10 Contradictory Qualities of a Good Marriage

It is often said that marriage is a balancing act. It requires weighing the needs of the individual against the needs of the partnership. It necessitates compromise and constant communication. And a good marriage also needs to find the equilibrium with the following contradictory qualities:

1) Adaptability

A good marriage is adaptable; it grows and molds itself to the environment and current needs. It changes as the partners do, shifting over time and over life transitions. It acts like the flexible caulk used to secure two surfaces together while allowing each to move independently of the other. A good marriage possesses a growth mindset, where both partners are motivated to learn and believe that they can improve with effort. Growth ensures that a marriage remains relevant and useful.

Adaptability extends to the individuals. It accepts that people change over time and with experience. In an adaptable marriage, each partner remains curious about the other and limits assumptions and premature conclusions.

And although a marriage needs to be adjustable, it also requires…

2) Consistency

A sense of security and support is critical in marriage. Both partners need to have a sense that their spouse has their back. Each needs to feel safe, both physically and emotionally, so that the critical component of vulnerability can be revealed.

And much of this peace of mind comes from stability. Consistency. You want to know what you’re returning home to each night. You want to have a sense of what your partner likes and how he or she will react. Consistency encourages confidence and trust, both critical for a marriage to thrive.

3) Personal Responsibility

In a good marriage, both people are looking for a partner to complement them, not complete them. Each person accepts responsibility for his or her baggage, actions and emotions. Nobody is held accountable for the other person’s happiness and nobody is expected to be a white knight to the rescue. Blame is withheld and instead of expecting the other person to change, each partner modified his or her response to a situation. A healthy marriage begins with two healthy people and that requires taking responsibility for yourself.

However, there are times when you can’t do it yourself, and in a good marriage, you also need to be able to…

4) Ask For and Receive Assistance

Being able to ask for help is a sign of both humility and strength. Being able and willing to provide help is a sign of empathy and compassion. Part of a good marriage is being willing to quiet the ego and admit when you lack knowledge or ability. In turn, a strong partnership calls for a partner who is responsive to their spouse’s needs and refrains from making him or her feel inferior when assistance is required. Marriage is about partnership. And a good marriage is about helping your partner when he or she cannot help themselves.

5) Withhold Judgment

In a good marriage, the word “should” is banned from the table. Assumptions and projections are limited as each person is accepted for who he or she is. In conversations, the partners listen to understand rather than listen to respond. Instead of leading with judgment, the spouses lead with curiosity. Criticism kills a marriage. Appreciation nourishes it.

Yet even though a good marriage is free from judgment, it also requires that the partners are not afraid to…

6) Call Each Other Out

Presumably, nobody knows you better than your spouse. And that puts them in a unique position to see and perceive the lies and limitations you place upon yourself. In a good marriage, partners will call each other out on their s**t. Not to shame or bully, but to help the other become better. A marriage thrives when rather than quietly accepting the excuse of “I can’t,” a spouse helps to show their partner that indeed, they can.

7) Overlapping Worlds

A good marriage exists in the intersection of two lives. There are shared experiences. Shared friends. Shared passions. And shared dreams. There is a merging of two lives. “Me” is replaced with “we” and “mine” with “ours.” Each person plays an active and visible role in their spouse’s life. Compromises are made and the marriage is prioritized.

Although a good marriage requires sharing many aspects of life, it also needs…

8) Independence

Each person should always know where they end and their partner begins. A marriage is not one and one make one; it’s two individuals choosing to share their lives. And they need to maintain their individuality. A good marriage allows each person to explore his or her own interests. It provides freedom and encouragement to explore individuality while maintaining the bond of the shared life.

9) Enjoyment of Each Other

A good marriage has at its heart two people that enjoy each other. Partners that greet the other with a smile and look forward to time together. Spouses that are both friends and lovers, providing comfort and excitement with their touch and their presence. Marriage is about the shared and realized dreams. The laughter over a joke nobody else understands. The knowing glance that contains a year’s worth of information with no words exchanged.

Even though the partners in a good marriage enjoy each other, they may not always like each other and so they also…

10) Accept the Bad Days

Even in the best of marriage, there will be bad days. And in the best of marriages, these days are not perceived as the beginning of the end nor do they signal a need for panic. Rather, it is accepted that some days will be bad, that marriages have an ebb and a flow. That there will be times that one person withdraws, and that withdrawal is usually temporary.

Bad days can be an opportunity to learn and grow. Or simply a sign that it’s time to rest a bit and wait for the storm to pass. Just as a bad day does not mean a bad life, a bad day does not signal a bad marriage. The spouses trust that the tide always turns and they’re waiting for each other when it does.


An Objective Look At Your Relationship

When we’re on the inside of a relationship, it is often difficult to be objective. After all, we don’t just observe, we experience. We feel. And sometimes we only see what we are prepared to see.

So it can be helpful to have a metric with which to assess the health of our relationships. I like these lists. They’re succinct yet they’re complete. They can give you a sense of the overall health of your current relationship, help you understand what went wrong in a past relationship or highlight areas where you can improve.

Check out both. Although there are some areas of overlap, healthy is not simply the absence of the unhealthy traits.

50 Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship

50 Signs of a Healthy Relationship

One of the more important aspects of a healthy relationship is respecting (or even celebrating) your differences. Brock tucked a rose into the vase of tulips that I purchased for my desk. I love the wild abandon of the rose against the more restrained temperament of the tulips. And it is a perfect image for how Brock and I are different and together make life more interesting.


Are You a Reliable Witness?

When I was in 5th grade, I was in a gifted pull-out program. Two days a week, I got to miss my afternoon classes in order to tackle challenges and puzzles that were outside the state-mandated curriculum.

One afternoon, we were all working hard at our tables on a set of brain teasers we had been given. We barely glanced up as a woman entered the classroom, spoke with our teacher for a few moments and then left.

It just didn’t seem important. After all, our task was to complete the puzzles.

Except it wasn’t.

Twenty minutes later, our teacher revealed the true purpose of the day’s lesson. She admitted the brain teasers had merely been a diversion as she handed out a sheet of paper with, what seemed at first glance, deceptively easy questions.

We worked independently to complete the page, answering questions about the woman who entered our room less than an hour prior: What was she wearing? What did her hair look like? What was she carrying?

As I glanced around the room, I noticed that all the students (myself included) seemed confident in their answers. After all, how hard is it to describe someone you just saw?

Pretty hard, as it turns out.

We came together to share our answers. It got rather heated.

“She had brown, curly hair.”

“No, it was blond.”

“It was brown, but it was straight.”

“Her hands were empty.”

“She was carrying books.”

As we continued to debate, some started to doubt their memories and allowed their minds to shift.

“I thought her shirt was red but, now that you mention it, I think it was yellow.”

The more we analyzed our memories, the more they changed.

The closer we looked, the more blurred the focus.

The woman had gone from inconsequential to significant as we all clambered to be right.

Finally, our teacher turned to the classroom door, opened it and welcomed the woman back in.

None of us had described her correctly.

We went on to discuss the use of witnesses in criminal trials and debated the ethics of sentences being handed down based upon the recollection of a bystander.

And I went on to always remember that lesson. To understand that we really aren’t as aware as we think we are and that when we’re called to remember, we fill in the gaps unconsciously.

And many years later, I found comfort in that lesson. I realized that my painful memories were malleable. That I could consciously fill in the gaps between remembrances to find meaning and purpose.

That at some point, memories fail to be an accurate representation of the past because they are always filtered through the knowledge of the present.

That it’s important to keep your mind open to the perceptions of others.

And that none of us are reliable witnesses to the past.

But it doesn’t matter.

Because it’s more important to be mindful and here in your now.

So that you are a reliable witness to your present.

7 Reasons People Withdraw in Relationships

We’ve all felt it.

That certain chill in the air. The posture slightly too rigid and closed off. The tone that is just a little too clipped. The words may be right, but something is off.

A disconnection.

It’s like the plug that charges the relationship is only partly plugged in.

It happens in every relationship. It can be as minor as one partner withdrawing for a few moments or hours. Or, it can also prove fatal to the marriage when withdrawal becomes the default position.

So why do people withdraw from their partners? What makes the connection faulty and the charge intermittent?

Fear of Intimacy

It’s scary to allow someone in to your innermost thoughts, dreams and fears. As relationships progress into ever-deepening levels, it’s common to pause and even retreat for a bit to acclimate to the new level of connection must like a deep sea diver has to take breaks on the return to the surface. This type of withdrawal, when short-lived, is nothing to worry about. It’s simply time spent adjusting and processing before the next level is reached. If, however, the retreat from intimacy occurs early and often, it may be a sign that someone is not yet ready to be vulnerable and open.

Fear of Rejection

This withdrawal type can lead to a sad self-feeding loop. One partner is afraid of rejection and decides that he or she would rather retreat than risk approach. The other partner can then easily feel rejected by their partner pulling back. You can have a situation where both people crave connection yet are too afraid to risk asking for it. If you find that you are afraid of rejection, work to address your own needs that allow this worry to grow. If your partner makes a bid for attention, work to respond in a way that is accepting rather than rejecting.


Some people are more sensitive than others; an amount of emotion that may feel perfectly tepid to one person may be scalding to another. When somebody floods, their emotions are overwhelming them. And even though their surface may remain placid, inside they are a tantruming toddler. When someone is flooded, they are unable to respond rationally and struggle to normalize their emotional balance. When something is too intense, it’s natural to retreat for a time. Flooding is often a sign of some unresolved trauma, the emotions triggered having more to do with the past than the present.  If your partner is easily triggered, work to be supportive and patient while encouraging him or her to address the underlying issues. If you find that you are easily overwhelmed, make resolving your trauma a priority.


Some people wear their anger on their sleeves, leaving no doubt as to the emotion at the helm. Others are more covert, either because they have been trained to hide anger or because they are afraid of addressing the underlying problem face on. And furtive anger can often lead to withdrawal when one partner steams in silence. When anger is at a peak, it is often advisable to retreat for a time to calm down and think more rationally. That respite should be followed by approach, communicating the anger and working together to resolve the broken boundaries. If one (or both) partners consistently fume from afar, the anger will only mutate into resentment, causing a more permanent rift in the relationship.


Some people simply require more solitude than others. It’s easy for an extrovert to sense a disconnect from their introverted partner when the latter is retreating in order to refuel his or her energy. If you are the more introverted partner, it is your responsibility to communicate your need for alone time to your spouse and make connection and intimacy a priority when you are together. If you are feeling left out by an introvert, learn how to establish connection without overwhelming their senses.

Outside Pressures

Marriages do not exist in a vacuum. We all have demands placed (okay, sometimes heaped) upon us from outside the relationship. Withdrawal can occur anytime someone is feeling overwhelmed and overworked. It’s a method of survival, cutting off blood flow to some areas in order to focus on what is critical in the moment. A marriage can survive a short-term starvation of attention and energy. Yet leave the tourniquet on too long, and there will be no marriage to return to. If your spouse is in survival mode, strive to be compassionate yet also persistent about maintaining connection. If you are the drowning one, don’t neglect to ask your spouse for a hand.

Pursuer/Withdrawal Dance

This is one of the fatal relationship patterns often described by Gottman. Understand that your partner’s withdrawal has more to do with them then with you. Don’t take it personally. But at the same time, take it seriously, because a habit of withdrawal can initiate a catastrophic domino effect. The initial withdrawal can occur for any of the above reasons. If it is then followed by a desperate grab for attention by a panicking spouse, it sets up the choreography for a dance where one partner is always retreating and the other is always grasping.


All relationships have an ebb and flow of intimacy. The challenge is learn how to ride it out rather than allow any periods of withdrawal to slide into a downward spiral of disconnection. For the partner sensing the distance and craving connection, the key is to relax and not push away or flood the more reserved partner. And for the attachment to return, the retreating partner must be aware of his or her own patterns and make a sustained effort to maintain the intimacy.

When the Going Gets Tough

We are defined by how we act when the going gets tough.

Character doesn’t shine until it is challenged.

And often flaws are concealed until struggle wears away the veneer of perfection.

It’s no surprise that crisis often dissolves a marriage.

That when the going gets tough, many couples instead respond as though the crisis is an ax, cleaving the marriage in two, rather than working together to meet the challenge.

So why is it that when the going gets tough, so many spouses get going?

Different Approaches

When crisis hits, people fall into two groups: those that turn towards the problem and face it head-on and those that turn inward or turn away and try not to look too closely at the carnage. And neither group really understands the other. The turn-aways look at the turn-towards and believe they are giving the struggle too much attention. That if they just focused elsewhere, the problem would diminish in capacity. The facers get frustrated with their more reserved partners, believing that they are ignoring the problem while passively hoping it will disappear.

And when a partnership is comprised of two like-minded spouses, the problem can be even worse. If both people charge towards the problem, there is no energy left for the marriage. The crisis becomes the marriage. When both people turn away, the problem may grow, malignant and untreated.

The reality is that a balance is needed. There are times to charge towards the challenge, sword in hand and ready to do battle. And there are also times when paying too much attention to the problem nurtures your struggle instead of cutting off its oxygen supply. Whether you prefer to face a challenge or look away, make sure you continue to turn towards your partner.

The Strong One

It’s common that when trouble hits, one partner wears the struggle on his or her face while the other reveals little pain to the outside world. The tearful partner can feel alone in his or her grief, interpreting the stoicism of the spouse as an indication of a callous heart. Yet so often, the phlegmatic one is determined to muffle his or her own pain and be the strong one for the other. It’s a cruel twist on the pursuer-distancer dance: the more the crying one sheds tears of isolation and frustration, the more the strong one stuffs the pain down deep. When all the other person wants is to see that their partner is hurting too.

Ideally, both partners feel comfortable exposing their vulnerabilities and fears within the marriage. And take turns being the strong one, supporting the other. We are at out strongest when we lean and support in equal measure.

Coping Tools

We are not all created equal when it comes to ability to face a crisis. Whether from a biological roulette that leaves someone less able to handle stress, or from inadequate resiliency training in childhood, some people have it tougher than others. It’s easy for the spouse with greater coping strategies to shame or blame the other, interpreting a lack of tools as a sign of weakness. And is easy for the struggling spouse to excuse her or her struggles as a byproduct of chance or childhood rather than accepting the limitations and then taking responsibility for learning how to do better.

Some people have it easier than others when the going gets tough. But we all can learn to do better.

When the going gets tough,the tough get growing.