Relationship conflict is as old as time. Put any two people together and you are bound to get some sort of miscommunication, misunderstanding or conflict at some point. Who cannot imagine Eve complaining to Adam that she wants to spend some more quality time with him? Or Adam feeling rejected after Eve turned down his sexual advances?
When conflict arises, it is a perfect opportunity to express your complaints, which in turn can lead to growth and understanding. That is the ideal outcome. However, conflicts can be experienced in a very different way. They can get out of hand and even feel destructive.
In his research, Dr. John Gottman found that there are four ways of communicating that are particularly destructive: criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. The presence of these communication styles were actually found to be predictors of relationship demise. Since then, the antidotes to these behaviors were discovered, which help couples avoid falling into these destructive patterns.
Take a look at what each of these communication styles and their antidotes mean. Are you prone to using them? Do you recognize yourself in any of these communication styles? If so, perhaps try using the antidotes next time to avoid them and make your own communication more effective.
- Criticism: when you blame your partner for the problem. This includes statements like: “you always/never” and in general convey that there is something wrong with the other. To avoid criticism: say how you feel (e.g. upset, angry, worried, disappointed, etc.) and what it is that you need (e.g. I need you to clean up the kitchen).
- Defensiveness: when you deny any wrongdoing, act like an innocent victim or dish out countercriticism. To avoid defensiveness: see if you can take just a little bit of responsibility for the existing problem. For instance, “Yes, I did indeed forget to do the dishes.”
- Contempt: when you insult, belittle or verbally abuse your partner. To avoid contempt: describe your own emotions and needs. Think about what you do appreciate about your partner.
- Stonewalling: when you shut down and don’t respond anymore. To avoid stonewalling: if you need a break, tell your partner you need to pause the conversation and agree to resume it when you are both feeling calmer. Do not give each other the silent treatment.