In honor of Valentine’s day, I thought devoting a blog to relationships would be in order. It’s important to know what you need in a relationship to make it work, but it’s as equally important to know what to keep out of relationships to keep them healthy. This is essentially a blog about what not to do in relationships based on the work of John Gottman.
John Gottman is a leading researcher in the field of relationships and divorce. He has studied couples for decades and identified several behaviors that will kill a relationship. He calls these “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” The more often these appear in the relationship, the more likely it is the relationship will end.
Criticizing is attacking your partner at the core of their character. It’s a global assessment of them as a human being (i.e. “You’re selfish!”). It makes the recipient feel assaulted, defensive, rejected, and hurt. Criticism can become pervasive, and when that happens, it sets the stage for the other horsemen to appear.
Contempt will follow if there is frequent criticism in the relationship. This is the most damaging of all the horsemen. The purpose of contempt is to hurt, and it manifests itself with mean-spirited communication including disrespect, mocking, sarcasm, ridicule, name-calling, eye-rolling, and scoffing. The recipient will feel despised and worthless. Based on Gottman’s research, contempt is the single greatest predictor of divorce.
We all do this. It’s generally a reaction to criticism where we feel unjustly attacked. We make excuses, deny, or play the victim. This strategy is not usually successful and can escalate frustration in our partner. It sends the message we won’t take accountability for our mistakes and don’t take their concerns seriously.
Stonewalling happens when the listener disengages from the interaction, shuts down, or stops responding to their partner. This tends to appear as a response to contempt. Stonewalling indicates a person has hit their limit and reached a level of emotional and physiological escalation that they can’t continue in the interaction in a productive way.
If you are struggling with a relationship and want to work through it in counseling, I’d love to chat with you. Please give our office a call, and we can discuss further.