The Two Types of Unhappy Marriages
The Two Types of Unhappy Marriages
By J. Bailey Molineux, Ph.D.
All happy families are happy in the same way, according to Leo Tolstoy in the
introduction to his tragic novel Anna Karenina, while all unhappy families are
unhappy in many different ways. To me, there are two types of unhappy marriages
and unhappy marriages make for unhappy family life and stressed children.
The first type of unhappy marriage is one in which
there is too much conflict between the spouses. Fights can be frequent, prolonged,
unproductive, ugly, abusive or violent.
The second type of unhappy marriage is one in which
there is hardly any conflict. The spouses have grown apart and become emotionally
disengaged from each other. Their marriage is emotionally and sexually dead
or dying. Lovemaking has decreased significantly or stopped altogether. The
couple may live in morose silence or constantly pick at each other, although
they don't engage in the type of ugly fights which occur in the conflict-ridden
Especially if they haven't picked at each other,
friends and family are often shocked when the second type of unhappy marriage
ends in divorce. On the surface, everything appeared to be fine. What people
didn't see was the emotional emptiness beneath the facade of a happy marriage.
Research shows there are two major time periods
when divorce is most likely to occur: during the first seven years of the marriage
and sixteen to twenty years into the marriage. Not surprisingly, the fighting
spouses are more likely to divorce later in the marriage. They may be willing
to tolerate their unhappiness for a longer period of time.
Sadly to me as a therapist, research also shows
that spouses who seek out the services of a marital therapist usually do so
six years after serious problems have begun in their marriage. By then it may
be too late to save it.
Surprisingly, the prognosis for saving a conflict-ridden
marriage is better than for saving an emotionally disengaged marriage. The fact
the spouses become angry at each other can be a sign they still love one another.
If they didn't care, they'd be indifferent towards the behavior of the other,
which is what happens in disengaged marriages. A marriage without some anger
is emotionally dead. It is a passionless marriage since anger is a passionate
One function of a marital therapist is to teach
people not to avoid fights but how to fight productively without hurting each
other. I often say to couples that the words "I'm angry at you" are
just as caring as the words "I love you". If I'm angry at you, I still
care about our relationship and I want to clear the air of my anger by constructively
expressing it so we can better work on our problems.
In fact, genuine intimacy is not only about being
nice and loving with each other. True intimacy also means sharing negative emotions
with one another and resolving the problems which are interfering with the more
positive, loving interactions.
You know what my plea to those of you who are having
significant marital problems is going to be: Get professional help as soon as
you realize your problems are becoming serious. Don't wait until you inflicted
too much irreparable damage on each other or grown emotionally distant. Improving
your stressed marriage will not only benefit you but your children as well.
About the Author: J. Bailey Molineux, a psychologist with
Adult and Child Counseling, has incorporated many of his articles in a book,
Loving Isn't Easy, Isbn 1587410419, sold through bookstores everywhere or available
directly from Selfhelpbooks.com. Copyright 2002, J. Bailey Molineux and Selfhelpbooks.com,
all rights reserved. This article may be reprinted but must include authors
copyright and website hyperlinks.