Dating is usually filled with fun times and passionate encounters, but very often there’s an imbalance in terms of how much one person is giving and how much the other is taking. Over time the taker feels entitled to getting what they want without having to work out win-win agreements. And the giver becomes increasingly resentful that they’re not getting nearly as many of their needs met as their mate.
One of the primary reasons that relationships don’t work out well is that they never begin as true partnerships. Most people know that over 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, but surveys show that another 25 percent to 30 percent of people languish in a dissatisfying tie to their spouse. Why do so many people stay in unfulfilling marriages?
Sometimes it’s because it’s too painful to acknowledge the truth: You made a mistake in believing that your partner would take as good of care of you as you do them. You were misled by the promises that your partner made to you. You’re too embarrassed to admit your mistake to your family and friends.
Many times, however, people stay in a poor relationship because they believe that there’s something wrong with them. That makes it hard for a person to go to marriage counseling — they fear that their fatal flaws will be exposed and they’ll be seen as unlovable.
Sadly, many people feel that because they have so much wrong with them, being in a bad relationship is the best that they’ll ever be able to do. So they continue to do a great deal for their ungrateful spouses because they labor under the illusion that if they do more or better they’ll eventually be able to change their partner’s impression of them. But the truth is that there’s nothing you can do to change another person unless that person wants things to change.
Which raises the question, why would someone who’s getting what they want without having to give their fair share in return want things to change? It’s working for them the way things are — they’re winning. Which means they don’t have to look at themselves because they can criticize their partner — the loser — for any problems that arise.
Because love withers in unfair relationships, takers end up feeling just as bad as givers. But takers are so terrified of acknowledging their faults they feel compelled to project all of the blame onto their spouse. How convenient that their partner is willing to accept it. In spite of their becoming defensive when criticized, takers know that givers will ultimately give them what they want. But this simply fuels the taker’s disrespect and reinforces their bad behavior toward the giver.
When people stay in an unbalanced relationship they experience a downward spiral of helplessness and hopelessness. However painful and lonely their situation becomes, it still seems preferable to stay with the devil they know than the one they don’t. When unhappy people look to the future they often see life becoming even more difficult and desolate if they try to change it.
Happy people, conversely, believe that their life can be what they choose it to be. They can make the choice to be in a fair and balanced relationship. They can choose to say “that’s enough!” when their marriage gets out of balance. They can choose to get help to learn how to be happy. They can choose to move on to a better marriage if their current spouse refuses to make things right.
If you’re unhappy in your marriage, you need to build your confidence that you can improve your situation. You won’t do that by focusing on what’s wrong with you and your spouse. You won’t build confidence with a therapist who spends too much time trying to fix what’s wrong. Research has revealed that traditional marital therapy only works for one in three couples.
Marriage counseling based on positive psychology, studies show, enables people to use their strengths to build more satisfying and successful relationships. We have internal character strengths that ground us in our values. And we develop interpersonal strengths that empower us in relationships. In mutually satisfying marriages, partners appreciate and applaud their spouses when they use their strengths. That’s what best friends do — encourage each other to use their best qualities when they’re facing a challenge and celebrate one another’s success.