If there’s one thing COVID-19 lockdown tactics have done, it’s to have alerted us to the best (and the worst) things about our closest relationships. And while no one is taking any bets, it can be reasonably assumed that marriage/partner guidance counsellors are likely to see an upsurge in post-COVID-19 couple’s appointments, just as separation and divorce stats may also take a jump. With these scenarios a possibility, it may pay to arm yourself with a little basic knowledge about three of the most common reasons for couples breaking up. The good news is that these three different dynamics (you might choose to think of them as ‘behaviours’) are not rocket science, and understanding a little about them may help you take the next and most valuable step – that of seeking professional help to save your relationship.
Dynamic 1 – Demand-Withdraw
Do you ever feel your partner is trying to control you? If so, it may be about big things such as the sharing of family income, or deciding if and when you need to move home. But it can just as easily be about the small things, too, such as whether the living room should be a place for work or relaxation, or whose job it is to do the vacuuming. Whatever the issues are, there will almost always follow a pattern where one member of the relationship seeks to ‘win’ (control the situation) through criticising, complaining or coercion, and the other tries to win (control the situation) by withdrawing from communication (they may refuse to reply or actually walk out of the room, or suddenly become distracted by something they view as more important than the issue under discussion). Although there has been a tendency to tag women with the ‘demander’ role, and men with the ‘withdrawer’ role, research has shown this is not necessarily the case. And in same-sex relationships, this dynamic still plays out.
Dynamic 2 – Pursue-Distance
The pursue-distance couples’ behaviour is very similar to the demand-withdraw dynamic, but in the case of pursue-distance, it’s more about intimacy than control. It rears its ugly head when Partner A feels there is a lack of emotional connection with their other half. However, the other half, Partner B, feels Partner A is trying to come too close, and consequently feels suffocated by the level of intimacy desired. The reaction of Partner B is to distance themselves, whether it’s through work, a hobby, or even an addiction. When Partner B occasionally offers a word of kindness, Partner A may reject it, viewing it as too little, too late, and not worth accepting. The pursue-distance dynamic often has its background in childhood family dynamics which neither partner is consciously aware of – or likely to become aware of without professional help.
Dynamic 3 – Fear-Shame
This relationship ‘dance’ is a little trickier to understand because it exists in most partnerships regardless of whether or not they are going through difficult times. It assumes that Partner A is seeking another who can care for them while Partner B is seeking someone they can care for. And it is gender-biased, with women usually assuming the partner A role and men the Partner B role. Where things start to go wrong is when Partner A feels they can’t rely on Partner B to care for them, and where Partner B feels deeply ashamed of this perceived inadequacy. Regardless of who is right or wrong, the answer to the problem lies in each partner showing compassion for the other. Being compassionate means being loving and concerned, even when you yourself can’t understand why the other person is the way they are. With compassion, there is at last a chance that the problems that exist can be talked through.