As the authors of the book, Fighting for Your Marriage, put it, “‘Why focus on the negative? Why not just build up the good things in our relationship?’ Good question,” they say. Well, research shows that negative patterns are things that destroy a marriage. In other words, just a few negatives in marriage can wear away dozens of positives.
The first step to breaking the habit is recognizing them. So, what are the patterns that can destroy your marriage?
1. Escalation: What Goes Around Comes Around
“Escalation occurs when partners respond back and forth negatively to each other, continually upping the ante so the conversation gets more and more hostile. In escalation, negative comments spiral into increasing anger and frustration.”
Softening your tone can steer you out of the escalation pattern. It takes practice – and humility. Even if the other person is wrong or is being mean-spirited, you can still be the one to turn the tide of the conversation.Even if the other person is wrong or is being mean-spirited, you can still be the one to turn the tide of the conversation.
2. Invalidation: Painful Put-downs
“Invalidation is a pattern in which one partner subtly or directly puts down the thoughts, feelings, or character of the other.“
You don’t have to agree with what your partner says or believes. All you have to do is let the other person know you respect them – by using kind words and a kind tone. Just let them know you hear their concerns, and don’t try to offer a solution – unless they ask.
3. Negative interpretations: When Perception is Worse than Reality
“Negative interpretations occur when one partner consistently believes that the motives of the other are more negative than is really the case. For example, you ask your husband when he is going to cut the grass. He gets upset because he thinks what you’re really saying is, “You never do anything around here. Are you ever going to cut the grass?”
Negative interpretation is a form of attempted mind reading. You think you know what your partner is thinking. Also, if you’re in the habit of looking at everything your partner says and does in a negative way, try to counter that by looking for evidence to the contrary.
4. Withdrawal and Avoidance: Hide and Seek
“Withdrawal and avoidance are different manifestations of a pattern in which one partner shows an unwillingness to get into or stay with important discussions. Withdrawal can be as obvious as getting up and leaving the room or as subtle as tuning out during an argument.”
There is usually a pattern to this dynamic. One person is the pursuer, “Let’s talk about this now!” And the other is the withdrawer, “Stop talking to me.” Try to break this pattern. If the withdrawer makes his move to leave, calmly release them. Then, when things have quieted down, ask when you can set aside a time to discuss the matter. This takes the immediate pressure off the withdrawer and gives them time to gather their thoughts. On the flip side, the withdrawer should tell the pursuer they need some time alone, but set a time to talk later before they excuse themselves.
“If you want to keep your relationship strong or renew one that is lagging, you must learn to counteract destructive patterns such as those we have described. Fortunately, this can be done. You can prevent erosion of happiness in your relationship for the years to come.”
This article is based on the book, Fighting for Your Marriage, by Howard J. Markman, Scott M. Stanley and Susan L. Blumberg.
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What is a bad habit our family has?”