When Richard and Stacy contacted me, they had been dating for nearly 9 months and were starting to talk about marriage. In their late 20s, they wanted to make sure they were on the same team. Their initial assessment looked great. Was that enough for them to move forward, or did they need to consider other factors?
I hope you caught my last video where I announced this series on Relationship Dynamics. If you did, you know I often use PREPARE/ENRICH Assessment in my Couple’s Coaching Programs. This empirically-validated and reliable inventory is comprised of 10 separate scales that measure important aspects of your relationship. Plus you get a printed snapshot of where you are today as a couple.
The Relationship Dynamics Scale evaluates four interpersonal characteristics as shown in Richard and Stacy’s report.
The first two, assertiveness and self-confidence, are positive. So the goal is that both partners score high on those characteristics.
The second two, avoidance and partner dominance, are negative. Therefore, the goal is that both partners score low on those characteristics.
Richard and Stacy did just that when they took the inventory.
In terms of Assertiveness, both Richard and Stacy are able to express their thoughts and feelings, and to ask for what they want in the relationship. Their scores on assertiveness were both high.
In terms of Self-confidence, they both have positive self-esteem. That is, they feel good about their ability to accomplish what they want in life, especially in the context of their romantic relationship. Their scores on self-confidence were both high.
In terms of Avoidance, neither of Richard nor Stacy tend to minimize problems or be reluctant to deal directly with issues. Their scores on avoidance were both low.
In terms of Partner Dominance, neither feel that the other is dominant, controlling, and interested in managing their life. Remember, couples are often confused when they see this score. It does not mean that your partner is or isn’t controlling. It’s about your felt experience and perception of your partner’s intentions. Both scored low on partner dominance.
Was anything notable on their Couple Report?
The one thing I noticed going in was that Stacy’s assertiveness and self-confidence scores were slightly lower than Richard’s, whereas Richard’s partner dominance score was a little higher than Stacy’s. I didn’t yet know what that was about. But so far, so good.
Understanding a couple’s relationship dynamics is essential to helping them formulate a plan for their next upgrade in connection and contentment. Of course, there’s a lot more to personal and relational development than good scores on relationship dynamics.
As we explored their relationship and their goals for marriage, everything seemed to fit perfectly. Until they hit a snag.
Stacy was becoming more and more critical of Richard, snapping at him for not doing things the way she wanted them done. From cooking dinner together to arranging time together. They lived about an hour apart, so they had to plan ahead. Both professionals, Richard and Stacy had developed different lifestyles. Finding a way to blend their lives was a challenge, and a certain amount frustration was to be expected.
However, Richard couldn’t understand why Stacy would continually snap at him over the smallest issues. I encouraged Stacy to explore the underlying issue. She was able to bring her concerns about one of Richard’s personal habits that did not fit with her values.
She was into healthy living and outdoor adventures. He was a smoker. He was close to his family, and they all smoked. He saw no problem with doing something he enjoyed. He provided his own rationale for the habit, stating that he didn’t believe it was putting his health at risk and that he had no personal desire or reason to change.
However, he said he loved her enough that he might be willing change his habit … for her.
She talked about the possibility that he would resent her in the future if she were the only reason he changed. He admitted she might be right about that. If she wanted to change that about him, what else would she want to change? He didn’t want to live his life trying to please her and give up his freedom to make his own choices.
Stacy had a choice.
She could accept Richard just as he was, or let him go and walk away. They took a timeout to consider. In the end, Richard stated he was prepared to change, though he still didn’t see a problem with smoking. However, Stacy decided it was a deal-breaker for her.
The bad news was, Stacy had known Richard was a smoker from the beginning. She had continued the relationship nonetheless, making her decision more difficult 9 months later … after they had developed a level of intimacy that was leading toward marriage.
The Good News
The good news was, given the health of their relationship dynamics, they were able to part ways without drama or manipulation. That’s not to say it didn’t hurt. They both were deeply hurt. They had begun to envision a life together, and experiencing the death of their dream wasn’t easy.
Obviously, the issue of personal habits is one of the discussions a couple needs to have before they are too emotionally invested. Coaching can help. Unfortunately, too many couple ignore the red flags because their relationship dynamics are unbalanced and unhealthy.
Next time, I’ll tell you about another premarital couple who had near-perfect relationship dynamics and what they discovered during the coaching program.