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Schemes and Patterns in Married Life, Part 1

How do two people create systems or schemes within a marriage?

Marriages won’t survive long enough to reach maturity if people don’t create behavioral schemes/systems to maintain harmony within the relationship.

I know many happily married couples that have created wonderful solution-centered systems that actually help both people grow within the relationship.

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There is no “tried and tested” formula for creating a good system within a marriage.

A good system arises between two people through trial and error. There are no shortcuts or “magic bullets” when it comes to crafting these systems.

What does a good system look like?

A good marriage system has the following characteristics:

1. It places subject feedback at the center of all interactions.

2. It is nurturing and supportive.

3. It places both parties on level ground.

4. It values fairness above all else.

5. It acknowledges individuals' needs and interests, as well as particular strengths and weaknesses of each person.

6. It is solution-centered.

7. It does not abandon one party in any way in favor of the other.

8. It enforces good behavior and addresses bad ones, no matter how painful the process might be.

The characteristics I have just mentioned are obviously very ideal; it can be hard to consciously create a system that has all of these traits.

It’s normal for couples to have flawed systems; what’s important is that they continue learning from each other and they are willing to change whenever it is needed.
When a couple is both willing to change their ways, there’s always hope for a marriage!

Sadly, not all couples have the courage or inner strength for change. Many of the troubled couples that I’ve met over the years even tell me that somehow, their distorted marriage schemes is “what keeps them going” because it keeps things peaceful at home.

I’m always quick to correct couples when they confuse “peaceful” with “quiet.” These are two very different states.

When there is peace in a married relationship, there is also nurturing, love and care. People grow alongside their spouses and they have a permanent support structure (i.e. the marriage itself) to lean on.

Peace means being able to go home in the evening and think, “This is where I belong!”

When it’s just “quiet” at home, that probably means that two people are doing their best to avoid or ignore each other.

I’ve even met a couple who say that what they’re doing now is much better than trying to grab each other’s throats almost every night. There’s quiet at home alright, but not the type of quiet that you should find in a home of a married couple.

How’s your marriage nowadays?

If you sense trouble brewing in paradise, it’s possible that your marriage is suffering from a negative scheme/system. Below are some of the more common ones that I’ve noted in couples I’ve advised before:

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1. Linear Scheme – A linear scheme is characterized by a one-sided system of “action and reaction.” A linear scheme is often found in marriages where almost mechanical patterns of behavior are used to maintain equilibrium within the relationship. A person who uses this scheme will often say, “I wouldn’t do this if he/she didn’t say/do that.” The thoughts, emotions and actions of one person are highly dependent on what the other person would think/say.

This scheme is not only linear; it’s also quite circular too. There is no foreseeable end to the action-reaction pattern. If you try to trace the beginning of the cycle, you wouldn’t find it because anyone can start the cycle anew.

2. Equilibrium – Equilibrium can either be negative or positive, depending on how the equilibrium was achieved in the first place. Some couples resort to ignoring each other’s criticisms completely just to maintain equilibrium.

They play a fatal game of “you can’t hurt me anymore” because in reality, they are already in extreme pain and don’t want to get hurt anymore.

The pain is numbed and people can go on with their married life with thick walls around them. Defensive walls can protect you from pain but it also prevents your spouse from communicating with you.


Positive equilibrium occurs when couples sit down and solve their most painful issues. This process is painful and it can even lead to more problems, but trying to solve your problems now is always a better option than ignoring them completely. Why? Because eventually, unresolved issues will come back to haunt you later in the marriage.

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