This guest article from YourTango was written by Dave Elliott.
In any marriage or long-term, romantic relationship, there are a number of challenges that have the potential to completely wreck your relationship. However, if it’s any consolation at all, researchers have observed that there are just four behaviors that, when avoided, greatly improve your chances for the long-term health and happiness of your relationship.
Now if you think that’s a measurable improvement, consider this: In just 15 minutes of interaction, an expert can predict with a 90 percent degree of accuracy whether a couple will still be together in five years. That’s a pretty eye-opening statistic.
Below, you’ll find the four things that predict your relationship is heading for the rocks.
Marriage & Divorce: The Numbers Don’t Lie
So how is it that an expert can predict with such incredible accuracy just which relationships are built to withstand the test of time? This isn’t about fortune-telling or guesswork. Researchers have identified a list of the four behaviors you must avoid if you don’t want to go down the path of divorce: accusation, escalation, invalidation and alienation. These are all learned behaviors, so you can also learn new and improved habits that will strengthen your relationship rather than destroy it.
Simply put, one of the absolute kisses of death in a marriage is the tendency to assign blame or make accusations toward your partner — especially when you don’t know all the facts. It’s as fundamental as asking a question rather than making a statement or worse — an accusation. It’s about asking, “Honey, did you make a purchase I don’t know about?” rather than saying “The account is overdrawn again. What did you buy this time?”
If you want to have a quality, loving relationship, learn to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt and always assume the best, rather than the worst. When you’re a graceful person who treats others fairly and respectfully, even when they occasionally make a mistake, it creates a desire in them to be even better and to justify your faith. People will often rise or fall to the exact level of your expectations, so it’s a great idea to check in on these if you see a problem arising.
Human emotions under pressure tend to do one of two things: They either spiral upward or they spiral downward. In that way, this habit is somewhat closely aligned with blaming behaviors. Someone who habitually escalates a disagreement is more interested in deflecting and defending their own position and assigning blame to another party. This often creates a “dueling defensiveness” that is not only wholly unproductive … it’s absolutely destructive.
One fundamental question is potent enough to remove a great deal of the destructive power this energy harnesses. That question is simply this: “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be in love?” Always move in the direction of understanding first, and then move toward resolution. This will create the spiraling downward effect that I already mentioned.
This habit — like the others — simply reinforces a win-lose dynamic that, as I’ve said earlier, will eventually end up in one final loss 90 percent of the time. When you invalidate your partner, it’s all about discrediting them or weakening them in some way. Oftentimes, this is done by objectifying someone or taking away their “human” characteristics and instead focusing on negative aspects, assumptions, and prejudices. This can be cruelly effective in the short term and possibly even destroy someone’s self-esteem for a period of time. However, be warned, sometimes when the tables get turned, it happens hard and fast. A bully may win their share of battles, but it’s very unsettling when they lose the war very, very suddenly when their partner can’t take it anymore.
A key understanding that can shift this dynamic forever is the fundamental acknowledgement that as human beings, we’re all doing the very best we can with what we have in the moment. Normal, emotionally healthy humans don’t wake up in the morning and consider how they’re going to meet only their own selfish needs while hurting and frustrating others that day. That’s pretty much the definition of a sociopath and if that sounds like your partner, that level of dysfunction may be too deeply engrained to turn around without professional help and a real desire to change.
This habit is about routinely withdrawing from or abandoning an effort to resolve an issue. Sometimes, it’s more passive-aggressive, like giving someone the “silent treatment.” Other times, it’s more overt — like slamming the door and leaving — which gives your partner the uncertainty of abandonment. The one common theme is that it’s a controlling mechanism designed to manipulate your partner and take back power or at least the illusion of it.
If you want your relationship to stand the test of time, it’s up to you to steer it in the direction you want it to go. That means resolving issues and committing to meeting one another’s needs. In order to survive the challenges, you have to work together as a team to craft win-win situations for your mutual benefit.
If you see yourself or your relationship in any of these scenarios, be assured that you’re playing a dangerous, costly, and very risky game. There’s a reason these toxic habits will cause a divorce within five years 90 percent of the time.
Plus, these habits can be so deeply ingrained that oftentimes you leave one relationship and then start the cycle all over, recreating the dysfunction with a new partner. With coaching or finding a good couple’s therapist, you can get the support you need, not to mention the new awareness and skills that can make all the difference.
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