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The best wedding present you and your fiancé can give yourselves is to banish dysfunctional communication patterns before you walk down the aisle — especially passive aggressive behavior also known as the silent treatment.
A recent summary of 74 studies involving over 14,000 participants, published in the March 2014 Communication Monographs found the 'demand-withdraw' pattern to be a predictor of divorce. This pattern involves one partner (more often the woman) vociferously demanding something of her mate, only to be met with not so golden silence.
"I deal with engaged couples who often resort to the silent treatment during the planning process. It immediately ignites the individual not being spoken to," says Florida-based wedding consultant Lynne Goldberg. "Open, honest communication, and compromise are the most important elements to a happy couple."
Often new couples engage in the silent treatment because that's how they saw their parents (their marital role models) interact. Here's how to break the cycle of this detrimental communication pattern:
Don't meet silence with silence.
Don't shut down yourself. Instead, tell your fiancé you see that he is angry and when he's ready to talk you're more than happy to hear him out. Until then you're not going to nag, cajole, beg, etc. You will go about your life and hope he's ready to talk soon because you love him and the sooner the two of you can resolve the issue, the sooner you can get on with being happy together. Then do just that — go on with your life.
Cease and desist sulking.
If you're the silent one, remind yourself as often as possible: "I need to step up and be an adult and say how I feel and why I'm upset. I have to put the health and happiness of my relationship ahead of my need to punish and feel righteous." It's tough to change this kind of behavior, but the reward is certainly worth it.
A spoonful of preventive medicine.
Have a conversation (not in the middle of a sulk!) about how to work together to communicate more smoothly. Discuss strategies to implement when a fight is brewing. For instance, agree to call for a time-out during an argument. This way both partners can chill out. It's much better to agree to disagree and return to the discussion at a calmer time. Ultimately, it's not about "winning" or "losing" but letting each other feel understood.
Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW is a New York City-based marriage therapist and author.