Drs. John and Julie Gottman have been studying relationships for over four decades (plus they’re married themselves) so they know their sh*t. In fact, through a series of studies, they were able to predict whether or not couples they observed would get divorced within six years. The kicker—they were right 94% of the time. That’s CRAZY accurate…so listen up as I break down what they’ve termed the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” otherwise known as the red flags that can make or break a relationship. If you notice any of these behaviors in your own relationship, it’s time to nip them in the bud.
We’ve all had those days where we come home from a long day at the office, only to find that the dishes (from three days ago) are still sitting in the sink. It’s easy to criticize your SO by saying something like, “You never clean up after yourself.”
The thing is, when you use a statement like this, you’re criticizing, or implying that something is inherently wrong with the other person. I know from experience that this doesn’t work well.
Do this instead: Rather than attacking your partner’s personality or behavior, use “I” words to express how the situation made you feel. For instance, “When the dishes were left in the sink, I felt unsupported with the household chores and I need your help cleaning the kitchen a few times per week.” Sounds much more reasonable, doesn’t it?
I’m not gonna lie, this can be a difficult one to break. When someone shows contempt in a relationship, it means that they’re asserting superiority in either a verbal or non-verbal way. Some examples are making fun of your partner, name-calling, eye-rolling, hurtful sarcasm, etc. Think of it as an attack on your partner’s sense of self, used to bring them down or manipulate them.
Do this instead: Be mindful of how your words (and non-verbal gestures) affect your partner. Work to build a culture of appreciation, kindness, respect and tolerance. And if you continue to put your spouse down, it may be time to seek some outside help to better understand what’s going on internally that’s causing these behaviors.
Defensiveness happens when someone feels attacked or acts like a victim to evade responsibility. Let’s go back to the dirty dishes example. When I say, “You never clean up after yourself,” chances are, your partner is going to clap back at you by saying something like, “Yeah, but you’re always working late so why does it matter? You’re never here.”
Does this “yes, but…” tactic sound familiar? It’s a classic display of defensiveness.
Do this instead: Slow down and try to see things from your partner’s perspective. Consciously communicate by speaking your truth and then pause and really listen. Try to offer some validation by letting your SO know you get where they’re coming from. Maybe in this example, your SO just feels lonely because you’ve been working a lot. By slowing down and paying attention, you can read the subtext and get to the root of the problem.
This last behavior is typically common among the shy and the stubborn in the relationship. Stonewalling is a complete withdrawal from communication as a way to avoid conflict. While it could feel like the easy way out, it actually conveys disconnection, disapproval, and arrogance. The silent treatment, one-word answers and changing the subject are all prime examples.
Do this instead: Learn to identify the signs your loved one shows when they’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed. And if you’re the one feeling overwhelmed, Iet your partner know. Then, you can both agree to take a break and resume the conversation when you’re in a better state of mind.
Remember, no one’s perfect and all of us have a lot to learn from the Gottman’s research. Having trouble breaking these behaviors on your own? I was recently certified in Gottman Method Couples Therapy and am licensed to administer a new, totally kick-ass, online assessment that automatically scores a couple’s strengths and challenges.
I created a new service called The Quick & Dirty.
Don’t let the name fool you—this package packs a powerful punch! Think of this as the nuts and bolts to improving yourself and your relationship, all in one. It’s like 12 months of therapy in two hours!
First, I’ll set up a one-hour phone call with you to spill your guts, dump your brain, and explore whatever has you all crumbled up in a tight ball of yuck.
Second, I will email The Gottman Method Couples Online Assessment to you and your significant other (separately) to complete.
Third, once I analyze the results, I’ll set up a 60-minute recap call for us to discuss these findings, including what’s working, what isn’t, and what steps and processes you can implement immediately to start making improvements in your relationship.
So, ready to dive in? Contact me today to schedule a low-key, no-pressure, no-commitment phone call to see if I’m a good fit for you and to answer any questions you might have.