Even though divorce is not as common as many believe, the odds can still feel stacked against couples before the first “I do’s” are even said. It’s not only that divorce statistics sit pulsing in the distance but also the fact that there are so many different behaviors or scenarios that can upend your relationship. Love is a risk. People change. But will they change together?
It can be daunting. One of the best things to do, then, is arm ourselves with knowledge of the personality traits that, left unchecked, can doom a marriage. Because we all have bad habits and in understanding the worst ones, we can better recognize our faults, hold ourselves accountable, and be the best partner we can be. In other words, in trying to better ourselves, we can shake the fear of divorce from our minds and focus on the future — and the joy of being married. Here, then, according to psychologists, relationship experts, and divorce lawyers, are some of the most common personality traits that can lead to divorce.
When one partner is excessively giving to another, it can actually be a sign of emotional distance and a subtle way of trying to assert control in the relationship. This can lead to feelings of resentment, isolation, and, ultimately, pave the way for divorce. The message starts out as ‘I am giving to you because I care for you; and winds up ‘I am not taking anything from you, ergo you have nothing of value to offer,” says Mark B. Borg, Jr., Ph.D., 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.”
Making a Big Deal Out of Nothing
This is known as “catastrophizing” and it can slowly wear away at a marriage. In many cases, the incidents that are brought up are insignificant, but magnified by anxiety and depression. David Gonet, an Illinois-based family lawyer, reports cases of clients filing for divorce for such things as having a spouse come home late for work or forgetting to pick up dry cleaning. “In severe cases, I have had clients suffering from catastrophizing file for divorce from their spouse on three separate occasions,” Gonet says. “A harmless event leads the client to file for divorce, during the divorce the client realizes that they overreacted, and the client dismisses the divorce. The next harmless event precipitates the same course of action…file for divorce, realize they overreacted, dismiss the divorce.”
Disagreements are essential for a marriage. It’s important to get grievances out in the open and, when done effectively, can help to work through issues and improve communication. However, when arguments are avoided in a relationship, things are left unresolved, and the relationship can’t progress. This leads to unhappiness. As sexologist and relationship expert Dr. Nikki Goldstein says, “relationships can be saved without that focus and hard work that someone who is avoiding arguments might not be prepared to give.”
Unsurprisingly, the risk of divorce among narcissistic people is very high, predominantly because of their inability to see reality when it comes to the balance of relationship roles. Very often, when something goes wrong or there is any kind of a conflict, a narcissist tends to play the victim. “Someone who is always playing victim coupled with a grandiose sense of self might not have the empowerment and control to fix things when the relationship is at risk,” says Goldstein. “How can someone fix things if they won’t take responsibility for their role in the first place?”
Having a Fragile Ego
Deep insecurities can sow the seeds for marital upheaval because the insecure person might try and find external means of resolving those insecurities. One of those external means could be attention from another person, which is the first step on the road to infidelity — emotional or otherwise. “When life settles and there is just two people living side by side,” says Goldstein, “the fragile ego will find another one to be stroked by, in more ways than one.”
Selfishness and narcissism seem like they might by one and the same, but there is a difference in that everyone has a bit of selfishness in them and everyone has times where they might put their own needs ahead of their spouse’s. Problems can arise when this behavior becomes habitual and the partner continually makes the other one feel useless. “Being selfish has a shelf life in a marriage, and only so much love will keep someone around,” says Goldstein. “However when [selfishness] is hurtful towards someone else, things can start to go downhill.”
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