How many times have you heard – Relationships are hard work? They can be, but they don’t have to be! Usually the hard work comes from two totally different people learning to communicate with each other.
Research has identified four behaviours that will kill a relationship. Professor John Gottman of the Gottman Institute is a leading expert in relationship research and has carried out 30 years of behavioural research which he calls ‘masters and disasters of relationships’.
From his research Gottman can predict with more than 90% accuracy which couples will last and which won’t.
It comes down to four ways of behaving, so let’s look at what they are so you can avoid them:
Criticizing your partner, being judgemental and overly critical is the first indicator of a relationship that will fail. You may feel like you are ‘encouraging’ the other person to be better but these types of behaviours rarely achieve this.Solution – Communication is the key to good relationships. It is important to use constructive comments rather than criticism.
Defensiveness is the next indicator a relationship can fail. It is a way of not taking your share of responsibility, it is where you react to a complaint as though you are the innocent victim. This gives the message to your partner that you don’t care what they have to say and how they feel. In his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work Gottman says ‘You’re saying, in effect the problem isn’t me it’s you’.Solution – Listen to what your partner has to say, accept responsibility for your part of each situation, even it if you only played a small part. This will create healthy relationships.
Stonewalling in relationships involves not listening, shutting down and emotionally withdrawing from the situation. Even though stonewalling can be a natural reaction for some people it doesn’t allow the conflict to be resolved.Solution –It may help to initially walk away from a situation but you will need to come back to it otherwise it is likely to be the elephant in the room, problems rarely go away. Often you will have a pattern of dealing with conflict that you resort to. It is important to not allow your emotions to rule you, to be able to self-sooth. Learn to let go of your anger and negative emotions so you can be constructive in the interaction, building healthy relationships.
The first 3 can be occur even in healthy relationships; contempt is different and can be a symptom of abusive relationships. It is about putting someone down in a way that they are beneath you. Contempt is about behaviours in a relationship like insults, sarcasm and acting like you are better than your partner. Gottman’s research shows that an air of superiority by itself is the best predictor of a break up or a divorce. “[Contempt] is poisonous to relationships because it conveys disgust. It’s virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message you’re disgusted with him or her,” says Gottman.Solution – create relationships full of support and appreciation. Refuse to give or accept contempt. For many people sarcasm is a way of life and they don’t even realise they are doing it. Too often true things are said in jest or sarcasm so take the active step to quit sarcasm and replace sincere communication.
Healthy, positive communication is the key to great relationships. It is important to use constructive comments rather than criticism. Tell your partner what the issue is and how you feel about it . Use ‘I’ language rather than ‘you’ language.
It is saying how you feel; you are talking about yourself and not projecting judgment onto the other person. When you use ‘you’ statements it implies the person listening is responsible and it is about blame. ‘You’ statements make a person defensive. As do generalisations! Generalisations are where you say to someone you always or you never.
An example of ‘You’ language: ‘You never take out the rubbish or do anything around the house. Can’t you just do what you said you’ll do? You are just like my ex.’
An example of ‘I’ language: ‘I’m the only one who’s been cleaning up and taking out the rubbish. When you don’t help me, I feel I overworked and unappreciated.’
Finally research has also revealed that successful couples give each other five positive messages/interactions for each negative message/interaction. So just remember you need to practice the 5:1 ratio to have a lasting relationship.