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It's wedding season once again, and many Bridezillas and Groomzillas will be walking down the aisle towards their blissful intended who doesn't have a clue, or do they? The process between meeting someone and ending up at the altar is a road of revelations containing pot holes, rough patches, blind corners and crossroads at which the individuals need to make a decision on which way they will go in order to continue to move towards their desired destination. Every mile traveled together provides them with new information, shared experiences and accrued data about their rightness or wrongness for each other. With all this learning about and experience of one another they should KNOW who and what they are marrying, right? With a divorce rate hovering at just below 50%, this is apparently not so.
If the age old process of courtship doesn't provide couples with the right information, then how can they get it? For starters--using denial and rationalization to ignore warning signs, and writing off those uneasy thoughts and feelings to a case of the jitters should be banned from all relationships leading to commitment and marriage. Instead both individuals need to pay attention to what their guts are telling them, tune into what others around them may be trying to tell them--and directly raise any concerns with their partner in order to have an open and honest dialogue about how things are going. The following are some of the classic relationship red flags that should be addressed sooner rather than later.
* Frequent fighting
* A history of repeated breaking up and making up
* Lifestyle or work ethic differences that concern you
* Excessive jealousy
* Low sexual interest
* Uncomfortable with emotional intimacy
* Wants to spend all of their time with you alone
* Keeps you away from your friends/family
* Has few or no friends
* Has problems getting along with co-workers, family members, others
* History of mood swings and/or inconsistent behavior
* Infidelity during your relationship
As you looked over this list you may have been thinking that EVERY couple encounters at least one or two of these issues. While it's true that every couple has arguments, this does not mean they argue frequently. There may be one break up from which they emerge stronger and wiser, but many of these spell trouble. Feeling jealous is not excessive jealousy--the kind that leads to someone reading your email, listening in on your phone calls, checking your phone log, and asking you where and with who you have been every time you have been apart. If they have little interest in sexual contact with you is it due to a lack of chemistry or just a lack of interest in sex? How will it feel living with this through years of marriage? Few friends or no friends means they have almost no interest in socializing, except with you--and if they don't want your friends along, why not? If someone has issues with many or most of the people in their life, they will have issues with you. Yes, many people have a co-worker who annoys them or an old friend they no longer feel a connection with--but this is not a PATTERN of problems with other people. A history of mood swings does not mean a bad day here and there, and infidelity points to something missing or amiss between the two of you. To sum it up, all behavior should be viewed through a lens of frequency, intensity and the context in which it occurs. Look for patterns and tune into that little voice that says; "Something isn't right here."
If you recognize that you and your partner have a problem (s) that needs addressing, where do you start? The first place is always to plan for a quiet and uninterrupted time that you can bring up your concerns. Tell him or her that you have something on your mind you would like to discuss and need their help with. As you raise your concern, use I statements, such as; "I feel uncomfortable when you check on where I have been and who I have been out with. Have I given you a reason not to trust me?" Keep it open-ended and give them time to process it and respond. Don't jump in to fill the uncomfortable space and do note their body language which includes--what they don't say, their tone of voice, and their eye contact or lack of it. This conversation is a necessary starting point and should give you important information that you can move forward (or not) with. If your partner avoids responding, becomes angry, shuts down, or becomes defensive and turns the discussion to everything that is wrong with you, you were right that there is a REAL problem. At that point you need to give some thought to how much you are invested in the relationship and if you want to save it or not. If you are unsure; I always recommend counseling with someone who feels like a good fit for you. If your partner refuses to go (another red flag) go alone.
Remember that relationships go through stages and as individuals move through these they are making decisions about how well the other person fits their needs and whether they want to move forwards towards greater commitment--which is why break-ups often occur when steps like moving in together or getting engaged are raised. Make sure you take each one of these steps with your eyes open and with a realistic view of your relationship must haves and those things you cannot tolerate in any future partner and relationship.
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Toni Coleman, LCSW
© Copyright 2008 Antoinette Coleman. All rights reserved.
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