Being in a relationship means you will have conflicts. It’s par for the course when two people are constantly trying to communicate, express their needs & vulnerabilities. It’s not the appearance of conflicts, but rather how we manage them that predicts the success or failure of a relationship.
Last month, we identified The Gottman’s Four Horsemen and how to recognize them. That’s the first step in managing them. The next step is using remedies to reduce the appearance of them in your relationship. We use medicine when we get a cold, to help reduce the symptoms and hopefully the length of it. The same practice needs to be applied to relationships. When you start to notice the symptoms of the Four Horsemen, start to utilize these remedies!
Criticism: implying that there is something wrong with our partner, rather than between you two. This leads to your partner feeling under attack and replying with defensiveness.
“You never think about how your behavior is affecting me. You just don’t think about me ever.”
Remedy: Complaint: “I was scared when you didn’t call to tell me you were running late. I thought we had agreed that we would do that for each other.” Explain yourself, I feel X, when you do Y.
Defensiveness: comes out when we feel accused unjustly- we seek out excuses so that our partner will back off. It can quickly become a blame game. Neither partner taking responsibility.
“It’s not my fault that you’re so sensitive.
Remedy: You don’t have to agree with your partner, but try to understand it so you can work together to resolve it. “I understand that you were scared. I did forget to call to let you know I was running late. I will keep working on it, as we did agree to do that for each other.”
Contempt: fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about your partner. It’s used to make someone feel despised and worthless. Making it one of the most serious horsemen, as it destroys fondness and admiration.
“Welcome home Mr. I’m too rude to remember to call my wife. You’re a *******.”
Remedy: Remind yourself of your fondness and admiration for your partner. Then respond from that place. “I’m glad you’re home. I was starting to get nervous and upset. I know you didn’t purposefully not call, and were hard at work, but it really does upset me. We agreed we would call when running late, or even a quick text.”
Stonewalling: when one person shuts down, closes off from the other or physically leaves to stop the conversation. The Stonewaller may be trying to calm themselves, gather their thoughts. The problem is it can lead to their partner feeling that they don’t care about the problem.
Silence, stop talking, walking away, playing on your phone
Remedy: Self-soothe, regulate your emotions, come up with a code word that helps your partner know you need a moment. “Orange.” This code word signifies that you and your partner have talked about this occurring. Orange, in this case, would mean: I need a few minutes to calm down- then I’ll be back to talk. It acknowledges the act of what’s happening, rather than stonewalling.
It’s important to remember that occasionally seeing any one of these behaviors- or all of them, even- is completely normal. Keep practicing and start using the remedies to replace the behavior(s) with positive ones. Need help? Don’t’ hesitate to reach out and schedule a couples’ session. It’s a great way to get to know each other on a deeper level, improve communication & the success of your relationship.