One Difference Between Successful and Failed Couples



Dear Gary,

My husband and I fight and when we do it gets ugly. Nothing physical has ever happened but we’ll be up all hours of the night and finally we move past it. I hate it and so does my husband but I really never thought it meant we had a problem because my friends and I have always talked about eachother’s fighting and ours doesn’t seem so extreme to everyone else’s. But recently my sister was staying over and witnessed it and said she and her husband don’t fight like that. She told me I was denying that there was a problem and we agreed that I should write to you. I guess I was hesitant because I don’t know how I’d stop it even if you thought it was a problem.


Whenever a couple tells me they fought all night and moved on, I know exactly what happened: they vomited to each other every rotten feeling they ever had in the past, finally got too tired to continue fighting, and made up and went to bed. Ironically, sometimes that couple feels better the next morning because at least there was some venting and apologies that came after anger, tears and emotional exhaustion. But lo and behold, nothing really changed and the next week when the same hurt feelings arise, the anger can be even more seething because they hoped they were past this and yet here it is all over again.

It is one of the primary differences between successful and failed couples: Resolution. Successful couples work to resolve, find answers as to how this issue will be avoided in the future. Failed couples just vent and become so lost in the morais of anger that they never get back to actually managing the issue beter in the future. If there is one thing you must change to reduce fighting and growing your marriage it is to learn the art of resolution.

Resolving means that you keep bringing each other back to the point that got the conversation started. If you’re upset because your spouse spent significant money without discussing it with you, what will you do to avoid this from happening in the future? Instead of discussing every time he was insensitive to you in the past, focus on helping him understand why this was upsetting to you. The end game is to have your spouse agree to make changes in the future. But you must LISTEN to each other’s point of view. If your spouse says he/she didn’t tell you about the expenditure because you’d say no autoumatically (not an excuse for your spouse’s behavior but nonetheless his/her reasoning), you want to consider this. Perhaps there is a dollar amount that you can both agree to that can be spent without prior collective approval, and of course a clear comittment to fully discuss and listen to suggestions to spend over that limit, that’s a resolution.

I don’t mean that the two of you will agree on everything and solve anything. But if you are able to negotiate how you can do it differently in the future, even though it’s not exactly what either of you would like, you will be way ahead of the game. This is never about winning (you can win OR you can be happy). This about realizing there are different perspectives and an important part of marriage is realizing God gave you a person who will think differently than you so that together you can develop a new way of thinking and living. That’s not sacrifice; that’s growth.

Sadly, when you write that your marriage is not much different than those of your friends, you are missing a crucial point about marriage. In my research of over 300 women, 70% of women said they were in unahppy marriages or divorced. You could be well in the majority of couples who fight all night but that may be because you are in the majority of marriages that are quite unhappy. You also need to know a bit of a secret from those who have a strong healthy marriage; they don’t want to be friends with you as a couple.

Please don’t take this the wrong way but when a happy couple decides to hang around or go out with another couple, they don’t feel comfortable spending their time with another couple who’s being unkind toward each other, making jokes at each other’s expense, or simply having tension in the air that you could cut with a knife. That happy couple has a conversation later that goes something like, “Let’s try not to do that again,” or “Why don’t you make her/him your individual friend and spend time alone,” and that’s why failing couples are supported in their failing ways by their couple friends. It’s because their couple friends over time will be equally failing. If you’re trying to improve your marriage, it’s helpful to make time to go out with another couple who you believe has a great marriage and try your best to learn from them and let their behavior rub off on your couplehood.


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M Gary Neuman is a New York Times best-selling author, and creator of Neuman Method Programs. He was on the Oprah show 11 times as well as having made multiple appearances on Today, Dateline, the View, NPR and others.  Oprah referred to Gary as “One of the best psychotherapists in the world.”