What are these “thirds” that are destructive to a relationship?
A destructive third can be anything that prevents a couple from having a close bond, having each other’s back and prioritizing their relationship. Thirds can create havoc in a marriage, yet the problem is not strictly a marriage problem per se. The real problem is inability of a couple to successfully deal with an outside stress threatening the marriage.
Common thirds that I see in Couples Counseling in Orange County are:
- Anger or poor impulse control
- Parenting or Children Stress
- Substance Abuse (including excessive drinking) by one partner
Anger or Poor Impulse Control
Contrary to popular opinion, marriage is NOT a place where you should always feel that you should be able to “be yourself.” Unbridled Self-expression is about getting things off your chest, without considering how your partner will react. This is not a good thing to do if you want a secure, loving relationship with your partner.
In fact, in one study in the United Kingdom, one in five of people (20%) say that they have ended a relationship or friendship with someone because of how they behaved when they were angry.
The main problem with too much anger is that hostility begets more hostility, once a couple starts to fight. According to famed researcher Dr John Gottman, 65% of men increase negativity during an argument. You push many people and they will fight back which does no one any good.
You poke the bear too many times or with enough intensity, you get consequences.
You do NOT need to say everything that’s on your mind when you are mad–at least not now. If you must get it out, wait for a better time after you both calm down.
Even If you apologize later, the damage is done. It erodes trust between you. It invites retaliation. It encourages withdrawal on the part of your partner sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally. It says you care more about your own selfish needs of self-expression instead of preservation of your relationship.
Parenting or Children Stress
Believe it or not, studies of marital happiness show that the time of least happiness for many couples is right after the birth of that little bundle of joy.
Successful couples find a way to still prioritize the relationship itself while unsuccessful couples often kind of forget about the relationship as they devote all their time, energy and resources to raising the kids.
Forward 20 years and they look across the kitchen table one morning at a stranger they used to be madly in love with and wonder what happened.
Things get even more complicated in today’s modern world of co-parenting and blended marriages. It takes much maturity, sound judgement, and balancing ability to be a good and responsible parent, yet make your partner feel that they are number one on your list!
Substance Abuse by One Or Both Partners
In most cases, I will not even attempt marriage therapy or counseling if there is a real issue of substance abuse including alcohol abuse (I do tolerate some instances of medical marijuana use, If done in moderation, the partner is accepting of it, they have a medical card, and they do not use where children can be exposed).
What to do about the situation depends on how much you can tolerate and the degree that his or her substance use affects your relationship.
Worse case scenario–it can completely destroy it. Most spouses do not want to live with someone who abuses alcohol regularly, to the embarrassment or detriment of either. In many relationships, excessive alcohol and refusal to get help is a deal breaker–and it should be.
Best case scenario–adjust your expectations and put it in perspective. For example, maybe most of the time your partner is fine and only occasionally abuses alcohol–and then is a sloppy drunk, but not a mean one. Put in perspective, maybe you can learn to live with it if appropriate boundaries are established and followed (e.g., two drink limit)
If you are on the fence as to discerning what you should do about a substance-abusing partner in your particular case, consult a professional who can help you sort things out.