Danny and Michelle had set a date and were planning their wedding. He believed what he’d heard, A happy wife means a happy life. So he let her take the reins. When we first met, Michelle was happily running the show. They hadn’t considered what that might look like 10, 15, 20 years down the road. My job was to let them know about findings of marital research, then help them learn and develop the skills they would need to create a healthy marriage.
This is our third premarital couple in this series on Relationship Dynamics that shows you how I use the assessment in the coaching process. Don’t worry, we’re also going to discuss four married couples, so watch for those videos next.
All my Coaching Programs include three components: Evaluation, Education, and Skill Development. Most couples who enroll in one of my 12-week Couple’s Programs complete the PREPARE/ENRICH Assessment as part of the Evaluation component.
A skill professional knows this right away.
As we talk about Danny and Michelle, remember, a skilled professional will be able to assess and describe your dynamics after about five minutes watching you interact with one another. Getting you to recognize your own dynamics takes a lot longer. Being able to picture it in quantifiable terms can help facilitate the process.
The Relationship Dynamics Scale evaluates four interpersonal characteristics as shown in this example. The first two, assertiveness and self-confidence, drive a positive cycle. The second two, avoidance and partner dominance, drive a negative cycle.
Assertiveness is defined as a person’s ability to express personal thoughts and feelings, and to ask for what he/she wants in the relationship. In a healthy relationship, both partners score high on assertiveness.
Self-confidence is defined as positive self-esteem, how good they feel about their ability to accomplish what they want in life. In a healthy relationship, both partners score high on self-confidence.
Avoidance is defined as the tendency to minimize problems and reluctance to deal directly with issues. In a healthy relationship, both partners score low on avoidance.
Finally, Partner Dominance is defined as feeling like your partner is dominant, controlling, and tries to manage your life. In a healthy relationship, both partners score low on partner dominance.
Take a look at Danny & Michelle’s Relationship Dynamics Graph.
As you can see, Danny is far less assertive and a little less confident than Michelle. His lack of assertiveness shows up in his high scores on avoidance and partner dominance. He doesn’t talk about his own thoughts, feelings and desires. In his own words, he lets “her take the reins.” Simply put, Michelle wears the pants.
He said, “It’s just easier to let her do whatever she wants. Most of it doesn’t really matter that much to me anyway. Then there’s no conflict.” Happy wife, happy life.
That pattern fits with their roles in their families of origin.
- Danny grew up in a large family. Five brothers and sisters.
- Michelle is an only child.
- But will it work for their marriage?
Let’s take a look at the sustainability of this pattern 5, 10, 20 years down the road.
- Danny will likely grow quietly resentful, lonely, even depressed. Used perhaps?
- Michelle will likely lose respect for him over time. His lack of involvement could make her begin to question why she needs him around.
Neither partner is getting their emotional needs met.
She doesn’t feel adored and protected. What does he bring to the marriage? Even financially. After all these years, she still earns more than he does. And he never wants to go anywhere.
Their lack of mutual engagement sets the stage for further separation, maybe even an extramarital affair – by one or both. That’s not what they’re signing up for. But that’s the likely outcome if they don’t develop the skills. That means
- Danny needs to be more engaged in the relationship, and
- Michelle needs to allow space for him.
By the end of our work together, they had found effective ways to work together, each using their personal strengths in the process. I helped them rescript their interactions, and they practiced during their sessions. It was really cool to watch both of them get excited about the life they were building together.
Now I’d like to introduce you to four married couples. Each couple had a different level of satisfaction.
I’ll explain what I mean in the next post, so watch for it … or contact me to be added to my email list so you don’t miss it.