A Conflicted Couple | Prepare-Enrich

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NOTE: Couples in The Relationship Dynamics Series are composites of multiple people. Names and personal details have been changed to protect their identities.

Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in and never-ending cycle? Do you have the same arguments over and over and over again? That’s where Peter and Paula were when we first met. I hope their story will inspire you.

Today we’re continuing the series on Relationship Dynamics as measured by the PREPARE/ENRICH Inventory. At this point, more than 4 million couples have taken this assessment with the goal of preparing them for marriage or helping them enrich the marriage they already have.

I’ve been using this empirically-validated and reliable tool for more than 2 decades. It has been so useful in my work with couples that I even became a trainer for PREPARE/ENRICH, teaching pastors, lay counselors, and mental health professionals how to use it with their couples, too.

The best part is the set of graphs that help couples see where they are.

In this post, I’m going to show you two of the graphs for Peter and Paula, their Couple Typology and their Relationship Dynamics.

As you can see here, this Conflicted Couple disagreed with one another and had concerns about many aspects of their relationship. They were experience significant difficulty communicating with one another and resolving issues. They needed guidance to help them improve communication and conflict resolution.

Now in their mid-50s, they had been married less than 2 years. However, they had been friends for more than 20 years. After Peter’s wife passed away from a long-term illness, he pursued a relationship with Paula. They married, and the fireworks began. And I don’t mean the good kind.

If you’ve seen the first post in this series, you know how important your Relationship Dynamics are.

The healthiest and happiest couples have a predictable pattern of interpersonal interactions. Both partners score high on assertiveness and self-confidence. They are each able to share their thoughts and feelings and ask for what they need in the relationship. They are also confident about their ability to get what they want in life, including in their marriage.

On the other hand, healthy couples score low on avoidance and partner dominance. They can address issues openly and don’t feel like their mate is trying to run one another’s life.

Peter scored average on assertiveness and very high on self-confidence. Paula scored low on assertiveness and high average on self-confidence. Both scored average on avoidance. That is, there was a 50/50 change each would be reluctant to talk about or deal directly with issues.

Partner Dominance

But the most telling score, from my perspective, was their high scores on partner dominance. Each thought the other was dominating, controlling, and trying to manage their lives. So what did that look like for them?

Paula had been married more than once, but had spent most of her life as a single woman. She definitely knew how to take care of herself. But she also knew how to pursue some pretty audacious goals and achieve them. She and Peter had been great friends for a long time and thoroughly enjoyed his company. Until they married.

Peter saw himself as a protector and provider, as most men do. He was highly successful in his male-dominated career field. And he had stepped in to care for his wife throughout her illness. He was as determined to protect and provide for Paula as he had been for his first wife. Do you see where this is going?

In short, Peter smothered his new wife.

When Paula did assert herself, he overrode whatever she said. For example, if she wanted to go anywhere, he wanted to drive her. She told him that wasn’t necessary, but to make him happy, she went along with it in the beginning. However, out of shear frustration, she soon stopped telling him what she had planned.

For practical reasons – at least according to Peter’s point of view, Paula had moved into his house after their wedding. If she wanted to change anything about the house – like rearranging furniture or redecorating – he said, “Don’t worry about it. It’s fine just like it is.”

If she wanted to buy something new for the house, he told her he already had whatever it was so they didn’t need a new one. That happened more than once.

Paula was about ready to give up.

By the time I met them, Paula had all but stopped asking for what she wanted and was beginning to show signs of depression. The more withdrawn she became, the more Peter worried about her and tried to take even better care of her.

That had been his role with his ailing first wife. He didn’t know how to partner with a healthy woman. And Paula didn’t know how to partner with a husband. She’d been independent a long time. The one things they agreed on? That they had been great friends.

Peter needed to process his grief and let go of his need to protect a woman who literally couldn’t do anything for herself. He needed to value Paula’s thoughts and feelings, to respect her right to make decisions for herself. Yes, he needed to protect and provide for her, but not to the same degree he had with his first wife. It was a tough shift for him.

Paula needed to learn how to honor her new husband.

She felt controlled by Peter’s affections. She was in a tough spot that required patience – and persistence.

I’ve watched many Conflicted Couples turn things around. If they are determined to make progress, they can. A retake of the PREPARE/ENRICH Inventory has revealed significant improvements on their Couple Typology graphs. But most noticeably in terms of their Relationship Dynamics.

Does any part of Peter and Paula’s story resonate with your personal experience – or sound like anyone you know?

Let me know! Remember, I’m here to help.

Next time, I’ll introduce you to a Devitalized Couple, Carl and Denise.

They felt disconnected and disagreed about many aspects of their relationship, both currently and historically.