The Top 5 Losing Relationship Strategies (in The New Rules of Marriage)

How to Fail at Marriage

Relationship strategies that sabotage your marriage

As a couples therapist, I often initially hear “We love each other, but…”

  • “We can’t communicate. And when we fight, we never get any resolution.”
  • “I can’t trust him/her. S/he doesn’t put me first.” (view partner more as an enemy than an ally)
  • “We’ve grown apart, feel disconnected, or no longer have fun together.”
  • “We’re on different wave lengths. I want more emotional connection and s/he wants more sex.”
  • Or, some version of… “I don’t feel loved or important,” or “I can never satisfy him/her.”

The above concerns are expressed equally by my couple clients who appear robust as the ones in crisis, which can cause one or both partners to feel confused about the real issue, guilty for wanting more (usually emotional intimacy), and discouraged because they may feel that they need to “settle” or lower their expectations since their partner is not engaged in any egregious behavior according to our society (ex. abuse, infidelity, addiction, illegal activity, refusing to work, neglecting the children, etc.).

To make relationships even more complicated…Perhaps outside your marriage, one or both partners are:

  • lauded for their career accomplishments
  • considered “parent of the year” by friends and neighbors
  • well-regarded for their contributions to their community as a volunteer
  • or just overall appear to be doing the “right” thing, such as paying bills on time, cleaning the house and/or landscaping their property beautifully, being there for their children and extended family, going to church/synagogue, exercising, keeping up with Facebook posts, etc.

So, perhaps you’re wondering…

What is the REAL problem then and WHY is marriage so difficult?

#1 According to Terry Real, creator of the relational empowerment model, “Couples in the 21st century are trying to use 20th century thinking and skills.” We would never do this in our career or we would be fired. We are also much less likely to employ 20th century parenting skills because not only might social services be called, but we likely would be shamed or alienated from friends and family.

#2 You and your partner are probably using one or more of the 5 Losing Relationship Strategies (explained by Terrence Real in The New Rules of Marriage). These are listed below.

So, why the lag in learning up to date, effective intimate relationship skills?

First, if you are struggling in your marriage, give yourself some GRACE.

You’re probably doing the best you can given the relationship modeling your parents and grandparents provided and the lack of education that you received. In no other long-term endeavor (our career, parenting, financial and retirement management, and even some of our hobbies) do we try to fly blind without any initial and ongoing training/education or mentoring!

We also live in a culture that rarely even talks about the good parts of our relationships with other couples let alone the hard parts to prevent others from feeling uncomfortable about having such an emotionally intimate conversation. We also might fear being blamed or given advice by well-meaning friends and family members who also don’t have a clue about what it takes to have a healthy, happy, long-term relationship!

Thirdly, I also think there is an unfortunate myth our society continues to espouse, which is that marriage is common sense and only couples in crisis due to an affair or some other tragedy need to learn relationship skills or do anything as extreme as go to therapy! And yet, the divorce statistics are still high (1 in every 2 couples) and many other couples in long-term relationships no longer act like lovers and instead have become more like roommates. Both scenarios (ending a relationship with your soul mate or staying and feeling miserable or just like platonic roommates) seems tragic to me and does not need to be accepted.

If you’re ready to hop on board and learn 21st century relationship skills, you can read more here about “21st Century Relationships Promote Relationship Empowerment” and “The Top 5 Winning Relationship Strategies.”

The top 5 losing relationship strategies

Just as it’s important to learn the success strategies for relationships, we also need to unlearn the Top 5 Losing Relationship Strategies. By unlearning these, we can get unstuck, greatly improve our marriage, and change our family’s legacy for future generations!

1.) Needing to be right

a.) Finding out whose view is more “valid”, “accurate”, or “logical”.

b.) Leads to endless objectivity battles.

c.) Fuels the psychological violence of self-righteous indignation.

2.) Controlling your romantic partner

a.) Can be direct or indirect (manipulation).

b.) Short of outright coercion, control is an illusion.

c.) People don’t like being controlled. Payback is inevitable.

3.) Unbridled self-expression

a.) “I have the right and the need to share my feelings with you spontaneously.”

b.) The idea that all sharing is authentic and will increase closeness.

c.) Rarely engenders generosity in others.

4.) Retaliation

a.) Perverse justice: “Offending from the victim position.”

b.) Perverse communication: trying to “make you feel what I feel.”

c.) Can be explicit or covert (passive aggression).

5.) Withdrawal

a.) Differs from responsible distance taking.

b.) Stems from either resignation or retaliation.

c.) Often masquerades as mature acceptance.

Besides the intimacy gap that still commonly plagues couples due to one partner not having learned or even taught to hate being vulnerable, intimate, or emotionally intelligent, unresolved family of origin issues also wreak havoc on marriages. Real asserts: “You can’t be intimate with your partner if you’re disconnected from your heart.”

Final thoughts and caution

The summary of the Top 5 Losing Relationship Strategies can be found on p. 293 of The New Rules of Marriage and a more in depth explanation from pp. 1-162. Also, a summary of the Top 5 Winning Relationship Strategies can be found on p. 294 of The New Rules of Marriage and a more in depth explanation from pp. 163-279.

Caution though in reading and diagnosing your partner’s losing strategies! You will significantly increase your relationship’s chance for success by focusing on your behavior. Also, one of the greatest benefits of couples therapy is to have an objective professional more accurately assess a couple’s strengths and areas for needed growth.

I also uniquely offer video playback, which is especially helpful to couples because “Seeing IS believing” and this method helps partners gain a level of awareness in their part of their couple dynamic that was not possible prior to watching themselves on camera. If the idea of yourself being filmed or watching yourself causes your heart rate to go through the roof, be reassured, I point out strengths as much as possible and encourage partners to focus MORE on each other’s use of the winning strategies. (I am also happy to delete the film after your session at your request.)

If you need support in unlearning any of the Top 5 Losing Relationship Strategies, contact Lana Isaacson, LCSW, CAC III, Certificate in Marriage and Family Therapy at 720.432.5262, [email protected], or lanaisaacson.com to make an appointment today.