Do you sometimes feel like you’re in a rut with your relationship? We all do from time to time. When things are not going well in a relationship, it can really help if both partners start by looking at how they communicate. Frequently, couples stop making an effort with each other. They may even insult each other or take each other for granted.
All relationships require continuous care and hard work, but according to relationship expert, Dr. John Gottman a psychologist at the University of Washington who studied more than 2,000 married couples, there are four styles of communication that lead to a relationship break-up. Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt and Stonewalling.
Let's look at these and how to tackle them.
1. Criticism: Criticism is a global attack on your partner, attacking your partner’s personality or character, usually with the intent of making one person right and the other wrong.
Example: “you always…” “you never…”“you’re the type of person who …”
Criticism will push your partner further from you. Complaints, on the other hand, are objective statements of unmet needs and bring your partner closer to you. An effective complaint is one that expresses an “I” statement.
2. Contempt: This occurs when you blame and attack your partner’s sense of self with the intention to insult. Contempt expresses the complete absence of any admiration and is toxic to relationships. It must be eliminated.
Examples of contempt include name calling, hostile humor, sarcasm, body language and tone of voice.
When the desire to blame or attack creeps up, remember what brought you to the relationship in the first place and make sure to show the same respect to your partner you did at the beginning of your relationship.
3. Defensiveness. It occurs as a reaction to being criticized or treated contemptuously. It’s also a way of seeing yourself as a victim and avoiding responsibility.
Examples: Denying responsibility, making excuses, or meeting one complaint with another.
If you find yourself on the defense, remember you play an equal part in your relationship up's and down's. One strategy you can use to avoid the perception of defensiveness and build your relationship is listening. Listening demonstrates understanding and has the potential to lead to collaboration.
4. Stonewalling. People who stonewall simply refuse to respond. During times of high conflict and physiological escalation stonewalling allows both partners to step back and calm down before coming together to discuss the conflict. But, when emotionally checking out becomes a typical way of interacting, with your partner, you are pulling yourself out of the relationship, rather than working out your problems.
So, if you find yourself in conflict with your partner and one of you shuts down, take a break. If, on the other hand, it has become a habit it's time to make a change.
Finally, keep in mind that all couples will engage in the above listed types of communications at some point in their relationship. But, if you let them take permanent residence in your home, your relationship has a high likelihood of failing.
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