Troubled marriages typically display some form of unhealthy or destructive communication pattern.
In his book, A Lasting Promise, Scott Stanely identified four negative patterns of communication that hurt good relationships:
- 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.
- Invalidation: Painful Put-Downs – a pattern in which one partner subtly or directly puts down the thoughts, feelings, or character of the other.
- Negative Interpretation: 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. This can be a very destructive, negative pattern in a relationship. It makes any conflict or disagreement harder to deal with constructively.
- Withdrawal and Avoidance: Hide and Seek – Withdrawal can be as obvious as getting up and leaving the room or as subtle as “turning off” or “shutting down” during an argument. The withdrawer often tends to get quiet during an argument, look away, or agree quickly to a partner’s suggestion just to end the conversation.
Top two guidelines for a good marriage
In my five guidelines for a good marriage, the first two will help correct the destructive patterns noted above.
- We are teammates not opponents: Marriage partners must look beyond the “me” to the “us”. Marriage is based on togetherness and companionship. Teammates watch out for each another. We guard against forces that threaten our unity. Even our children must sense the priority of our relationship and learn to value and respect it. Children build much of their identity and security on the strength of their parents’ marriage. The potential changes in marriage and family require flexibility and a willingness to make adjustments to protect unity. Work together! You are on the same team!
- We will value and respect each other – In a pre-marital meeting, the pastor who officiated at our wedding looked at me and said, “The graces you used to win her love, you must use to keep her love.” Wow! I have not always done as well as I should with that assignment. We tend to try harder to treat each other with value and respect when dating. As the years pass, complacency and a gradual process of taking each other for granted diminishes our commitment to love and respect.
- To value and respect each other, we must stay “tuned in.” Encouraging words, well-timed compliments, thoughtful notes, a simple hug—these are little but meaningful ways to express value and respect. “I appreciate how hard you work around the home.” “I realize that your job has been stressful, how can I help?” “Thank you for______________.” These are ways we communicate value and respect.