Greatest predictors of failure in relationships
Description of four communication styles based on Gottman’s Theory
Being in a romantic partnership can bring great joy or deep loneliness. And the way we communicate with our loved one can determine the outcomes for our relationship. Using Gottman’s Theory, I’ll help demystify the greatest predictors for failure in relationships.
John Gottman is an American psychologist who extensively researched divorce and marital longevity. According to his research, he can predict if a relationship will end with 90% certainty by considering these four communication patterns.
He calls it, The Four Horseman- it’s as biblical as it sounds. The metaphor comes from the last book of the New Testament which tells the apocalyptic tale of disease, war, famine, and death. Gottman came up with his own version to tell the tale of a relationship apocalypse.
Criticism is the first horseman. The act of passing judgment on our partner. Criticism differs from critiquing and giving feedback. Criticism is an attack on someone’s character. Here are some examples of criticism:
“You never consider me”
While criticism alone is not the most detrimental to your relationship, it’s like a gateway behavior. When we criticize our partner over and over-we actually break down positive emotion towards our partner which can lead to the second horseman...
Contempt. Believing our partner is worthless and inferior. It’s. just. mean. Contempt can be expressed verbally or non verbally. Here are some examples of contempt:
“You feel overworked? Well I have been up since 5am trying to get everything ready for the party
-don’t tell me you’re tired.”
When we act superior to our partner-the damage is great. You’re not seeing your partner as an equal in the dynamic, and it can feel disrespectful and shameful. These are not feelings that make us want to be closer to our partner!
“Contempt is the single greatest predictor of divorce…” -John Gottman
The third horseman is defensiveness. Defensiveness arises when we feel offended or criticized. Here are some examples of defensiveness:
“I didn’t have time to do ______ because I have been working all day. I
wish you could help me out and just do it.”
“It’s not my fault that I didn’t make it on time…”
Defensiveness can come from feelings of overwhelm. Certainly we all feel stressed out at times-the difference is how you communicate that to your partner. Defensiveness means evading responsibility. When we don’t take responsibility, we exacerbate conflict.
The fourth and final horseman is stonewalling. The stonewaller will withdraw from the interaction or discussion. The person may physically leave the room or emotionally shut down.
This can be very frustrating for the partner who is still in the conversation who is trying to express a need or concern. By not responding to their partner the stonewaller is controlling the conversation. Overtime, without healthy communication practices, a partner may use stonewalling as the only strategy to communicate without exploding in conversations. However, if the relationship is already at that point-there were many negative communications before that were not addressed in a healthy way.
These four communication patterns can lead to negative outcomes in your relationship. If you are in a dynamic with a partner who communicates this way...or if you use these communication styles-consider asking yourself about the overall impact. How do you feel when you bring up difficult things in your relationship? How do you feel after a conflict. And lastly, how do you want to respond?
All relationships have difficulty and no two people communicate exactly the same. But if you leave conversations feeling frustrated, angry, or unresolved most of the time, it’s important you start addressing communication in your relationship.