Relationship Problems Have Warning Signs
Families are made up of individuals; men, women, and children. All members are interconnected. Imagine a family represented by a hanging mobile. Each member is a hanging object. When you tug on one object, it shakes the rest. The same is true in families. Each person's moods, attitudes and behaviors influences those around him or her.
Depressed, angry or emotionally injured individuals are not islands to themselves. They impact on everyone around them. Typically, individuals are the way they are because of what is happening (or has happened) between them and other people. For example:
A woman is depressed because her husband is critical and does not show her love. A man is angry because his boss does not recognize his achievements. A child is rebellious because she feels her teacher is unfair.
Relationships are the most powerful influences on individuals. When this is not fully understood inappropriate solutions may be tried to resolve relationship problems. Using the above examples, the depressed woman may take anti-depressant medication, the angry man might gamble and the rebellious girl could certainly try to be different and unconventional. These attempted solutions do not get to the core of the problem and can even make the problem worse.
Relationships do not just break-down. They follow predictable stages. For example, there are four stages that contribute to the demise of a maritime relationship. They occur in a sequence with the last stage indicating the final step before break-up. The four stages are:
1) Criticism. In this stage an individual is strictly critical and judgmental of what his or her partner does. For example, a wife is constantly criticizing her husband for coming home late from work, or a husband is continuously challenging his wife about how she spends money. Typically the criticisms span a broad range of topics and activities.
2) Contempt. In this stage both attack each other personally. Instead of bad behaviors as in the first stage, it has now regressed to flawed personalities. For example, "you are just a loser, your just like your father" or "you are a lunatic and you should find yourself a good psychiatrist."
3) Defensiveness. In this stage the person take no responsibility for their actions or their part in the problem. It is always 100% the other persons fault.
4) Withdrawal. This final stage is characterized by stonewalling. The individual remains silent or walks out of the room when the partner speaks. In this stage the husband or wife feels so hopeless that they have given up all efforts to resolve issues by talking and negotiating with their partner.
These stages represent chronic conditions that last over time, not momentary anger or frustration. As well, they are only predictive of divorce when the couple does not find a way out of their destructive behaviors. If the couple goes for counseling with a mental health professional trained specifically in marriage counseling they can begin to work on some of their unresolved issues and learn the skills necessary for a healthy and satisfying relationship. The sooner these problems are addresses the more easily they are resolved. For example, it is more difficult to make improvements when the relationship is in the "withdrawal" stage than the "criticism" stage.
These stages can also apply to the relationship between adults and children, at home or in school.
1) Criticism. Whatever is done is not good enough. For example, "why did you get a B and not an A" or "your room is always such a mess." As a result of this the child feels like a failure.
2) Contempt. The child's personality and self-worth is attacked. For example, "you are stupid" or "you are lazy." The child begins to feel worthless.
3) Defensiveness. The child defends him or herself by making up inaccurate and unrealistic excuses. When this happens it becomes very difficult to find a co-operative solution to the problem. The relationship is now adversarial.
4) Withdrawal. The child gives up and becomes depressed. He or she feels that whatever they try or do it will not help. Rebelliousness and "wild" behavior may be tried since the child or adolescent points he or she has nothing to loose.
Successful relationships, like most other important things in life, require effort. If a relationship is or has been in serious trouble we must try do everything we can to change it and fix it.