Angry or Silent – Which couples have the best chance for survival?

Couples seek therapy for a host of reasons. Two frequent types are the silent couples and the angry couples. Is therapy more successful for one over the other? 

Chronic conflict or silent tension exhaust couples.  A typical pattern is that couples who can’t resolve conflict, and therefore live in it constantly, often divorce around 7 years in because it is too punishing to endure any longer. Other couples decide to simply avoid conflictual topics (sometimes for the sake of protecting the children from the stress of divorcing parents).  Avoidant couples typically reach a point about 5 years later when they realize that they avoid sharing the majority of their experiences with the other in order to not subject each other to the distress of direct conflict.  At that point, they usually are acutely aware that they basically live with a roommate, are very lonely, and as soon as kids are mature enough to handle divorce with minimal disruption, leave to connect with someone who “actually cares.”

Couples without anger, and with isolation from each other, have abandoned the hope that the other can or wants to ever meet their needs.  They usually seek therapy to be able to say that they “tried.”  If you bring a corpse to a hospital, it’s unlikely they can bring the patient back.  If isolated, detached, and apathetic spouses try to revive their marriage, it is a much higher mountain to climb.   

I’m more optimistic for therapy’s success with couples who are spitting nails at each other than couples who are apathetic toward each other.  If they can provoke anger in the other, they are clearly still important in the other’s life.  Reactivity and anger create connection between people, not in an enjoyable way, but a connection nonetheless.  Couples who have anger have not detached from each other, and are motivated to connect in positive ways.  That’s easy to adjust: active desire to get needs met by each other motivates them to work toward change.  If you are consistently angry with your spouse (for more than a of couple weeks), and can’t find a way to resolve the tension and relate in a way that feels good to both, seek help immediately! Chronically conflictual spouses become more convinced that resolution and reconciliation are impossible, the longer they live in active conflict/tension. 

If positive communication is not an option, negative conflict is better than nothing because at least it affirms a connection and with a connection, there is hope.




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