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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 marriages.

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 emotion.

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.

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