The Marriage Quadrants, Part Five

This week on the Allender Center Podcast, Dr. Dan Allender continues our series about the Marriage Quadrants, a theoretical framework of marriage that informs how he engages and works with couples. (You can find a PDF laying out the quadrants at the bottom of this post.) In this episode Dan moves on to fourth and final quadrant, which he describes as the most chaotic and volatile category—meaning marriages in Quadrant Four are easy to write off as hopeless. What does it look like for us—as pastors, therapists, or friends—to work with such a chaotic marriage in the hope of restoration?

“Anger expressed without sadness, sorrow, is indeed anger expressed without desire,” says Dan.“And anger without desire is always punitive—that is, always vengeful.”

In Quadrant Four, both partners need high levels of independence, meaning there does not appear to be a need for connection, and certainly not for intimacy. One or both partners are likely narcissistic to some degree, and the marriage thrives on provocation; there is an impulse toward conflict. Dan argues that the patterns of this marriage—from explosive fights to passionate reunion—are actually highly intact, and one or both partners are often quite successful, though there is no attunement, intimacy, or desire in the marriage.

“The heartbreaking need for conflict and the capacity for having somebody who can seemingly handle the contempt and rage and not flee utterly, becomes a means of great—heartbreaking and destructive, but nonetheless present—cohesion.”

Marriage counseling is a form of mud wrestling.

Beneath the volatility and contempt, says Dan, there is inevitably tremendous pain and a history of attachment wounds. If you begin to uncover or name those wounds, you will likely be attacked, undermined, or written off; a primary goal of individuals in a Quadrant Four marriage is to avoid vulnerability and any sense of frail humanity. “How can you engage and stand in the middle of the contempt without becoming a coach or a policeman?” Dan asks.

If you find yourself looking over these quadrants and wondering where a healthy marriage could possibly fit in, that’s what Dan plans to address next week in the final episode of this series: What is a good marriage, and how do we move toward it?