Try as we might, it is impossible to avoid conflict in romantic relationships. It is difficult to avoid in most significant relationships, for that matter. Conflict is healthy – when different individuals from different backgrounds and upbringings come together, it is unrealistic not to expect the occasional clash in personalities or opinions. As we have stated before, conflict is not the problem, but rather, the way in which it is handled can become problematic. In this post, we will review four critical communication errors, in the hope of helping you identify the strong and weak points in your relationship, and encouraging you to invest in its well-being.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Dr. John Gottman, famous for his work on relationship stability and prediction of relationship failure, identifies four communication patterns that have been found, with over 90% accuracy, to result in ruptured relationships. We will outline them below with some tips to reverse their negative effects.
Criticism occurs when we respond to insult by attacking our partner’s character via harsh “you-statements.” For example, calling your partner selfish when they do something inconsiderate, or irresponsible when they blunder, would fall into this category. Instead, Dr. Gottman suggests expressing one’s hurt or concern in the form of “I-statements.” For example, calmly telling your partner; “I was hurt when you didn’t invite me to the firm’s cocktail party – I wanted to stand by your side” or “it concerns me, when our money is frequently spent on traffic violations, let’s talk about it,” might serve more fruitful than condemning your partner for falling short of your expectations.
Defensiveness needs no fancy introduction – we all know what it’s about. Essentially, deflecting blame by justifying our every action and playing the victim, does far more harm than good. In fact, it constitutes a subtle way of placing blame on your partner. To avoid the negative consequences of defensiveness, we would be wise to admit fault when due, and apologize to our partners when we have wronged them. If you have a tendency to get defensive, even if your intentions were good, reflect on how your actions may have contributed to the conflict you are facing with your partner, and see if you can’t consider taking responsibility for your hand in it. It most certainly does take two to tango.
Dr. Gottman identifies contempt as the biggest predictor of failed relationships. It comprises the communication of superiority through sarcasm, negativity, and name-calling, as well as more subtle expressions such as eye-rolling and mockery. In countering contempt, it is recommended to make efforts towards fostering compassion, even when highly irritated by our partners, and always maintaining respect during arguments and confrontations.
Stonewalling occurs when one or both partners withdraw from each other or their conflict, and is often caused by a combination of the three previous patterns. It essentially reflects “giving up,” which rarely results in favourable outcomes. To remedy stonewalling, Dr. Gottman recommends taking a 20-minute break from conflict, to regain composure, and then returning to it while respecting the three previous “horsemen.”
Now, we ask you which of these four patterns you endorse in conflict with your partner? In what ways is your relationship resilient? Ask yourselves how you can invest in your relationship to enhance and improve it. If you are facing more profound challenges, our relationship counsellors can help you identify maladaptive patterns and repair what may be broken. Our relationships are precious gifts we must invest in. We can help you rebuild the bonds that mean the most to you.