Examining Authoritarian Personalities in Marriage, Divorce, and Parenting

  • Interpersonal relationships where the power dynamic is often only on one end can be a telling sign of an authoritarian personality.
  • Authoritarian personalities make marriage difficult and often unsustainable.
  • An authoritarian's personality can translate into their parenting style, and that can be damaging for children.

In a relationship or marriage, the power dynamics often shift, depending on the situation. When the paradigm shifts from one partner to another, it is normally understood that at some point, it will shift back, and the relationship will maintain its balance.

If one of the individuals in the relationship has an authoritarian personality, it can make things difficult, in terms of maintaining the balance necessary to make the relationship or marriage function properly.

According to “Social Psychology: Identities and Relationships”, edited by Kopano Ratele and Norman Duncan, an authoritarian personality is a psychological syndrome characterized by the following nine traits: conventionalism, authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, an opposition to the subjective, superstition and stereotypy, power and ‘toughness,’ destructiveness and cynicism, the outward projection of unconscious emotional impulses, and an exaggerated concern with sexual ‘goings-on.’

Authoritarianism and marriage

In a marriage, these traits can be alienating and can offer challenges to their co-parent, if there are children involved.

Part of their authoritarian outlook that they may carry in their marriage is narcissistic. They may make everything all about them, and thus, their desires need to be met. In a functioning relationship model, it is supposed to be “give and take.” When an individual with an authoritarian personality enters the equation, they take it all and give very little, if anything.

This often makes marriages with authoritarian personalities unsustainable. According to a study conducted by psychologist, psychotherapist and mental health counsellor Reginald Lee Veurink, it is almost a different way of viewing a union between two people.

The authoritarian’s ability to relate to people or things may be different than that of one who has a different personality type. They may view the people in their life, including their spouse, or the job that they have, as stepping stones to something better for them, down the line.

Authoritarianism and divorce

This level of unsatisfaction in a marriage will eventually culminate in a divorce, and after that process is through, they will find themselves mired in unsatisfying relationships, according to Veurink.

Other parts of their authoritarian personality may spark the end of the marriage. They may become fed up with their dependency needs not being met to their satisfaction and may compensate by placing an emphasis on materialistic things. That emphasis may cause a budgetary issue within the household, which when confronted, an authoritarian spouse may defensively exert himself and his authority in the household, fracturing the relationships in the household even further.

This unsustainable situation becomes more troubling when children are in the picture. In previous years, many have seen authoritarian parenting styles to be an effective way of making sure that your child is safe and protected as they grow and develop, but recent studies have examined how that might have negative consequences, especially with divorce in the picture.

Authoritarianism and parenting

A study published in the Journal of Family and Marriage examined changes in authoritarian parenting practices over the last 50 years and found a dramatic decrease in a parents’ directive control. The results of the study suggest that authoritarian parenting practices have declined dramatically and moved toward a more balanced family environment.

These results suggest that the authoritarian personality is not as utilized in parenting as previous years, so when one parent exhibits those traits, their child can suffer as a result.

As much as it may be in the best interests to regulate, shape and control children, in hopes of gaining obedience, through rigid disciplinary practices, it ultimately puts the child at risk. Many authoritarian parents often end up with a rebellious child that is defiant and resents their parents later in life, according to “The Post-Divorce Nonresident Father-Child Relationship” by Bulent E. Dincer. Children with authoritarian parents also are at a higher risk for modelling authoritarian behaviors in friendships and relationships.

In terms of gender and post-divorce conflict among co-parents, research published in Fathering journal from both Ohio State University and the University of Missouri found that if there are high amounts of co-parent conflict after the divorce, mothers are often less warm and more authoritarian in their approach to discipline, while fathers are more withdrawn and visit their child less often, out of fear of engaging in additional conflict.

Cordell & Cordell understands the concerns men face during divorce.

Your case

Whether the authoritative personality initiated the divorce or the opposite spouse could no longer handle the dysfunctional relationship, it is important to remember that for every olive branch you may wish to extend for the sake of emotions, history, and possibly, your shared children, they are looking to take even more for themselves, because that is how they are wired.

The empathy and compassion that you show them will not be reciprocated, and going into the divorce experience, you and your attorney need to be aware of that, in order ensure the best outcome for yourself, your future, and your children.

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