Marriages Fail When Couples Get Stuck In These Two Toxic Relationship Dynamics

Gwyneth Paltrow split from her husband, Chris Martin, in 2014. They 'consciously uncoupled' after 10 years of marriage. Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

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.

But the drama masks what these behaviors really are: coping mechanisms that come out as a couple spends more and more time together.

"Most couples start off wanting to be nice to each other, good to each other, responsive to each other," Pearson says. "As differences begin to emerge in the other person's value system, then each person will start to fall back on their reflex coping mechanism. If I'm really conflict avoidant, then I'm not going to surface my disagreement because I don't want to risk a conflict, so I start compromising myself."

If the relationship is to move forward, each partner will have to go through the uncomfortable process of differentiation, where each person has to identify their values and communicate them to the other person — all while recognizing that their partner will have different values from their own. 

That can lead to a breakthrough — or a breakup.

Differentiation starts when one person decides "to take on the risk of speaking up and in a sense start fighting for their rights," Pearson says. "They get tired of compromising themselves, so they say, 'I don't care, I have to start speaking up, even if my spouse leaves me. I don't care, I will find a way to exist on my own.'"

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