My husband and I are smart people, yet we repeat the same pattern: complain, fight, withdraw, and then do it all over again. You’d think we could break this pattern, but we cannot seem to. How can we stop it and then develop a new, healthier pattern?

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Sadly, the pattern you describe is prevalent in many marriages. In fact, most couples aren’t aware of their patterns of fighting and subsequently fail to interrupt them.

There’s an old story that goes something like this: A man goes down a street and falls into a pothole. He curses at the pothole. The next day he goes down the same street and falls into the same pothole. He again curses at the pothole. It happens again the next day. Finally, in a moment of awareness, he chooses to go down a different street.

Of course this example is ridiculous, yet many of us go down the same street and fall into the same pothole. We blame our circumstances on others, the environment, our bad luck, and so on. Rarely do we look in the mirror and firmly confront ourselves. Rarely do we say, “We must make our situation better.”

You’re taking a step in the right direction by noting you have this dysfunctional pattern and wish to break it. Let’s talk about more specifics on what needs to change.

Stop complaining. Complaining is such a waste of time and energy. Absolutely nothing changes with complaining. In fact, if anything, complaining reinforces in your minds that you are victims and not responsible for any change;

State the problem. Step back, stop complaining, and define the problem. Exactly what is going on? You can name the patterns and your part in them. Be frank, firm, and critical. Things need to change — and for things to change, you must change;

Share the problem. Agree together that you cannot allow the situation to remain the same. Join in repairing your marriage. There is no need or value in blaming or shaming each other. Create a journey out of the experience. While it will not likely be fun, it can be an adventure.

Settle on solutions. Define clear goals. Who will change what? How will you work together? What does success look like? Determine when you will talk again and how you will mark gains made or missteps. How will you make corrections?

Stay the course. Because these patterns are entrenched, they are not likely to change easily. Remember that the prize goes to the one who runs the full race. Stay the course, acknowledging the path won’t always be easy, but you will note progress.

In summary, destructive patterns CAN be changed. In fact, while we all slip into old, destructive patterns, new, healthy patterns can replace them. With God’s grace and power, you can change and enjoy a vibrant, conflict-free marriage.

I’d like to hear your thoughts and welcome reactions. Contact me at drdavid@marriagerecoverycenter.com. I encourage you to read about our programs at www.marriagerecoverycenter.com.

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