At a wedding I attended, before the bride and groom took their vows, the officiant told the couple that he hopes today is the day they love each other the least. That’s because love is meant to grow in depth throughout a marriage. We should love each other more at the end than we did at the beginning. A couple is supposed to get closer over time. Instead, we often develop habits in marriage that cause gradual alienation and separate us from one another.
The presence of certain habits actually can destroy a relationship. Just a few negatives in marriage can wear away dozens of positives. So, what can destroy your marriage? In their book, Fighting for Your Marriage, Markman, Stanley, and Blumberg list these four patterns.
Escalation occurs when partners respond back and forth negatively to each other, continually upping the ante so the conversation gets more and more hostile. The key to diffusing a potentially volatile conversation is to soften your tone. This takes practice and humility. Because 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.
Invalidation is a pattern in which one partner subtly or directly puts down the thoughts, feelings, or character of the other. Using words like “always” and “never” in your interactions with your spouse is a recipe for conflict. Very few things are absolute, so use those words carefully. As a partner to your spouse, you know what causes him sensitivity and pain. Don’t use that knowledge, which he shared with you vulnerably and in trust, as a weapon to tear down the person you love.
3. Assuming Bad Intent
Negative interpretations occur when one partner consistently believes 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 you’re really saying, “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.
4. Withdrawing and Avoiding
In withdrawal and avoidance, one partner shows an unwillingness to get into or stay in important discussions. Withdrawal can be as obvious as getting up and leaving the room or as subtle as tuning out during an argument.
One person is a pursuer: “Let’s talk about this now!” And the other is a withdrawer: “Stop talking to me.” Try to break this pattern. If the withdrawer makes his move to leave, calmly release him. 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 him time to gather his thoughts. On the flip side, the withdrawer should tell the pursuer if he needs some time alone and set a time to talk later, before he excuses himself.
What other patterns do you think hurt oneness in marriage?