No one enjoys conflict – but it’s impossible to avoid. An important aspect of building a healthy relationship is being able to disagree or argue in a healthy way.
John Gottman has identified four common negative behaviours, which he calls The Four Horsemen. While they can be disastrous for relationships, there’s good news. With some work, you can remove The Four Horsemen from your own communication, empowering and strengthening your relationships with others.
Relationship expert and neuropsychotherapist Joanne Wilson gives us insight into The Four Horsemen and how to communicate more effectively for a healthier relationship.
When you use phrases such as ‘you always’ and ‘you never’, it can come across as criticism or as a direct attack on a partner’s character. Once this happens, they are likely to shut down and stop listening.
Try this: Consider starting the conversation by talking about your feelings. For example, begin your sentences with ‘I feel….’ or ‘I would prefer if this could happen…’
By using this approach, you’re taking responsibility for your own feelings and your partner will feel less defensive, enabling them to better hear what you’re trying to communicate.
By coming from a position of contempt, you’re likely to resort to name calling, or even abusing your partner. In short, you may begin attacking their sense of self.
Try this: Ensure you cultivate a culture of appreciation of your partner by making sure they know how much you love them. If you start to feel contempt for your partner, consider taking a moment to think about all of their qualities which you appreciate.
Keeping these at the top of your mind will help you have a mindset of gratitude as you communicate, rather than falling into the trap of feeling contempt.
Show gratitude for any positive reactions and responses they may have toward you.
When you see yourself as the victim in a situation, you become defensive and try to shift blame. Often rooted in low self-worth, defensiveness stops you from being able to take on any feedback – the thought that you may have room for improvement becomes devastating.
Try this: Consider offering an apology for any wrongdoing and remember, no one is perfect. The goal is to be able to bravely listen to feedback and take action when necessary.
While you may not always agree with the feedback, it’s important not to be defensive or dismissive of your partner’s feelings and concerns.
Taking the time to listen to what they’re saying is often effective in diffusing a situation.
Stonewalling is one way you may be withdrawing to avoid conflict and convey disapproval by shutting down, while shutting your partner out. This passive aggressive approach is quite common and can happen when one partner feels that there is no point in communicating any further because they feel that it never ends well anyway, so why bother trying?
Try this: Be sure to self-regulate by taking time out and doing something calming, before continuing with the conversation.
When you return to the conversation, physically turn towards your partner and try again.
It takes great courage to communicate harmoniously.
By keeping an eye out for The Four Horsemen in your communication, you are taking steps towards becoming a healthy, mature communicator.
If you’re struggling with The Four Horsemen in your relationship, consider seeking help from a relationship counsellor or trust friend.
Listen to the full conversation in the player above.
For more from Joanne Wilson tune in each Saturday from 12pm or find more from The Relationship Rejuvenator online.
Feature image: Andrik Langfield and Unsplash