Old habits die hard, but in the case of conflicts, old habits can kill a relationship.
Dr. John Gottman, founder of The Gottman Institute, identified four specific habits that are the most destructive in relationships and the best predictors of separation. He dubbed them the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”.
It’s likely these Four Horsemen will be familiar to you, because we’ve all been guilty of them at one time or another. Being aware of them is the first step toward overcoming them.
Criticism is an action that focuses on the past: past behaviors, past words, and so on. It can become an easy distraction from the conflict you are trying to resolve.
Conflicts are not resolved by staying in the past. You and your partner must focus on the present issue at hand in order to move forward and create a calmer future.
Hyper-focus on why you’re right or justifying your actions does not take your partner’s feelings into consideration.
Letting your partner know your reasoning for acting a certain way can help your partner understand your intentions. But it should not be the only thing you try to communicate to your partner.
First, take the time to put yourself in your partner’s shoes. If you are able to find common ground with your partner, it will be easier to communicate your feelings and your reasoning, rather than starting off with an aggressive defense.
Contempt can grow out of a specific issue. You cannot understand how your partner would vote a certain way, you find yourself steaming over the way your partner cleans (or fails to clean) the house, and on and on.
You may feel like initial feelings of contempt are no big deal, since they are limited to one habit or behavior. For contempt to continue growing, you have to continue to feed it.
Unfortunately, this is an easy trap to fall into. Contempt can snowball into something you may not be able to control faster than you know it.
You may be asking yourself, “What is stonewalling?” When I explain, you’ll probably know exactly what I mean.
Stonewalling occurs when one person completely shuts down or goes quiet during an argument and refuses to respond. If you have been “stonewalled” in an argument, you likely already know what makes his behavior toxic.
Being stonewalled is extremely frustrating. After all, you aren’t getting any response from your partner, and the conversation screeches to a halt. This means that the conversation cannot progress to the point where you can come to a solution.
Don’t automatically demonize your partner for clamming up though. What you see as stonewalling may happen when they feel overwhelmed and cannot continue to conversation at the moment.
Each partner has a responsibility to the other to talk through his or her feelings to resolve an issue. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take a break or a step back to give each other time to cool off, gather your thoughts, and regain self-control.
Begin to Avoid and Overcome These Behaviors
There are different tools and strategies for overcoming these four dangerous behaviors. But before you and your partner can do that, you need to learn how to recognize them and their warning signs.
This will help to prevent these behaviors from infiltrating and poisoning your relationship. For more information on how to halt these behaviors after they have taken over relationship conflicts, I encourage you to get in touch.
Rooting for you!