Having a clear vision of how future marriages was Scott R. Braithwaite’s first piece of advice in his Education Week address on Thursday.
Without a clear vision well before deciding to marry, the chances of things turning out as planned are slim. Happy marriages are a choice. All couples have problems, but they have to know how to handle them.
The best way to handle problems, Braithwaite said, is to prevent serious problems from happening. There is only so much one can do once a marriage becomes distressed. Marital therapy helps, but nothing’s better than prevention.
“By knowing the key risk factors for marital problems, you will know more about what makes a successful marriage,” Braithwaite explained.
It is not atypical to have conflict or arguments in a relationship. However, there are four things that Braithwaite deemed “danger signs” of marital problems.
This is a negative back and forth communication pattern that results in the fight becoming more intense than necessary. There are two different types of escalation. The first is called verbal and it occurs when one person matches the intensity of the other, turning what could be a conversation into an argument. For this problem, the content is not as predictive. The second type is called content, in which both partners raise the stakes in the argument. Braithwaite gave an example of an argument that started with cleaning the house and turned into threats of divorce.
This happens “when partners put down or disregard the thoughts, feelings or character of the other person.” Spouses talk down to each other as if they are the ultimate authority in a situation. Braithwaite called this pride in action.
3. Negative interpretations
Negative interpretations occur when a partner assumes the other’s thoughts are negative. This puts the other person in a place where they can’t do or say anything to change the situation. Braithwaite explains that quite often, the negative interpreter believes the exact opposite of what the spouse is truly feeling.
4. Avoidance and withdrawal
This pattern is more common in men. One partner, typically the wife, attempts to talk about an issue while the other does everything they can to avoid the situation. Both partners are trying to do something good, Braithwaite said. The wife is trying to communicate and the husband is trying to avoid a fight. The way the man goes about avoiding a fight, however, is by withdrawing which is counterproductive.
These signs aren’t always death sentences to a marriage, but they can result in an unhappy relationship. Braithwaite advised again that the best way to avoid the danger signs is through prevention, and the best prevention technique is developing a vision of how a marriage should be.
“If you want to enjoy bushels of peaches fresh from the tree, you need to have planted it years ago,” Braithwaite said.