In a previous article, I write about “masters” and “disasters” in relationships. “Masters” are couples in a stable relationship have specific traits that allow them to work together in effective and positive ways. “Disasters” are couples who are unstable (and even stable) yet incredibly unhappy. Click here to read that article.
Part of having a happy relationship is to be able to communicate effectively during conflict. To achieve this, couples must avoid what Dr. John Gottman calls the “four horsemen of the apocalypse.”
The Four Horsemen
- Criticism is the personal attack on our partner’s character. The phrase “you never clean the house” translates to “you’re a slob.” These characteristics are the very attributes that attracted us to our partner in the first place. As time goes on, those traits can become annoying. Are you critical of your partner?
- We become defensive when we want to protect ourselves from feeling personally attacked. We do this by attacking back, proclaiming innocence, being righteously indignant or whining like a victim. When we are defensive, we hide and cover up any responsibility for problems. Are you quick to become defensive?
- When we are contemptuous, we “sit on our high horse” and cast down criticism from a place of superiority – the ultimate disrespect towards our partner. We yell out insults, give condescending lectures, and call each other bad names. At it’s worse – contempt is verbal abuse. Contempt can also be non-verbal with eye-rolling and a wrinkling of the nose (disgust). Contempt is the most toxic and strongest predictor of divorce. Is there contempt in your relationship?
- The last of the four horsemen is stonewalling. When we simply do not like what is being said, we become just like a stone wall and give no response. When individuals stonewall, their pulses are typically over a hundred beats per minute as they are just sitting and talking. This is like having the gas and break pedal floored at the same time (this can be uncomfortable). It is easy for you or your partner to stonewall?
So what do I do?
You may connect with one of these listed above or you may relate to all four of these. If you are experiencing one of these in your relationship, it is time to make a change. Married couples who escalate in conflict in these different areas divorces an average of 5.6 years after their wedding date. This statistic only speaks for those relationships that ended. It doesn’t account for the many couples who remain married but are incredibly unhappy and hoping for change or accepting that they will just be unhappy for the rest of their marriage. If you answered yes to one of the questions above, take action now. It is time to fight (the right way) for your marriage.