4 Responses that Destroy Relationships


Whether you love them or hate them, we can all agree they take WORK to be successful!

I do not do couples therapy.  I prefer to work with people individually.  However, many of my clients have relationship difficulties that contribute to their stress and unhappiness.  So, I decided to beef up my relationship skills by taking a few courses by the Gottman's.

The Gottman's are a married couple that have spent much of their lives helping and understanding romantic relationships.  They have done decades of research and therapy with couples and have developed a deep understanding about what it takes to have a healthy and happy relationship.  

Here is the thing.  As I studied their methods I realized, not only would many of their concepts work with couples, but they would be helpful with many other relationships that we have in our lives.

Relationships with our children,

our friends.

our coworkers,

even ourselves,

could benefit from their teachings.

One of my favorite concepts the Gottman's teach is the 4 Horsemen of Disaster in Relationships.  I think these are things you should STAY AWAY from in ALL relationships, not just with your romantic partner.

1. Criticism.  Criticism is when you are passing severe judgement or fault finding.  This is different than being assertive and asking for what you really want in a relationship.  It is often the result of feeling defensive or contemptuous.  Perhaps it is a way to protect ourselves from a perceived attack.  It is criticizing the person as a whole not just their action.  A criticism hurts.  Instead, of attacking the person it is better to be assertive and direct in asking for the behavior you wish to see instead.

2. Defensiveness.  Defensiveness is what we do to protect ourselves when someone makes a criticism about us.  This usually involves becoming angry and throwing the blame  and our own criticism onto the person that criticized us.  This does not benefit anyone or the relationship as a whole.  Instead, try taking responsibility for your role in the problem.

3. Contempt:  If you want to have a healthy and successful relationship with someone, having contempt for them will make that difficult.  In fact, the Gottman's consider this horseman to be the most destructive in a relationship and biggest predictor of divorce! Contempt is a general attitude of disgust or looking down on the other person.  Instead, try changing your focus from what you don't like about them or what they are doing wrong to the qualities about them that you enjoy or things they are doing right or try describing what you are feeling or what you need without using "You." statements which lead to blame.

4. Stonewalling:  Stonewalling is another way to say you shut down.  You just tune out and become like  a stone wall.  The Gottman's believe this happens when a person is flooded.  Flooded means you become overwhelmed and the stress response kicks in where your body flips into fight, flight or freeze mode.  This is the point you feel like no matter what you do or say you can't win.  Instead of shutting down, it is best to tell the person you are talking to that you need a time out and set a time to come back and discuss the matter when you have calmed down and are no longer in fight or flight mode.  During the time out, get away from the other person and use calming skills.   Don't replay the events over and over in your mind and make sure you come back and discuss, instead of just sweeping it under the rug.

Can you see how staying away from these Horsemen could be beneficial to EVERY relationship, including the relationship with yourself?  Comment below with your thoughts!