Living in a Dysfunctional Marriage

Chances are you know many people today that are going through a ‘rough patch’ in their marriage. But when is that so called ‘rough patch’ in actuality a dysfunctional marriage in disguise? And even harder to understand is whether a not a marriage is dysfunctional at all? Obviously, there are some pretty strong signs that say the marriage needs work, but dysfunctional? The word dysfunctional in regard to relationships is defined as ‘characterized by a breakdown of normal or beneficial relationships between members of the family group and/or a trait or condition failing to serve an adjustive purpose.’

And that, pretty much leaves nearly all of us in the category of living in a dysfunctional marriage at one time or another. Here’s how it happens!

Some marriage experts suggest that the reason many marriages end up being dysfunctional is because couples have no real idea what to expect going in. Relationships, regardless of what kind start out with a honeymoon period that normally lasts around 18 months. So essentially, for the first 18 months of a marriage, everything is fine. Then, however couples begin getting to know one another for their real traits and qualities. The next period, is often tumultuous, and leaves many couples wondering if they chose the wrong mate. Couples argue more, narcissistic traits come out, and the battle of the wills arises. While this can feel like quite a letdown from such a loving relationship the truth is that this is the communicative ‘work’ period. And couples seem to either work through it and gain communication skills and ways of handling their forever-together lives, or not.

As the real ‘work’ stage of a marriage persists couples have one of two things to gain. The first gain is a respectable marriage, based on respect and love and communication. The second however, is plenty of resentment, failure to communicate and disconnect. If the couple is not willing to put in the work and breach communication effectively (rather than fighting it out) egos take over and the marriage becomes dysfunctional. Why?

For one thing because the two people stop operating as a couple and resume operating as individuals. This is evident for instance by the following traits:

  • Spouse comes home and retreats to the bedroom rather than hangs out with family members.
  • Failure to have sex, or withholding sex as punishment.
  • One person leaves the impression that they don’t ‘enjoy’ the marriage or family life.
  • Constant negative communication, such as insults both privately and otherwise.
  • Mood swings, snaps at family members essentially implied as a ‘shut-up’ tool.
  • Doesn’t pull their weight around the house, expects everything to be done for them.
  • Rarely thinks of another person. For instance, failure to make you a sandwich when they are making one for themselves.
  • Communication is stunted, and conflicts are never resolved. Talking about every day normal things becomes a battle of the wills, or a hurtful endeavor.
  • Lack of support or interest in other family members days or activities unless it includes them.

After time the marriage becomes completely dysfunctional. Additionally being married to someone who is an alcoholic, drug addict, suffering from anxiety disorders, psychological conditions and even depression, can cause a marriage to be dysfunctional even if the problems are one sided. They bleed into the family unit and especially the spouse.

So, do you leave OR do you stay? That is the question.

Most people today, simply leave. They show up in an attorney’s office and start dividing assets without every really understanding what went wrong. This, coins the phrase irreconcilable differences. However, more accurate would be to call the problems unrecognizable differences. Because most, result from a failure to communicate and both spouses are unable to see themselves as wrong or their spouses as right. When arguments and communication between couples becomes about winning, rather than about discovering amicable compromises the marriage becomes very much dysfunctional.

Relationship specialists believe that it is very possible to put the functionality back into a marriage. But the couple would have to be willing to go back and do the ‘working’ stage of the relationship that they didn’t complete early on. This means working on communication with one another. Understanding honesty, and learning how to be respectful even when you disagree. It is also about learning how to compromise with others with the clear knowledge that a marriage is not, ‘your way, or the highway!’ And, about realizing, that marriage will not always be perfect, nor will it always bring joy or be easy. Some folks are so let down by the conflict they find in a relationship, that they feel like the marriage failed long before it really did.

And then, there are also reasons to leave. Many couples find themselves with one partner who is willing to do the work but with another who is defiant and keeps their heels dug deep into the sand. No matter how much you love someone, or how much he or she loves you you cannot change people. Change has to come from within, and has to be the result of inner desire. If the person you are married to is not willing to make changes to their life or the relationship and seems happily comfortable in your dysfunctional marriage, you should literally take matters into your own hand and do what is best for you.

Be realistic first and foremost. Today, few relationships even the good ones, fit into the neat and tidy box of what is considered a perfect marriage. There is plenty of dysfunction within all of us that we bring to marriage. Hopefully, our partners who love us, who married us for better or for worse are willing to look past some of our faults and frustrating traits in order to make the marriage work, just as we do for them. Yet, if holding onto that dysfunction seems to trump finding equitable and loving qualities and solutions to your marriage, you will likely find your situation never getting better.



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