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How to Develop a Satisfactory Relationship with an Imperfect Partner?

Why do some families break under stress while others become stronger? This question is especially relevant in the current times where divorce rates are rising. We all know that having a successful marital relationship requires effort on the part of both partners. But what about personality traits that are ingrained in us genetically and socially?

Personality

Personality is composed of a set of stable traits that influence an individual’s perceptions and behaviors. Notwithstanding that we cannot shed our personality if we do not like it; we can certainly learn coping mechanisms that are conducive to a healthy relationship. On the individual level, personality traits and parental upbringing guide behaviors. On the couple level, marital interactions and coping mechanism play a vital role in shaping the marital trajectory.

Basic personality traits remain relatively stable during adulthood and impact adult relationships. The notion that innate dispositions influence marriage was first advanced in 1938 by Terman and colleagues. Certain personality traits such as positive emotionality, positive affectivity, and positive expressivity are positively linked with marital satisfaction. Whereas, negative emotionality, negative affectivity, and negative expressivity are negatively linked with marital satisfaction.

Previous research examined factors associated with marital stability to identify and differentiate between marriages that endure as opposed to those that dissolve in the face of crises. Some factors that contribute to satisfying marital relationships include the feelings of love, commitment, fidelity, trust, respect, social support, sexual interaction, gender roles, communication patterns, philosophy of life, equity of tasks, cognitive processes, shared interests in leisure and children, and similar religious beliefs.

Vulnerability–Stress–Adaptation (VSA) Model

To explain the variations in the quality and stability of a marital relationship, Karney and Bradbury conducted a meta-analysis of 115 longitudinal studies representing over 45,000 marriages. They proposed the vulnerability–stress–adaptation (VSA) model, which integrated three classes of variables into a single cohesive framework. These variables include enduring vulnerabilities (individual strengths and weaknesses), stressful events (incidents or transitions encountered by the couple), and adaptive processes (behavior, communication, and coping styles). All these variable classes work in conjunction to make or break the marital relationship.

 To have a successful marital relationship, partners should pay due attention to their enduring traits, incidents that are a source of stress in their relationship, and their behaviors, communication styles, and coping mechanisms. Objectively appraising marital stressors and avoiding making negative partner attributions could help de-escalate marital conflict. Therapists should encourage couples to rethink their negative behaviors and curb assigning blame to each other during crises.

Black and White Thinking/All or None thinking

Black and white thinking, commonly known as ‘splitting,’ poses a significant challenge in romantic relationships, where partners may perceive situations in extremes, fostering misunderstandings and emotional distress. This cognitive distortion can lead to hurtful accusations, such as “you never cared for me” or “you are always late,” which oversimplify complex issues and hinder effective communication.

Antidote for Black and White Thinking

The antidote for black and white thinking involves cultivating awareness of one’s thought patterns. By consciously recognizing and reframing absolute statements with more nuanced language, such as “sometimes” or “maybe,” partners can introduce shades of gray into their perceptions. This increased awareness fosters a more balanced view of the relationship, allowing for constructive dialogue, empathy, and the potential for resolution. Breaking free from the confines of black and white thinking can contribute to healthier and more resilient partnerships.

Take Home Message

Perfect romantic relationship doesn’t require perfect personality rather a willingness to work together.

For Further Reading

Karney, B. R., & Bradbury, T. N. (1995). The longitudinal course of marital quality and stability: A review of theory, method, and research. Psychological Bulletin, 118(1), 3–34. 10.1037/0033-2909.118.1.3.

Terman, L. M., Buttenwieser, P., Ferguson, L. W., Johnson, W. B., & Wilson, D. P. (1938). Psychological factors in marital happiness. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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