Let’s dig a little deeper into a few of the rules for fighting fair that were introduced in the last post. Specifically, we are going to address rules # 1, 3, 4 and 12, though a little out of order. Let’s look at these rules through the lens of John Gottman’s work. Gottman has spent the last several decades gathering empirical evidence that demonstrates what the Masters of Relationship do vs. the Disasters of Relationship. He shows us that there are 4 negative communication styles that are so disastrous that he can predict with 90% accuracy that the relationship is doomed unless these behaviors and styles of communication are corrected. He refers to these lethal communication styles as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Rather dramatic sounding, isn’t it? So what are they?
Criticism, which is addressed in RULE #1: When you use name calling, insults and put downs, you are attacking the character and feelings of your partner instead of focusing on the specific behavior or concern that is bothering you. Rather than saying “I feel really frustrated when you leave your dirty dishes in the sink”, you say “You are so lazy, can’t you even put a damn dish in the dishwasher?” Criticism can also rear its head when one person is trying to make a behavior change but it is not happening quickly enough or to their parters exact liking. If you find yourself constantly correcting your partner, be wary that this could be experienced as criticism.
Contempt, which is addressed in RULE #4: Contempt can be hard to define, but you know it when you see it (or feel it). It is an air of superiority that comes out as sarcasm, cynicism and hostility. Contempt is often conveyed in body language and facial expressions (eye rolling, snearing, huffing and puffing) or mockery, belittling voice tone and hostile humor. When you are contemptuous of your partner, you are conveying to them that they are “less than” worthy of the respect that we all deserve. Contempt eats away at the goodwill in relationships. It is the #1 predictor of relationship demise. If you are aware that you or your partner use contempt when trying to manage conflict or communicate a point, it MUST stop. Otherwise, start planning to move on.
Defensiveness, which is addressed in RULE #3: When one is defensive, they are acting as righteously indignant or as innocent victims. Defensiveness is almost an automatic response when we believe we are unjustly attacked or criticized. We then move to counter attack as a way to protect ourselves. However, this is a situation in which two wrongs do not make a right. There are plenty of instances when our parters may be handling themselves inappropriately, invoking the first two horsemen listed above or accusing us of something for which we are genuinely not guilty. It is not helpful to respond with the third horseman. Defensiveness can also be a way of not taking responsibility when we have let our partner down or hurt them, either intentionally or unintentionally.
Stonewalling, with is addressed in Rule # 12: Stonewalling occurs when one person withdraws from or refuses to engage in conversations that they prefer to avoid. This can take the form of “tuning out” while pretending to listen, avoiding conversations altogether or storming out in an attempt to disengage from a dialogue. Stonewalling is often an unhelpful way of managing ones own emotionally hijacked central nervous system. It is better to time oneself out for awhile in order to get re-grounded, centered, calm and ready to listen.
Stay tuned for the antidotes to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.