#UK A couples psychologist told us why marriage is the hardest type of relationship



Hierarchy — this person commands that person, that person submits to that person — is one of the most fundamental ways humans organize themselves. 

Except for marriage.

“Every other relationship we’re in is hierarchical,” says relationship psychologist and Couples Institute cofounder Peter Pearson. “Kids grow up, parents are the boss. Go to school, go to college, teach is the boss. Go to work, your boss is the boss.” 

But in a healthy long-term relationship, nobody is the boss.

“That’s what makes marriage so tough,” Pearson tells Tech Insider. “We’re used to a hierarchy, and you’ve got no authority over the other person.”

george clooney amalIn a hierarchy, somebody has authority over the other. If you don’t do your homework, you get an F. If you don’t execute on that project, you’ll get transferred to North Dakota. The threat of something bad happening gets things done. 

But in a marriage, Pearson says, all you can do is divorce. You’ve only got one bullet. 

He uses an example from his own life with his wife Ellyn, the other cofounder of the Couples Institute. If he were to leave clutter around the house, then she would (hypothetically) nag him to stop. 

“Over time, she’ll keep nagging or give up on nagging and disengage,” he says. “That’s about it. She has no authority. In a really non-hierarchical relationship, no one has authority over another one.”

The alternative to the non-hierarchical marriage is any number of dysfunctional patterns of behavior. 

Pearson says that probably 60% of the couples that come into his practice have one of these two dynamics

• A conflict-avoidant dynamic is defined by fear. “For both people, the emotional risk of speaking up outweighs the potential benefit of bringing things up to the surface and working through them,” Pearson says. As a result, “you contort yourself to be acceptable to your partner so they won’t reject you or leave you,” he says. “Each person compromises their wishes, their desires, their identity — the things that make them themselves.”

• A hostile-dependent dynamic is defined by conflict. In this case, each person is “in a competition to be right,” Pearson says. There’s “lots of finger-pointing and blaming,” he says, all in an attempt to take control. The underlying assumption is that if you can define “the problem with the relationship,” then you can get the other person to shape up, and you’ll finally get some relief.

As uncertain and uncontrollable as it seems, Pearson says that the best way to operate is to acknowledge the non-hierarchical  nature of the relationship. And with that, recognize that you’re two different people

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