lover, Myself and Dr. Gottman in his research,
as well as Dr. David Burns of Stanford, emphasize that complaining and
blaming the partner for problems in the relationship, is the major
contributor to marital dissatisfaction.

Personal misery or happiness is the responsibility of the individual and
no one else. When each partner owns up to his or her part of the
conflict, the relationship can regain its health. Even if most couple
conflicts are unresolvable, learning to deal with them can make marriage

Couples, who choose to stay together, work on their relationship, seek
marital counseling and learn to honor each other, move to conscious
relating, which is the third phase in what becomes a happy marriage.

One of the reasons why marriages improve with time may be attributed to
the maturity of the individuals and their awareness of their own
contribution to the success or failure of their union.

Another factor in helping couples accept their differences and solve
them amicably, has to do with life circumstances. Many couples who
struggle during their child rearing years- do better once the children
leave home. They have more time, energy and less conflict and may become
more available to each other.
Some couples are aware that time is a great teacher and it mollifies
intense emotions. They also speak of the realization that they need each
other more and cherish the inter-dependence they developed in their
later years together.

Age also gives us perspective on what is and is not important in life.
It may tone down our insecurities and make us more receptive to
compromise. It also highlights to us that all the arguments and fights
we were so intent upon winning, did not enrich us.

As the years progress, love, companionship, history and family may
declare themselves as the most important accomplishments of our lives.

To determine if your marriage can be fixed:

  • With very few exceptions, all marriages can be helped if both partners
    choose to work on it.
  • Both mates need to accept themselves and their partners in order to
    fix a marriage.
  • Avoid concluding that the issues stem solely from your partner’s
    difficult and unchangeable personality.
  • Choose marital counseling as soon as you recognize your unhappiness.
    Do not delay and wait for things to get better on their own.
  • Be the best partner you can possibly be. Results will follow.
  • Give it time  hanging through the rough times, makes the following
    good years sweeter.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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