Feel defensive or critical of your partner? Evidence says your relationship might not last.
Have you ever found yourself giving your partner the silent treatment, rolling your eyes, or blaming your partner for your own actions? Albeit small, if these behaviors occur high in frequency and intensity they are markers that often accurately predict whether a relationship will succeed or fail.
Developing relationship insight takes work and begins with identifying your own pattern of communication. Next, you must take ownership of your own contribution (i.e behavior) in the relationship. By doing so, you increase your sense of control and it opens the door to problem solve a possibly contentious situation. This month’s newsletter will review Dr. Gottman’s famous “Four Horsemen”, which are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. The ultimate goal is by identifying these behaviors you can work to change them, and be successful in creating a happy relationship.
John Gottman, Ph.D., is a relationship expert who has spent decades collecting data and observing couples interactions. Based on his research and experience he claims he is able to accurately predict which couples will stay together in long lasting relationships. One pattern of interaction that was found to increase the duration of a relationship was having high levels of positive interactions. In fact, the magic number turned out to be 5 positive interactions for every one negative interaction; couples that maintained this 5:1 ratio were happier and more stable. This 5:1 interaction can help to reduce the impact of negative communication, because negative interactions typically have a stronger impact than positive ones. This information is incredibly important in counterbalancing some of the damage that can be done when coping with negative communication.
The Four Horsemen
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.
For more info, check out my website where I explain "fair fighting". I discuss the most effective and constructive ways to communicate your needs.
Remember, for all behaviors we do not like, there are always remedies for positive change.
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