Doc talk: The psychology of a perfect union

You can talk all your want with your partner about finances, sex, and having babies. But if you don't know your partner's "main emotional issue," says clinical psychologist Tom DeMaio, you could be in for a very rocky ride.

Those issues can range from a fear of rejection to a desire for protection to a need to feel successful and respected. Couples are often drawn to each other because each can uniquely fill the other's need. The problem comes, says DeMaio, when that need is neglected.

If you don't even know what your real need is-­ much less your partner's­ it's easy to believe that you really are fighting over the toothpaste cap or the dishes in the sink.

But that's not it, says DeMaio.

"Under every argument," he insists, "is likely to be the same theme."

DeMaio says couples' counseling is one way to get to the root of the matter, but talking regularly with a religious leader, family member, or close friend can also help you sort out what's really going on in your relationship.

Once you know what makes your partner tick, says DeMaio, it becomes much easier to please him or her.


What can you do to prepare for an upcoming marriage or make your own longtime partnership happier? DeMaio offers these tips:

1) Learn how to talk about emotions rather than opinions, ideas, or judgments. Being judgmental, he says, is almost always disastrous.

2) Realize that it's how you care about your partner, not the size of the necklace you give or the size of the house you live in. DeMaio says he's seen plenty of very wealthy, very unhappy married couples.

3) Learn to say "I'm sorry" when your partner is upset. It's not necessary to say "I was wrong," but it's important to show you care that your partner's feelings were hurt.

4) Deal with problems in the relationship as soon as you recognize them. If your car was making a funny noise, he explains, you wouldn't wait until it died on I-64 before you took it to the shop.

Dr. Tom DeMaio says finding the main emotional issues is key to a healthy relationship.