4 Key Patterns that Destroy Oneness in Marriage


Research shows that the presence of certain negative patterns can destroy a relationship.  In other words, just a few negatives in marriage can wear away dozens of positives. So, what are the patterns that can destroy your marriage?  Well, in their book, Fighting for Your Marriage, Markman, Stanley and Blumberg share these four things.

1.    Escalation:

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 try softening 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.

2.    Invalidation:

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 the things that cause them sensitivity and pain.  Don’t use that knowledge shared with you in vulnerability and trust as a weapon to tear down the person you love.

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.

4.    Withdrawal and Avoidance:

Withdrawal and avoidance are where 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.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Great article. I would also add to this, ignoring one anothers needs. If one person makes a request for more love and affection and the other person is non-responsive, this can be damaging to their connection.

  • Danavince, it is so important for both a husband and wife to strive to meet the needs and desires of the other. Thanks for sharing.

  • Melanie Robbins

    Right on! Related to ” Negative Interpretation” we try to assume the best with one another.

  • Goldenlady_ana

    We are on our on the 25th year of our marriage a balance of everything and total submission of oneself to the other, fidelity, sensitive to the needs of your partner and openess….

  • Absolutly true. Great help soooo needed right now 🙂

  • Sandrahendricks

    Remember the phrase, “it takes one to know one”?  That is so true…and so humbling when applied to oneself.  Whatever we don’t like someone saying to us, we should be careful not to say it to others.  For example:  If we like the sandwich principle when being confronted with our faults (+ stmt., – stmt. + stmt.), we should do the same to others!  If we like others to be gracious with our faults, even staying silent when we know we blew it, we should be as gracious to them when they blow it.  Would you call this difusing too?  ; )

  • gsxr

    all sound great, but my wife wont’ talk to me at all.

  • Mike

    Great article.

  • Karen

    Wow!!! wat a perfect timing for this email. . Been married for 16 years and have been blessed by God with two wonderful kids, health, wealth and Godliness. But peace and harmony has eloped from our lives. Each point made in this email is a replica of our problems we are facing right now. We are at a juncture of a “fork like” situation, go left or go right, and would hate to take the wrong (left) side of the fork!!! Hope and pray that my partner will understand this as much as I do and both can agree to start over & reboot our marriage and try to work things out. Afterall, in marriage, things can work if there is willingness from both the partners, not just one!!! Thank you so much Mr. Merrill. I love ur emails and always try to forward them to appropriate people who I think can use ur advice. God Bless Family First.

  • Rebecca

    Thats why I left my husband.

  • John Coloe

    Andy Stanley delivered a message not that long ago in which he said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that in every situation, we have two choices: We can either assume the worst, or believe in the best. He went on to stress the importance of believing in the best by pointing out that someone who loves us most likely wouldn’t intentionally do anything to hurt us.

    In my experience, this is completely true. I think that, more often than not, our default reaction is to assume the worst. Perhaps this is related to self-preservation. More probably it’s due to our lack of trust and our inability to surrender our will for the relationship for His will. For humility would lead us to believe in the best.

    This takes nothing short of a mindset change. And, while this is no small feat, consciously conditioning ourselves to believe in the best results in the development of a habit; of breaking a destructive chain that’s kept us from realizing the true blessings God intends for us in relationship.

    Andy Stanley also once said something about marriage that’s so profound it has the potential to completely change our perspective on marriage. His comment was that our marriage is supposed to reflect our relationship with Jesus. I know that I’ve not looked at relationships or marriage the same since hearing him put it that way!

  • John Coloe

    More great information on the negative habits that have the potential to destroy our most treasured relationships can be found by searching for “The Four Horsemen of Divorce”; concepts pioneered, I believe, by Dr. John Gottman of The Gottman Institute.

    Similar to the list above, The Four Horsemen are: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness and Stonewalling.