I don't want my marriage to someday end in divorce (Photo: iStock)

Hi Chris,

My parents divorced, so I worry that might happen to me. I tell myself I should not panic because my fiancé is nice, but I cannot stop myself.

Is there any way to tell whether a marriage is going to succeed before you walk down the aisle?

Nervous

Chris says,

Hi, Nervous!

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Yes, there is. Because relationships fall into a pattern right from the moment you meet. So if your fiancé got drunk on your first date, it is likely that alcohol is going to be a problem throughout your relationship. So do not ignore issues hoping he will change.

The way that you quarrel is another strong clue. Arguments are inevitable because there are always problems. And it does not matter whether you are volatile or calm. Even couples who fight a lot can have a long and successful marriage.

But failing relationships follow specific downward steps. See any signs of these, even before you wed, and you need to take action.

The first step is when complaining escalates into criticism. “We do not go out enough” becomes “You never take me anywhere.” Before long the criticism starts to include contempt. Name-calling, eye-rolling, insults. You quickly forget each other’s good points. Even why you fell in love in the first place.

Soon you are being defensive. And then, exhausted and overwhelmed, one of you stops responding to the other at all. Disapproval and distance need not mark the end of a relationship, but they often do. And so you divorce.

Can anything be done to escape this spiral? Definitely! Turn complaints into wishes. Be precise, so that everyone knows exactly what needs to change. Talk about how what is happening affects you, rather than criticising. Stick to the point, and do not bring up old sores.

Ask instead of demanding. Listen and empathise. Add an affectionate touch that says that you care and are trying to understand. Work hard to find solutions that suit both of you. Continually provide positive feedback to encourage each other to stick with it. If you can argue skillfully, you will stay together forever.

All the best,

Chris