Despite what many of us believe, disagreements and conflict in a relationship are not necessarily bad.
When anger is vented in a constructive, healthy manner it can be a great way to help the couple understand their relationship better and get it to a healthier place. What is harmful is when you and your partner handle the conflict in your relationship in a way that erodes the bound between the two individuals.
John Gottman, psychologist and marriage expert, has uncovered four different ways people handle conflict that can destroy their relationship. In fact, his research that looked at how these four factors affected a relationship is said to be able to predict the likelihood of divorce with a 93.6% accuracy rating.
Gottman says that the four red flags that can signal the end of a relationship are: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. For those couples who do experience these four symptoms in their marriage there is hope. The first step to saving your marriage is recognizing that these factors are present and having an effect on your relationship. Read on to see these factors in depth and how to address them when they come up in your marriage.
1.Criticism– There is a difference between criticism and having a complaint. A complaint is about a specific behavior. The trouble comes in when the complaint turns into a criticism. Criticism is when you make it about your partner personally.
For example, let’s say you ask your spouse to take out the trash before you go to bed and he doesn’t for whatever reason. When you come downstairs in the morning you see that the trash is still in the kitchen.
A complaint would be: The trash is still in the kitchen. I ask you to take it out last night. What happened?
Criticism would be: The trash is still in the kitchen. You never help me out around the house. You are so lazy and forgetful.
The first statement is about the behavior itself. The second is about the partner.
Antidote for Criticism– One helpful marriage tip is to stick to the specific behavior that is in question and do not make it about your partner’s perceived shortcomings.
2. Contempt– Contempt is any statement or action you make to your partner from a superior place or in an attempt to bring them down. Direct insults and correcting your partner in some way in an attempt to put them down would be considered contempt.
Examples of contempt are eye-rolling, correcting grammar in the middle of an argument, critical looks, cut-downs disguised as humor (this commonly end with things like “It’s a joke”, “Can’t you take a joke” or “I am just kidding”), name calling, sarcasm or mocking your partner. Body language and tone of voice can also be forms of contempt.
Antidote for Contempt: Cultivate a culture of appreciation in you marriage. Look for things your partner is doing well or that make you happy to be with them and make sure you tell them about it. Thank your partner for different things you see them doing.
3. Defensiveness– Defensiveness is trouble because it makes it difficult for the problem to get addressed. One person becomes the victim and the other is the persecutor. Defensiveness avoids the issue and passes blame.
Examples of defensiveness would be statements like “It’s not my fault it’s your fault”, “I didn’t…”,“You’re complaining after all I do for you”. Defensive people may whine, meet their partners complaint with a complaint of their own (“Yes, but…”), or or repeat themselves without paying attention to what the other person is saying.
Antidote for Defensiveness- Take responsibility for your part. Great ways to do this include statements like: “You may have a point, tell me more” or “I didn’t know you felt this way, let’s talk about it”.
4. Stonewalling- When someone stonewalls they with draw away from the conversation. Stonewalling is actually a way that people try to avoid conflict and regulate their emotions. People who stonewall tend to feel overwhelmed with the topic of discussion and withdraw to calm themselves down.
Examples could be stoic silence, change in subject, walking away from the conversation, silent treatment or monosyllabic muttering.
Antidote for Stonewalling: Communicate to your partner that you are feeling overwhelmed. Let them know that you would like to continue discussing the topic but need a chance to calm down so you can address it with a level head. Then both of you take a break and do something separately that will calm you down. Agree on a time (an hour or so) that you will readdress the problem.
If your relationship has any or all of these characteristics you may be wondering “Can my marriage be saved”, or “Is there hope for our marriage”. There is always hope to save a marriage as long as both people want it to work and are willing to put in the effort.