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Unresolvable problems

“In his vast research on marriage, Gottman reports that 69% of marital problems are unresolvable or perpetual, in that they involve core differences in personality or needs that are fundamental to the partners’ sense of self. It’s how couples go about not resolving their problems that differentiates happy and unhappy couples.” (Clinical Casebook of Couple Therapy, 42, emphasis original)

These two sentences totally blow me away. 69 percent! I can’t help but wonder why so many people who are so different would get married in the first place. But according to my couple counseling professor, who’s practiced for over 40 years, most people do marry those with significant personality differences. (It’s unclear to me if he is referring to most people in general, or most people in couple therapy. The implications of each are pretty different.)

I admit my bias: I’m not sure people who can’t meet each other’s significant needs should be together at all. The whole concept of learning how not to resolve problems makes my eyes bug out of my head a little. Of course, we all do some of that—I deal with my husband’s social anxiety, for example, by leaving him at home when I go to visit friends. But even that small instance of not-resolving is, to me, imperfect. I’m a problem-solver; I want my issues fixed. When the differences in needs get too vast, how satisfying can a marriage be?

It just makes me think of the stepmoms who deal with a towering heap of problems by scheduling activities away from the family, working longer hours, and spending holidays alone. Are they happy? No! But they manage to stay, just barely, on the edge of sanity. I’m willing to bet this is the “unhappy” brand of not-resolving, but I’m dying to know what distinguishes the two.

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