Change the System in Your Marriage

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 @ 1:27 PM

It is important to have a systematic perspective to marriage. A systemic perspective can be quite advantageous, as it is team focused and empowering, rather than demonizing, oppositional and helpless.

So practically speaking, how would a systemic perspective play out in a real-live marriage?

Two common examples are the parent/child and pursuit/disengagement dynamics.

Now, if you’ve been married for any length of time (or even in a relationship past the honeymoon phase), chance are you know exactly what I’m referencing.

The parent/child dynamic is where one partner feels like they have to be a parent because their partner acts like a child, whilst simultaneously the other partner resents their partner for acting like a parent and treating them like a child.

The pursuit/disengagement dynamic is where one partner pursues, to which the other retreats or disengages. This in turn elicits a more “inspired” pursuit, which gives way to ever increasing disengagement or retreat (read, “runs away”).

Can anyone relate here?

These two dynamics alone can be extremely frustrating. The maddening part is that they feed into each other. That’s the dance. Using myself as an example, the more I pull away, the stronger and more panicked my wife pursues. And if her pursuit was off putting in the first place, her doubly intense pursuit is twice as off putting, resulting in my doubly pulling away, which is then 100 times more terrifying to my wife. You may have noticed a slight unaccounted for escalation in my math there. This is because, after careful study, I have found emotions tend to care less about accounting and do not feel the need to make sense.

This plays out identically with the parent/child dynamic, wherein the more a spouse acts like a parent – the more we are literally encouraged and trained to act like a child. And no one is happy.


The good news is, it only takes one person to change the system. Either I, or my wife can do something different. I can engage my wife, and more than likely she’ll back off the intensity. My wife can treat me like a grown man (she does!), and more than likely I’ll start acting more like an adult*. So if you’re reading this, be encouraged! You can start the ripple effect, break the cycle, shift the dance and change the system! It all starts by recognizing your own power and influence in THE DANCE.

*I should mention that, treating one like an adult does not necessarily mean leaving them alone. It more entails respect and conversation between equals – i.e. children are scolded and told what to do, adults collaborate and negotiate. More on this later.

 Written by Brad Bychinski