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Why Rigidity Causes Marriages and Relationships to Fail

In my clinical experience, this is the number one cause and common thread.

It is common knowledge that a large percentage of marriages end in divorce and relationship breakups happen all the time. There is always a narrative as to why the relationships failed in these cases. The narratives often have familiar themes: incompatibility, unmet needs, addictions, and betrayals, all familiar and logical issues that lead to the end of a relationship. Yet in my decades of experience as a therapist, there is a consistent and common thread that seems to point to the inability to work things out in order to stay together. That common thread, the number one cause of marriage and relationship failure, is rigidity. Relationships take work, and with rigidity, there is no way to move forward—it's like trying to move a concrete wall.

Rigidity is the inability to see the other’s point of view and, therefore, the inability to take that point of view into consideration and respond in a way that communicates connection. Rigidity is the inability to consider that the other’s perspective, though different from one's own, is valid and deserving of thought. Rigidity is the inability to change one’s mindset in the face of the other’s needs and requests. Rigidity is the refusal to budge on specific issues, or anything at all, for that matter.

Rigidity differs from stubbornness or difficulty in connecting with another's perspective. When faced with rigidity, it becomes quite challenging for couples to reach compromises or the concessions necessary for coexisting and partnership.

It's okay to have different opinions. We all see the world through the lens of our own wiring. As complex as we all are, it is the opaqueness to the needs and expectations of others that determines whether a relationship has a chance. It is the inability and innate refusal to hear and comprehend one another and the recognition that the issues of the other person are of importance to you, too, that makes the difference in a relationship.

Ironically enough, despite the work required in couples therapy to learn the tools for better communication and constructive disagreement, and despite the hard work of learning to understand the triggers and connection to past traumas of one's partner, rigidity on the part of one or both people in a couple makes it impossible to connect to the other and move forward. So many times, the hard work of trying to listen to a partner's perspective is wasted, as rigidity makes it impossible to reach the other person.

So, who are these rigid people? Rigidity can result from personality disorders, mental health challenges, addictive disorders, attachment styles, or simply character. But sometimes rigidity can be a stance, a decision not to budge or compromise on an issue. Rigidity can also be a mindset rooted in a lack of love or affection for the other. The question sometimes is: Can you live and be okay with the rigidity of the other person, even if it means some of your needs will go unmet?

In cases where rigidity is obvious, accepting the reality of the fact that all relationships are not meant to work out and moving on to someone who is open, accepting, and caring might be the only option. Moving on can help restore one’s well-being and restore faith in the fact that the world is full of people who can and will care.

More from Maria Baratta Ph.D., L.C.S.W.
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