3 Marital Strategies and How They Work

3 Marital strategies and how they work

Once, when I was in a graduate school class, the ever-wise professor asked the brilliant graduate students what was the definition of love? All of the prima donnas raised their eager hands to supply the obvious answer. The professor, as was his habit, just shook his head from side to side. Finally, when we were out of ideas, he said: “It’s simple. Love = Fascination + Exclusivity.” Fascination is the basis for the original attraction. It is not only sexual and passionate but it refers to a desire to know more and more about your partner. Exclusivity means that you would rather be with your partner more than anyone else in the world.

But after a point of time the sense of fascination and desire for exclusivity fades. Married couples spend so much time together that the element of exclusivity losses its value. And fascination also comes to an end when there is nothing left to know more about your partner.

Now, when fascination and exclusivity goes out of the window, couples start showing some transformed behavioural patterns. Changed behavioural patterns are nothing but strategies to cope with loss of love in a relationships.

Here’s what couples do when love diminishes in a relationship-


We are away from our partner when we withdraw in a wide variety of ways. We may space out, become distracted with work concerns, smoke excessively, and perhaps worst of all these days, engage in Screen Addiction. The latter subsumes TV, Facebook, surfing the Internet and yes ……video games. Sometimes both parties construct a parallel marriage in which they cohabit functionally, even with children, but they rarely interact intimately and may become asexual with one another.

The ultimate away strategy is to engage in extramarital affairs. This leads to secretive behavior, shame, and a split of the marital attachment. The partner usually gets busted at some point, often leaving evidence on his/her cell phone or computer desktop. It is likely that this away behavior occurs because of a barely perceptible slide into boredom that neither party acknowledges. The couple may even go to marital therapy but in some cases, they collude by omitting their true feelings of loneliness. This preserves the “as if” marriage but both parties privately remain dissatisfied.


 As you might imagine, this strategy subsumes aggression, both verbal and physical. Instead of retreating to away distractions and addictions, one or both partners become hypercritical towards one another. They may actively anticipate what the other is about to say or utter “always” and “never” accusations which condemn their counterpart. Rather than owning feelings this strategy objectifies the other as the intimate enemy, to be controlled and dominated.

Anger issues necessarily surface in a dominant/submissive marriage that has become unbalanced. Alcohol abuse can potentiate aggression, sometimes leading to physical escalation, legal issues, and ultimately, divorce. Just to clarify, it is not only the male who transgresses in this strategy. I’ve had plenty of cases in which the female drives her husband crazy with constant complaints and becomes an injustice collector of past wrongs.


 This strategy is more subtle and involves excessive dependence on one party upon the other. This goes way beyond exclusivity to the point where one partner sucks the life blood from his/her counterpart, often engaging in crisis creation, attention getting behaviors, and demands for physical intimacy that ignore the desires of the other. Invariably, this strategy leads to away behavior, and alienation, much to the consternation of the dependent partner who sees her/himself as affectionate and loving. If the relatively independent partner does not reciprocate, e.g., with texts, presents, money, or sex, the offended dependent partner may engage in the against strategy.

All of this probably seems pessimistic. To some extent, we all engage in these strategies, and clearly, it is a matter of extremes. If you and/or your partner displays any of these behaviours often then you should seek marital therapy. Therapy will help you recognize and acknowledge these behaviours so that you can modify them and each  party’s needs may be met some of the time.

Stephan has an experience of over 35 years as a psychologist in Seattle, Washington. He helps children, adults, couples and families cope with problems such as anxiety and depression. He specializes in performing psychological evaluations and forensic assessments. He encourages people to reveal their fears, shame and guilt, he lets them lighten up and supports them to lead a better life.