Negative interactions known as the “Four Horsemen” were found to be associated with couples whose relationship was likely to end. These destructive interactions make up the second pattern that predicts the duration of a relationship:
Criticism: Making character attacks. This usually takes form by attacking one’s personality or characteristics. Generalization statements may commonly take place as a list of complaints about one’s past behavior to suggest a character fault. Examples include, “you never; you always; why do you always do; you’re the kind of person who; you’re so ___.”
Contempt: Insulting or causing psychological abuse with intention. This takes the form by attacking your partner’s sense of self. These behaviors convey a lack of concern for your partner, their feelings, and reflect an overall negative view of your partner. This may come in the form of body language, ex. rolling your eyes, sneering; name calling and insults “jerk, slob, ugly, fat;” and sarcasm, humor, and/or mockery.
Defensiveness: You view yourself as the victim, in an attempt to ward off a perceived attack. This can take form when one makes counter-complaints, makes excuses (“I didn’t do __”), making “yes, but” statements, repeating oneself (without listening), and whining.
Stonewalling: A form of communication in which one has totally withdrawn from a conversation. This can take the form of being silent, leaving the room, changing topics, and ultimately any behavior that conveys one has stopped responding to communication. This is seen as a total breakdown in communication, though it is usually used to avoid conflict, de-escalate a situation, or stay neutral; stonewalling behavior sends the message of separation, coldness, and disconnect.
These four destructive interactions are viewed on a spectrum from least to most damaging, where criticism leads to contempt; contempt leads to defensiveness; and defensiveness leads to stonewalling. Studies show that couples who cycle through this spectrum are more likely to break up. Stay tuned for next month’s newsletter where I explain "fair fighting". We will discuss the most effective and constructive ways to communicate your needs. I hope you find this article to be a valuable tool to assess your current relationship and identify what behaviors you may want to change. Remember, for all behaviors we do not like, there are always remedies for positive change.