Out-of-sync Couples Tend to Drift

Out-of-sync Couples Tend to Drift

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

There is a culprit that has killed an untold number of relationships, still roaming around incognito and unsuspected.

Disagreement over money and children, domestic violence, infidelity, step-children, constant fighting and substance abuse are commonly perceived as some of the major causes of failed relationships. Then, there is a catch-all, non-specific, non-accusatory category called incompatibility, often publicly cited as the reason for dissolution of a marriage.

That largely unrecognized cause of the breakup of relationships is the failure to move in sync with one's partner. Sometimes, it is labeled as "incompatibility."

One partner blows hot and the other one cold. One throws the ball and the other one doesn't move at all to catch it. Then the latter throws the ball and the former misses it because he or she doesn't quite feel up to catching it. The pattern is repeated over and over again. Then, both partners blame each other for dropping the ball.

The lack of synchrony and the failure to respond warmly to your partner's warming up to you, or even worse, throwing a cold fish in a hand that is extended for truce is bound to take a toll on a marriage.

Dr. John Gottman's research, conducted on couples in "The Love Lab" of the University of Washington, shows that a partner whose positive overtures are ignored, unreciprocated or rebuffed over time, tends to withdraw and give up trying altogether.

Often people don't realize that they are not reciprocating enough. Their relationship might actually be suffering from lack of mutual response because one or both partners might not be discharging their marital responsibility.

Here is an interesting definition of the word "responsibility," I once heard: "response ABILITY," that is, the ability to respond timely and appropriately. A response has to measure up to the need, and it must be given at the required time. The same response, if given later, may be too late or simply ineffective.

In is not that happily married couples respond to each other in kind all the time. They just happen to do it far more often than do maladjusted couples.

Dr. Gottman found that in marriages that are faltering and might soon be headed for divorce, husbands disregard their wives' overtures for connection 82 percent of the time, while those in stable marriages disregarded such overtures 19 percent of the time. Disregarding or ignoring the other partner's overtures 82 percent of the time is like delivering that number of blows to an already deteriorating marriage, isn't it?

Wives in similarly faltering marriages were found to act preoccupied with other activities 50 percent of the time when their husbands made overtures for connection, while those in stable marriages acted preoccupied just 14 percent of the time. Granted, wives have a somewhat better record, but the lack of response is sizeable enough to push an already deteriorating marriage to the point of divorce.

Men in faltering relationships may turn away from their partners by hiding behind a newspaper, computer, or television and women may do the same by busying themselves with cooking, child care or other household chores. Some deliberately give "the silent treatment" not primarily out of anger, but to punish their partners. These partners know exactly what they are doing.

But what about the cases when partners don't know what they are doing? They might not be aware that they are not responding to their partners' mundane and everyday overtures for connecting and seeking attention. Nonetheless, in small ways and slowly, they are edging their partner out. Such marriages don't die from love starvation, they die of malnutrition.

Most people start right. They give their partners gorgeous gifts on such special occasions as birthdays, marriage anniversaries or at Christmas. They go out for dinner every week and say "I love you" on numerous occasions. They can win hands down in the "Special Occasions Treatment of Your Spouse" contest. But the end game is won or lost on everyday performance over time.

Everyday interaction with your spouse is really important. The criterion for a successful relationship is this: How do you connect with your partner on a daily basis?

It is the ability to respond when your partner wants your attention, support, affection or your audience.

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Copyright 2001, Mind Publications 


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