Everybody has moments of tension in a relationship. Conflict is common, and can even be healthy at times! We can learn about one another and grow together as a result of talking things out. But what happens when communication isn’t going as smoothly as you’d hoped?
Research has shown that there are four communication styles which can predict the end of a relationship.
Criticism in a relationship can happen when someone makes broad statements about their partner’s character or integrity. Voicing a concern or complaint about a situation is different from criticizing your partner’s personality. If you find yourself saying “You never...” or “You always...”, you may be criticizing your partner. Instead, you can try expressing yourself with statements like, “I was afraid when…,” which can shift the focus from their character to your feelings.
Healthy relationships are maintained when both partners are on equal ground. When one partner mocks the other, rolls their eyes, sneers or name-calls, it can wreck the feelings of fondness and admiration that were once there. Contempt is considered the deadliest horseman of the apocalypse, and it’s the greatest predictor of a relationship ending.
If you find yourself playing the innocent victim or countering your partner’s complaints with ones of your own, you may be reacting defensively. Although this is usually a response to feeling attacked, it is also an unhealthy way of blaming your partner instead of taking their concern seriously and accepting responsibility for your actions.
“Stonewalling” speaks for itself-- or rather, it doesn’t. If an argument becomes too overwhelming, some partners may become physiologically flooded, causing them to shut down and stop responding in an interaction. Sometimes this can look like your partner just doesn’t care, when they’re really trying to calm themselves down. You can work on stonewalling by expressing that you’re feeling overwhelmed and you need a short break from the discussion.
If any of these Four Horsemen resonate with you, it doesn’t mean that this is the end-- each one of these communication styles has an “antidote” which can help to repair the damage from unhealthy conflict patterns. To learn more about how to manage conflict in a healthier way, take a look at the image below from The Gottman Institute, or visit this article about their antidotes to Four Horsemen.