It’s drilled into our heads again and again as one thing that will make or break our relationships.
Recently I was studying “The four horsemen” which is a metaphor that was created by over two decades of research by John Gottman. Throughout his work, he was able to identify the four most deadly communication styles in a relationship that predict divorce with more than 90% accuracy.
As I read over the four communication styles that will most likely be the demise of a relationship I felt like someone was calling me out personally.
I am guilty of almost all of these behaviors at one point or another in every single one of my relationships.
If you realize that the following communication styles are present in your relationship you will need to change them as they are detrimental in the long-run.
#1. Constantly criticizing your partner
Let’s say that your partner doesn’t always help with the dishes. You have two ways you could respond:
“I feel really overwhelmed when I’m left with the brunt of the housework. I thought we were going to split things 50/50.” Or…
“You never help me with anything, I’m holding up my end of the relationship bargain and you’re just sitting around!”
I have tried out both of these options and I can tell you from personal experience that the second option is going to almost always end in a yelling match.
“Criticism in close relationships starts out, in most cases, on a low key and escalates over time, forming a downward spiral with increasing resentment. The criticized person feels controlled, which frustrates the critical partner, who then steps up the criticism.”- Psychology Today
Criticism isn’t going to necessarily doom your relationship but it is the gateway into more toxic communication styles.
#2. Feeling contempt towards your partner
A few years ago I was in a relationship with someone that just, for a lack of a better or kinder word, disgusted me by the end of our relationship.
Things obviously didn’t begin with disgust. It took several years of built-up resentment, anger, and frustration to bubble up to the surface until contempt built to the point where both of us were rolling our eyes at each other, using constant sarcasm and just overall treating each other terribly.
If you feel contempt about someone you are not going to treat them with kindness. Often mean comments will be shared that are laced with the ammo of the things you know will hurt them the most.
Also, contempt is the greatest indicator of divorce so if you are doing it, stop before it brings your relationship to the point of no return.
#3. Getting defensive all the time
Something that I have been working on for the past couple of years is the fact that I can be extremely defensive.
Even if it is something small and valid I will overreact and become defensive because I believe that I am being attacked… even though I’m not.
My partner told me when we first started dating that he felt like he couldn’t talk to me about anything because I would instantly defend myself even if it was over the smallest thing.
Admitting that I feel defensive from the get-go helps to create an honest line of communication. However, in past relationships, I wasn’t able to share how I truly felt which always set us up for failure.
The reality is that defensiveness is really just the refusal to accept responsibility and usually, it places the blame on our partner even if it falls on us.
#4. Stonewalling instead of communicating
A few years ago I was in a relationship with someone who was able to shut me out without a second thought.
Days would go by with the silent treatment (one of the main behaviors of stonewalling) as “punishment” for whatever I had done to upset him. When the silent treatment had lifted I wouldn’t bring up what had happened for fear that he would just shut down again.
“The domino effect of silent treatment is significant — it decreases relationship satisfaction for both partners, diminishes feelings of intimacy, increases the risk of suffering from anxiety, depression, use of alcohol and drugs, and reduces the capacity to communicate in a way that’s healthy and meaningful.” -Psychereg
Needing to clear your head or walk away after a conflict is completely normal but if you are turning away, making yourself busy, or just ignoring your partner you are cultivating the worst communication habit of all.