Updated: Aug 3
If you are looking for ways to improve your connection and communication in a relationship, here are the 4 major things to stay away from.
These 4 relationship killers come from the research lab at the University of Washington. Here is where Dr. John Gottman has been conducting research on relationship stability, satisfaction and longevity since the 70's! He found that there are 4 major errors that kill connection and communication.
THE 4 HORSEMEN
Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt and Stonewalling
This is really common for criticism to creep in when one partner is complaining about the other. It is okay to complain, but there is one key difference between complaining and criticizing. Complaining is talking about the other person's behavior that you do not like. It is also usually followed up with a specific request.
EX: Hey, I noticed the dishes were not done, can you make sure to do them before you come up to bed?
Criticism, on the other hand, attacks your partner's character as you are bringing something to their attention. It is also usually attached to an "always" or a "never."
EX: You never do the dishes. You are so terrible at housework.
When you feel yourself wanting to criticize, take a moment to breathe, and think about how the message is going to come across. Are you going to be heard when you criticize? When you have this urge, use a soft start-up rather than a harsh start-up.
Use this formula!
I feel (emotion word) when (name the behavior your partner did) because (explain why you feel this way.) Can you (make a specific request)
EX: Hey, I get agitated and antsy when I walk into the kitchen and the dishes are not done on your night to do them. I cannot relax until the dishes are done and feel like I then have to do them on your night. Can you please clean the dishes before I get back down from putting the kids to sleep?
This communication killer usually shows up after there is criticism in the conversation. When you get criticized, you feel attacked and most people try to defend themselves, or deflect responsibility onto something else away from themselves.
Ex: You always jump on me. I haven't gotten a chance to do them tonight yet because you asked me to do something else and I got distracted.
When you have the urge to place blame on others or to attack back, you guessed it, take a moment, slow down, and take a breath. Reflect on what your partner is saying and see if there is something that you can take responsibility for.
EX: Yeah, I can see how it would be agitating when the dishes aren't done when it's my night.
When there is contempt in communication, it is usually a sign that communication has been difficult for a while. It does not show up right away but builds into contempt after repeated attempts to communicate and not being heard. This is when you see your partner as the problem in the relationship. You do not see anything wrong with your actions, and everything negative that happens is because your partner is doing it wrong. This is similar to criticism with a hint of "I'm better than you" You think you are cleaner, neater, or smarter, and use things like sarcasm, name-calling, belittling, eye-rolling, or mocking.
EX: I never miss washing the dishes on my night. It is not that hard you are just lazy!
This antidote takes a little longer to implement than the others because it usually took a little while to get to the point of contempt. In order to work on contempt, you need to work on fostering an environment of fondness and admiration in the relationship.
How Do I Do This?
Fostering fondness and admiration looks like giving your partner compliments or noticing when they do something you like and commenting on it. Telling them why you love them and what you admire about them with a specific recent example.
EX: This evening, when you were talking to your friend on the phone, you were such a good friend to them when they needed you. That is one of the things that really made me fall in love with you. You have the ability to be such a good friend and you are loyal to the people you love.
Stonewalling is exactly what it sounds like. One person totally checks out and is like a stone wall. Nothing is going in or out. They are frozen and there is no communication. This happens when the person gets so stressed that they get into fight or flight. Their body goes into self-protection mode. In relationships, stonewalling is most often seen in men, but it can also show up in women. For men, stonewalling usually looks like loss of eye contact, looking away, not responding to anything their partner is saying or doing, or just walking away mid conversation. For women, it is a little more subtle. Women tend to maintain eye contact and continue to respond with body language or "uh huh" but they look disconnected, like nobody is home.
When we get to the point of stonewalling, we need to take a break! During this break, the person who is in fight of flight mode, needs to do some self-soothing to be able to reset. Studies out of the "Love Lab" show that it takes at least 20 minutes to reset. While you are in this break, it is counter-productive to keep thinking about the fight. We tend to work ourselves up by thinking about the fight and then come back after 20 minutes even more upset and "with the perfect comeback!" Take this time to rest, do a hobby, take your mind off of the argument.
Hi, I’m Kristina Anzell, I am a Clinical Social Worker dedicated to providing compassionate and tailored mental health support for moms at all stages of motherhood. My mission is to empower you to thrive in your role as a mother while nurturing your own well-being. If you enjoyed this blog post, check out my blog here! If you want more information or are seeking treatment, feel free to reach out!