Divorce is something that people who are getting engaged and married try not to think about. Yet it happens to many. There is no way anyone would start a family with the thought of getting divorced; everybody wants to “live happily ever after”. But chances are it could turn out in a completely different way. Why is that? Is it just bad luck, or are the two spouses simply not a match? Or is there something more?
It appears that whether you will end up going through divorce is partially determined by what kind of person you are and your spouse is. We will not discuss obvious things like being physically or emotionally abusive or addiction in this article. What we will concentrate on are characteristics that are quite normal but still can cause problems in a family. Here are some personality traits that may be dangerous for your marriage, according to psychologists, family counselors and divorce lawyers.
1. Taking Too Much Care of Your Spouse
This may seem a bit odd. How can care and love be a bad thing? Isn’t that what marriage and family are all about? Of course, many people would say that having someone to take care of them is one of the main reasons why they decided to have a family. This can actually become a problem in some cases, though.
When one of the partners gives to the other beyond measure and doesn’t accept any care or help in return, this creates a certain imbalance in the couple and inevitably leads to soreness and anger. This person may feel like they are not appreciated enough or start demanding obedience from the partner, because they’re giving everything they have and deserve at least some gratitude. What may seem to be a remarkable example of all-giving and all-forgiving love can in fact be just a way for some people to avoid real interaction and intimacy with their partner. By being excessively giving, they try (consciously or subconsciously) to grasp full control over their partner. This brand of compulsive care is a way to put yourself on top of your partner in the family hierarchy, and is a clear message to the other spouse that they have nothing valuable and good to give. Acting this way, you put your partner in the position of child in the family, not allowing them to show their real adult personality.
According to Mark B. Borg, clinical psychologist and author of Relationship Sanity: Creating and Maintaining Healthy Relationships, “Over-giving is a powerful defense against building mutuality and equality in relationships, disallows the establishment of intimacy and empathy and leaves people on marriage feeling isolated.” This isn’t something you want for your family, right?
2. Being Critical and All-Controlling
This one logically follows from what is above. When you see your partner as a child that needs constant care, you may also start “educating” them and making sure they “do nothing wrong”. This makes the partner feel worthless and helpless, and leads to depression.
Of course, people say that they want their partner to improve and become better. They think it’s a sign of love that they let their partner know what they did wrong. This life becomes a nightmare though. Imagine that you are at school all the time and you can’t relax even for a second. No one is perfect; we are all humans. And the best thing we can do for our partner is to let them be who they are.
Usually, control is a means of making sure that the person will never go away. If you make them powerless, they can’t live without you. It’s a cage your partner will sooner or later want to escape. Family law attorney Raymond Hekmat says: “I have seen many clients who escape their marriages in order to find themselves, and prove to themselves that they are worthy of love and success."
We don’t get married to be controlled; we do it of our own free will to spend the rest of life with a person who loves and respects us. Over-criticism and control are no friends to respect. Rather, they are poison that will destroy any marriage.
Some people love to make mountains out of molehills, and this is also a great threat to a marriage. Why? Imagine that you are sitting on a barrel with gunpowder and you are holding a burning torch the whole time. You never know when the whole thing is going to explode! This is what living with an overreacting person feels like. These families live in a vicious circle: they have a conflict - they decide to divorce - they think for a while and understand that they probably overreacted - everything is fine - they have another conflict… At first, this type of relationship might seem interesting and appealing, as there are always bright emotions. But it’s up and down all the time and eventually one of the partners will get tired of this “rollercoaster” and seek to break the cycle by breaking up for real.
4. Avoiding Conflicts and Hiding from Them
When we imagine a perfect family, we often think about couples who never argue or disagree. To some of us, arguments seem like they would pose a big threat to our relationship, and as such we avoid them as much as possible. Does this mean that there are no conflicts? Of course not! Living together and building a relationship inevitably includes disagreements, as this is two DIFFERENT people trying to create something together. Ignoring the unpleasant, we leave problems unsolved, and they don’t go away so much as they accumulate in the relationship – which eventually can destroy it. From time to time, it’s vitally important for the parties in a marriage to discuss things that bother them – everything that annoys them and causes discomfort – so that the couple can find a way to deal with the issue and live on happier.
Any conflict resolution begins with admitting that there is a problem and discussing it alongside all the negative emotions it evokes. This requires some effort and responsibility from both partners. As sexologist and relationship expert Dr. Nikki Goldstein puts it, “relationships can’t be saved without the focus and hard work that someone who is avoiding arguments might not be prepared to give.” Building a relationship is hard work, but this is the only path to a happy marriage. When you try to avoid conflicts, you also avoid getting closer to your partner by “solving” them. This puts your marriage at risk.
5. Being Defensive
This might be the flip-side of the previous characteristic, and is one more strategy in conflict that doesn’t actually solve the conflict, leading instead to more negative emotions and, eventually, divorce. Defensive people can’t listen to their partners expressing feelings or asking for something, as they think that anything that a spouse dislikes is a direct attack on them personally. In any unpleasant situation it’s “you vs. me” instead of “us vs. the issue”. The first position is purely defensive and never leads to a healthy conflict resolution. In addition, when one partner acts on the defensive, the other person automatically starts doing the same. And from this moment on they are not a family or life partners; they are enemies fighting a battle. The second approach allows for cooperation and, when it comes to family life, can save your marriage.
Defensiveness can also take the form of stubbornness when a person just has to be right all the time and everything has to be their way. They defend every small decision they make as if it was their life, and the other partner’s opinion is not taken into consideration. Every time you act like this, there is a simple question to ask yourself: “Do I want to be right or happy?”
6. Being Too Soft
So, you are now convinced that selfishness is a one-way ticket to divorce. So you decide to become softer and agree with your partner more. Well, sort of. Because you can’t be a doormat. Marriage and family life are for decisive people. It’s extremely difficult to have a person who doesn’t know what they want to eat or where to go for a vacation alongside you. If being a doormat can rear its ugly head in basic situations like these, it will certainly be a problem in moments where you need to choose a nursing home for a parent, or a doctor to perform surgery on your child. If your partner has no opinion and totally relies on you in moments like these, they leave you “alone with the situation” and transfer the burden of difficulty to you. And then a question arises: “why would I need a partner if they don’t make my life easier and I still have to do everything on my own?”
When you don’t have an opinion about anything, this may also make your partner think that you simply don’t care. It’s hard to live with someone who doesn’t give a damn. You wouldn’t, right?
7. Playing the Victim
This is such a tempting position to take in a family conflict when you are not the one to blame for a problem. Narcissistic people are often notorious for this. Their colossal sense of self doesn’t allow them to see how their own actions might create problems in the relationship. From their point of view, it’s other people who have done things wrong to them and never them personally making a mistake. According to Goldstein, the victim position accompanied by inadequately high self-esteem prevents a person from taking responsibility for their role in the issue. And there is no way you can solve a conflict if you can’t accept that there was something you did which contributed to it.
Another problem with playing the victim is that victims often want an audience to perform for, so they involve others in a conflict that was previously between two. And in this case, the partner no longer feels safe, as any confidential information could be disseminated to anybody who will listen to a “poor little soul”. Whenever you feel like telling someone else what your spouse said or did wrong, think about how you would feel in this type of situation. And if you really want someone’s help, you should contact a psychologist or a therapist, who will see through any attempts to play the victim and will help you find a real solution for your problem.
Playing the victim has its benefits, though they are not always obvious. By putting yourself in this position, you remove responsibility and make other people do what you are supposed to. You can always get extra support from a “crowd of sympathizers”. And you will never have to face your own imperfection and mistakes. But are you ready to sacrifice your marriage for that?
8. Being Vindictive
Everybody makes mistakes; sometimes we can hurt our loved ones by our words or actions even without knowing or intending to. And this is normal and natural. The point is that we apologize, fix what was wrong and move on. But not everybody. There are people who never let things go. They hold on to resentment and anger as if they were the most precious treasures and remember everything. And then, when the time is right, during an argument, for example, they start bringing up every mistake that their partner that has made, every broken promise, etc. This, of course, heats up the conflict to the point where there is no way to solve it. Plus, when we are talking not about something that is happening here and now, we lose the power to change anything, and one more conflict stays unsolved.
There is one more thing worth mentioning here. Often people like this have some kind of “score” for the marriage. They count how many times their partner was wrong and how many times they made a mistake themselves. And they think that they can do anything if they “win”. Need it to be mentioned that the other person has no chance to level the score?
Or another version of the same thing. One partner apologizes, and the other says that it’s okay, when in fact it’s not and there is still soreness inside. But the partner prefers not to talk about; instead, they do something small (or big) to make the first partner “pay for their sin”. These can be innocent things like forgetting about something they asked for (accidentally, for sure) or not answering messages and calls, but it could also include cheating or something even worse.
Revenge may be sweet but it’s never sweeter than love and understanding in a family. This should be remembered no matter how tempted you are to hurt your partner back. If it’s an eye for an eye, you will soon both be blind.
9. Being Selfish
Selfishness is the first word we associate with narcissism. And this is one of the qualities that can leave any relationship dead on arrival. Now, we are all humans and there is nothing wrong with being a bit selfish at times. This allows us to get what we want in this life. The problem occurs when selfish behaviour becomes the only way of acting and treating others.
A healthy relationship can’t be about “getting only what I want no matter how I get it and what it costs you”. However strong your partner’s love is, they will eventually be disappointed and leave if they see that their needs are never satisfied and they are just a means for you to get what you want. Family life is all about keeping a balance between being selfish and taking care of the person with you.
10. Being Irresponsible
This one adds to the victim topic, but deserves separate discussion. Sometimes people not only avoid responsibility for their own role in family conflicts and difficult situations, but are just generally irresponsible. It’s difficult for them to coordinate their own desires and freedom with family life. This may seem attractive at first, when a person is so spontaneous that they never know when, where and how they are going to wake up tomorrow. But when it comes to building a family, it’s extremely difficult to rely on this type of person. Of course, love should involve some creativity and spontaneity, but family needs a stable base in order to withstand the challenges of life. Irresponsible people are not the type that can support the family.
Marriage is full of moments where we need to take responsibility – our spouse might need support or medical treatment, we might have children, some emergency might occur. And believe me, you wouldn’t want to be maritally invested in someone who flies from responsibility in moments like these.
11. Being Insecure
When a person is insecure, and their self-esteem and confidence depend on what other people say or do, they are very likely to look for as much attention, love and approval from people around as they can possibly find. This is a threat to a family, as this sort of craving for positive treatment and love can turn into cheating when even innocent flirtation or compliments from someone other than the spouse are perceived as signs of something more. And if one partner doesn’t give enough approval to their insecure other half at this moment, it can be very tempting to take what is offered. This is the first step to infidelity, even if it’s just “emotional cheating” at first. When two adults are engaged like this, it will tend to develop quickly into something more scandalous.
There is one more thing about insecure people that can be dangerous for a marriage. As we mentioned, they need attention. But really, they need LOTS of attention, and it would be great if they had it ALL THE TIME. And when they see that their partner has something else on their mind, which is absolutely normal because we can’t have our whole mind devoted to one person only, they think that the partner doesn’t love them anymore. They either start demanding love in direct and indirect ways, including manipulation, crying, arguments or demonstrative behaviour, or go and look for a “decent” attitude from someone else. You probably know where this all ends up.
What is this, you may ask? This is a term that psychologists use to describe one of the basic traits of personality. People who have a high level of neuroticism are usually very vulnerable, irritable, sometimes even hostile, anxious and self-conscious. They are more likely than others to be depressed and have problems coping with stress and controlling impulses. It’s difficult to imagine a happy family with someone like that. According to a study done by T. D. Fisher and J. K. McNulty, this trait has a strong influence on satisfaction with marriage, and especially on satisfaction with one’s sex life. After all, misunderstanding in bed tends to leak out, figuratively or literally, into other areas of the family.
13. Pathological Lying
This is not a personality trait, you might be thinking. And you would be right, but to a point. For some people, lying is not so much a behaviour as it is their flesh and blood. They lie to everybody they talk to, sometimes not realizing it and sometimes even believing their own lies. Naturally, this is a huge problem for a marriage.
It seems obvious that a healthy relationship should be built on honesty and openness. But for some people, being frank and emotionally naked in front of a loved one is unbearable. Especially when it comes to situation where they did something wrong and need to apologize. They start acting like small children, trying to hide their mistakes from parents even though the situation is completely different – they are not a child anymore, and their partner is not mom or dad. They are a separate person who deserves to know what happened, if there is indeed something to be told.
14. Lack of Gratitude, Devaluing
There is probably nothing more demotivating than doing something for your partner and not receiving a simple ‘thank you’ in return. Sometimes we think that everyday tasks (like washing dishes or cooking dinner) are insignificant or you get used to the fact that your husband brings flowers every once in a while days, and it becomes a completely routine thing. And here is the problem: a person spends certain resources doing what they do (it can be time, money, emotional energy or anything else). And if they constantly give and get no reward of gratitude from you, they will quickly lose the motivation to do anything at all. Why bother? No one cares anyway!
What is even worse than a lack of gratitude is devaluing. This is not just an indifferent reaction to what your spouse does; this involves giving their actions (or them personally) less praise or value than they deserve. It’s saying that what they did was not enough, or not that good at all. For instance, your wife organizes a party for your birthday. And instead of saying how happy you are, you start looking for reasons to say why it’s not the party you wanted. There are always some flaws: she invited some people you don’t like, she overcooked the pasta, she didn’t take out the ping-pong table like you asked her to and you want to play a few rounds with friends, etc. And you say “Well, it could have been better…” Will she ever want to do anything like that again? Doubt it!
Of course, there might be situations where you really dislike something your partner did, and there is nothing wrong with expressing your feelings to that end. But you should choose the right time and place for this. And first of all, your comments should be full of love for your spouse. Concentrate on what you like about them and give tactful suggestions about what they can change about their behavior.
Devaluing often comes from an inability to express positive feelings and accept good vibes from others. A good solution in this case would be to practice gratitude just like you practice your favorite sport or a foreign language. After a while you will see that there are so many things you are thankful for.
15. Being Self-Deprecating
Many of the traits we’ve discussed in this article are two sides of the same coin. This one completes the one above perfectly.
We all need a certain amount of self-criticism and self-irony. These are signs of a healthy adult personality. But if a person constantly denigrates themselves, saying how bad they look, how stupid they are or how unlucky the partner is to have such a terrible spouse, one day the husband or wife may think that they are probably right and go find someone better. It’s not the reaction a person expects, though, as they often say all these things just to receive praise and kind words from their spouse – fishing for compliments, as they say. Why can’t they simply ask? That would be too embarrassing and simple! Being married to this sort of misery is torture, and there aren’t many people who can stand this for the rest of their lives. “This toxic imbalance eventually drives the partner away from my experience because they end up completely and totally drained from trying to deal with everyone’s issues all at the same time,” says Mary E. Ramos, divorce and family law attorney.
Inability to Build Healthy Communication
This one is the last and isn’t even on the list, as it kind of sums up all the traits mentioned above. When a person is insecure, they play victim all the time, take a defensive position or have no opinion at all, etc., they have no chance to build healthy communication in which both partners feel safe to express themselves and solve any difficulties they might have.
Communication is the key to any relationship, especially when people have decided to spend the rest of their lives together.
So What Do You Do If You See One of these Dangerous Traits in You or Your Partner?
First of all, panicking is not a solution. Being at risk doesn’t mean that something is going to happen. Now you at least can see what areas might give you trouble in the future or already be creating problems.
It takes a certain amount of courage and honesty to admit that there is something in you that could be harmful to your family. Ignoring the reality will only lead to problems, however. And when you see it, you can fix it. Take actions. Talking to your spouse is the first right thing to do. Maybe they have ideas about how you could act differently and avoid certain issues. If you feel that there is a need, make an appointment with a family counselor or a therapist, so that a professional can help you save your marriage from disaster.